Programmed for love
Spike Jonze’s sweet, peculiar, futuristic love story
The capsule plot summary for Spike Jonze’s new movie Her—“lonely guy falls in love with the voice of his computer”—is a sure-fire attention-getter, but it also does the movie and its remarkable accomplishments a bit of a disservice. A unique and surprisingly complex set of reflections on romantic relationships arise from that blatantly peculiar premise, and the offbeat dramas that ensue from it are far richer than that capsule/caricature might lead you to expect.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a techie whose literary skills are highly prized at the computerized letter-writing service where he works. He’s also a rather lonely romantic who can’t quite bring himself to sign the final papers on his divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara), who seems just as lonely and even more literary than he is.
Theodore and his small circle of friends live in a world of gesture- and voice-activated digital technology, and special things begin to happen when he gets connected to an operating system that provides him with a virtual companion/assistant/confidante who can think and talk and, up to a point, share emotions. This virtual aide has a female voice (provided, with much sly skill, by Scarlett Johansson) and Theodore names her Samantha.
The title of the film refers above all to Samantha, but there are at least three other female characters of real significance and consequence in this story. Ex-wife Catherine is viewed with much the same complex mixture of sympathy and irony that the film applies to Theodore. The same is true with Theodore’s gently supportive neighbor and friend, Amy (Amy Adams), and, in more ironic ways, with the young woman (Olivia Wilde) whom Theodore encounters on an intricately problematic blind date.
Jonze has just been awarded a Golden Globe for Her’s screenplay—an honor much deserved not only for its brilliant, highly original central concept, but also for the remarkably nuanced dialogue of Theodore’s encounters with the women in his life, virtual and otherwise. Music by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett and superb production design by K. K. Barrett make substantial contributions to the mildly futuristic aura of this provocative, surprisingly delicate love story/sci-fi reverie for the 21st century.