If there is one thing Spike Jonze’s past feature films has taught us, its that he has well and truly mastered the knack of shooting into direct sunlight. His films are all awash with this dappled but fierce light, and Her is no different. Set in a very near future where all the windows are huge and numerous and the curtain market seems to be in decline, the light is given precedence and as a result the visual effect of the film is mesmerising.
The film centres around Theodore Twombly, a melancholic man who writes other people’s love letters for them, and is in the process of divorcing his wife. Introverted and antisocial, he purchases a new operating system with more advanced artificial intelligence. The OS, or Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as she asks to be called begins to bring Theodore out of himself and encourages him to have fun again, as the two become closer their man to computer relationship becomes one which resembles that of two humans and eventually it becomes romantic.
The content of the film is interesting as it hits very close to home. The near future depicted is very near indeed and the images of commuters wandering along talking to their operating systems rather than engaging with each other, is not so different from a typical rush hour tube journey. As Theodore opens up to the people in his life and informs them that his new girlfriend is a computer, only the minority are shocked. Indeed as the OS technology develops it becomes increasingly common for people to be in these human OS relationships. Amy Adams’ character becomes incredibly close friends with her OS and she and Theodore bond over these relationships. In this way, although the relationship is certainly difficult and out of the ordinary, the film does not dwell on the external perceptions, but more about the internal ins and outs of the relationship itself. This is a romantic film, and occasionally does slide into something which is overly sentimental. The happier parts of the film are sickly sweet and although they are pulled back into the realm of something meatier, they are there and it is at these points which the film falls down.
Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly is wonderful, as he always manages to be. Despite beginning the film as a dejected and distant character, you immediately warm to him and the lack of emotional closeness becomes vulnerability rather than anything unsympathetic. Amy Adams is equally good and she mirrors Theodore’s emotional pattern just a few steps behind him.
Although it sometimes veered into the sentimental Her was generally a melancholy piece about the loneliness of living in the age of technology and the painfulness of human relationships. What Spike Jonze does really well is to encapsulate a mood onscreen rather than pummel the audience with a ‘message’. This film created an atmosphere rather than an hard hitting message which is far and away the most effective way of making sure that we come away from Her with a lot to think about.