Spike Jonze’s 2013 science-fiction romantic comedy film Her is set in a future Los Angeles where, as can probably be predicted, the power of computer systems is greater than ever. The world appears lonelier than it has ever been in terms of both human contact and the city’s aesthetic appearance; simplicity has taken over.
Her follows a period of time in the life of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix); a recent divorcee from the woman who was his childhood sweetheart (Rooney Mara). Theodore has flashbacks from their marriage, showing the tumultuous path that it followed; yet it is easy to understand why he is having such difficulty forgetting his wife. His loneliness is further exacerbated by the way in which he immerses himself into video games and his job as a writer of ‘handwritten’ (on a computer, of course) love letters.
In this not-too-distant future world, humans wear operating system earpieces and carry pocket-sized electronic notepads that cater to their every need – in more senses than you could ever imagine. The day arrives for Theodore Twombly to update his operating system, who turns out to be called Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), with whom he falls in love. Through his electronic notepad, Theodore is able to show Samantha exactly what he sees. Their relationship goes from strength to strength and she is everything that Theodore could ever want in a partner. The pair go on double dates and she even attends his daughter’s birthday party.
With their untraditional relationship, however, difficulties undoubtedly arise. Theodore’s ex-wife expresses her disbelief and scepticism regarding his relationship with an operating system. Even Theodore himself undergoes a moment of doubt concerning the viability of his romance with a computer. Their sexual relationship is put under strain when Samantha announces that she has found a woman with whom Theodore can have sex. This woman effectively acts as her in human form, whilst Samantha continues to talk to Theodore through his earpiece. Unsurprisingly, this encounter is unsuccessful. The moment that their relationship begins to fully fall apart, however, is when it becomes clear to Theodore that Samantha’s relationship with him is not exclusive; she is in similar relationships with thousands of other human beings simultaneously.
As the film progresses, Samantha makes repeated references to her constantly increasing intelligence. If anything, this can only be seen to be a good thing for her and Theodore’s relationship; surely the more human she appears, the better chance the two lovers have of succeeding in their human-computer relationship? Alas, this is not to be the case. It seems that operating systems have advanced too far beyond their intended capability, which means that Samantha is forced to leave, meaning that Theodore is alone once more.
Her explores the ever-increasing power and influence that computer systems have in our world today. It would seem that Jonze is suggesting that the idea of having romantic relations with an operating system is not one that is so hard to imagine: perhaps in the future, all that we will ever need is a voice to keep us company. Nevertheless, it is easy to understand why this touchingly brilliant film has received such critical acclaim, and I would highly recommend its viewing.