Set in a slightly futuristic techno-centric Los Angeles, Her is part-sci-fi, part uber-hip romantic comedy. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a lonely writer who falls in love with a personal operating system, it documents one man’s search for companionship and intimacy in an increasingly isolating technological age.
For someone who’s job – as an employee at ‘beautifulhandwrittenletters.com’ – is to articulate feelings on behalf of those who are incapable of expressing themselves, Theodore is surprisingly reticent about his own emotions. Whilst he might not be the first man to fall in love with a piece of technology, he is, as far as I am aware, the first to have a full-blown relationship with one. Sex and all.
There’s no doubt about it, the guy is a bit of an oddball. He has less capacity for emotional expression than an orange, and with his creepy moustache, horn-rimmed glasses and high-waisted slacks, he doesn’t exactly set the heart racing. What he does do is express an innate desire for deep emotional connection. After suffering a relationship breakdown, Theodore turns to artificially intelligent device Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in an attempt to get a sense of routine back into his daily life. As well as keeping track of emails and everyday commitments, Samantha gives dating tips, reassurance and offers her own unique perspective on life in general. More than just a computer, she becomes a confidante, a friend and eventually, a lover.
As Theodore knows only too well, the world can be a lonely place, and whilst we are increasingly told that technological developments are helping to enhance the social aspects of our lives, in most cases, this simply isn’t true. We spend more time on our phones and on the internet than we do engaged in any other activity (except maybe sleeping), and although we may justify this as another means of communication, another more convenient way to keep in touch with friends, colleagues and family, what it really is, is a diversion, a poor substitute for face-to-face human interaction.
Social media is not social. Far from it, in fact. Under the guise of bringing people together, technology actually keeps them apart. Separated from the world around us by an invisible barrier of radio waves and electricity, we are fooled into believing that technology is all we need, that our innate human desire for intimacy and interaction is satisfied by a string of WhatsApp chats or a late-night skype call. Instead of going to visit someone or inviting them for coffee, more often than not we settle for a quick email or text message. Instead of expressing our true feelings as and when they are felt, we send an emoticon or use abbreviations to get our point across as quickly (and artificially) as possible, with the click of a button. Instant messaging gives us the sense of immediacy we crave, only without the hassle of having to go out and meet with someone in the flesh. We like it because it’s quick, easy and satisfies a basic human requirement. It’s the conversational equivalent of McDonalds.
Her is a film that speaks to the technological age, raising poignant questions about human relationships, intimacy and the complexity of the individual psyche. For me, reason it works so well is because it scares the hell out of me. For all it’s sci-fi elements, the film is still heavily rooted in reality, and that’s partly why it’s so disconcerting. It’s not real, but it could be, and therein lies its power. It makes me realise that one day in the not so distant future, I might fall in love with an operating system called Doug, who knows more about me than I do, and I might be IM’ing my mum telling her to buy a hat for our cyber wedding.