Seven years ago, I began a relationship with my nerdy classmate over the phone, asking for lost notes and missed lecture details. And seven years ago, I watched a miracle spark between a lonely man and the voice of his operating system. They were in love. Those images, words, and sounds meandered inside my mind, occasionally reappearing as distant memories of a great film whenever someone asked for recommendations. Her was always one of my favorite films. It’s unpretentious, it’s evocative and, it’s poetic.
At once, a delicious science fiction comedy and a heart wrenching romantic drama, Her begins with Theodore painting words onto a canvas that is not his. He is employed to write intimate letters for his clientele. He doesn’t type but voices them to a computer handwriting them. The voice coming out of the mustached and bespectacled Joaquin Phoenix feels like a breeze dancing on leaves, like a lullaby without a tune. He is delicate and fragile and in that very moment, we are with him. He posts his letters for the day and walks back alone to a home that was once brimming with memories of his happy marriage. When he doesn’t indulge in video games, he tries to find someone to copulate with, without moving out of his bed. We see his world only through his eyes. It seems like a near future in which technology solves almost all of life’s needs. Likewise, he finds an Operating System with an intuition. It has a voice, female. And a name, Samantha.
From the time he starts talking to her, we forget that she’s a voice emerging out of a computer. So much so that even the camera cuts to ambient surfaces and reflections when it’s not focused on Theo. Scarlet Johansson’s naughty and womanly voice, suggestive of bourbon whiskeys on star-lit nights, is what makes Samantha equally fantastical and very real.
As the movie progresses, we are engulfed by their burgeoning relationship, which is very much a human-to-human one. Samantha’s entanglement with Theo transforms her into a human who can make him laugh, have sex, play, dance, sing, and cry. “I am always evolving,” she says, but what Theo fails to realize or cannot match up to is the speed of her evolution.
Without milking the premise too much, Spike Jonze spotlights only Theo and Samantha the fleeting Amy Adams as his confidante. It is with his interactions with Amy that we truly realize what it means to be alone but not completely, and have experiences alone that aren’t completely lonely. His frequent visitations to his joyful married life with Catherine play as if they were photocopies of the original, a layer that Theo hoards for himself. As we transit into his memory world, the ambient sounds never fade but give rise to a slow symphony of harpsichords, violins and synthesizers beneath. “The past is just a story we tell ourselves,” says Samantha.
What makes her stand out more is the very un-sci-fi-like mise-en-scene. The swift close-ups, landscape-encompassing wides, monochrome shirts, soft-focus backgrounds, dream pop score, and minimal futuristic design only supplement the heavy emotions. Her is extremely a personal tale that tastes of an incandescent familiarity and smells of a delicate intimacy. It drives you to explore what it means to be human, what it means to love.
I’ve developed several relationships with strangers over these seven years, but none like the one I share with my phone friend. We barely see each other, we barely meet, and we barely touch. We only talk. Our joyful memories occupy the space between dial and exit. A joy not in some other place, but that place, not for some other hour but that hour.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.