Our society’s increasing dependency on technology, most notably the deepening bond we share with our phones and tablets, is often justified by our incessant need to stay connected to the world around us. Whether it’s fueling our hunger for constantly developing news or staying in touch with friends swallowed up in life’s quickening pace, embracing technological advancement is almost necessary to stay alive. The punch line often associated with our ever-growing digital life is this: By expanding our global reach through technology, we’re passing up the magnificence life sets before us. With our faces glued to our screens, we slowly drift away from the world; investing more time in likes and pokes than wrapping our arms around the ones we love. To some, man’s intimacy with machines is no longer a joke, but a sobering truth. It’s a truth where instantaneous connection neuters our basic human needs, rendering us alone in an ocean of people desperately trying to connect. In Spike Jonze’s beautifully eloquent Her, loneliness and technology collide in a wistfully profound way, providing love and personal rebirth through unconventional methods.
Set in the near future, where videogames are actively acted out and pants are majestically pinned a few inches above the waist, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) pens love letters for strangers who can’t properly articulate their emotions. Oddly enough, he discovers poetic words and poignant hymns for outsiders, while failing to spit a coherent syllable for his ex-wife (Rooney Mara). Romantically impotent, Theodore frantically holds onto the faded memories of his marriage. In a moment of loneliness, he succumbs to a television ad offering a revolutionary OS system with invigorating social capabilities. After a quick installation, Theodore meets Samantha (Scarlett Johansson),a wispy, disembodied voice eager to discover the facets of her newfound existence. Samantha quickly assists Theodore in sorting out his professional life, but her personal evolution finds her inquiring about Theodore’s abysmal social life, which features minimal female action outside his longtime friend Amy (Amy Adams). Through involved, candid conversations deep into the night, as well as Samantha’s growing desire to experience the world, a platonic partnership mutates into a seemingly impossible romantic relationship brimming with genuine emotion. It doesn’t matter that Samantha is bodiless because the relationship she shares with Theodore transcends physical existence.
On paper their relationship is an oddity likely destined for cynicism if not molded by the heart and mind of director Spike Jonze. Known for his surreal, but emotionally driven films, Jonze wonderfully captures the rapturous, debilitating moments in which love consumes us. There are jokes tied to the relationship blossoming between the tangible and intangible, but Jonze never treats it like a perverse fetish. He sincerely views it as a living, breathing entity. So, Jonze has the relationship mimic the tender and bleak moments of our romantic condition. In a way Samantha’s physical absence serves as an opportunity to insert ourselves into the picture; her voice carries the weight of our insecurities and inflaming hope for romantic prosperity. By wholeheartedly believing in the relationship, Jonze’s tale strikes a powerful chord, as a surprising relationship makes the perfect conduit for romantic exploration. What we learn is simple: Love is beyond flesh. It’s born out of a connection between two disparate voices coalescing into one shared experience.
Obviously, one of the most important voices in the film is Scarlett Johansson. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic for me to say she delivers one of the year’s most essential performances. We’re accustomed to seeing our actors treating their entire physical being like a canvas for us to survey, but Johansson only has her vocal chords, and with her voice she traverses a vast emotional plain. Bubbly, inquisitive, and doubtful, Johansson miraculously molds a fully formed character out of thin air, forcing us to believe in something beyond touch. Operating at a high level with an apparition is Joaquin Phoenix, who gives a warm performance riddled with crippling anxieties but buoyed by an abundance of affection. Phoenix’s conviction to the premise is yet another tool that convinces us that love is a transformative experience that’s not solely predicated on physical existence. Earnestness, from everyone involved, is the glue that bonds Her’s premise. It doesn’t cynically dissect our obsession with technology, nor does it romanticize our culture’s investment in technological progression. It simply views technology as a portal where we can render an everlasting connection as lofty as love.