Director: Spike Jonze
This film’s greatest success is its creation of Samantha. By setting this in a world filled with recognisable objects, the technology doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Samantha isn’t a robot, she’s a computer programme so advanced that it’s able to learn so much that it becomes what we would define as human. With a truly brilliant vocal performance from Johanssen, Samantha feels inherently and intrinsically human and the film is so effective that it never requires the audience to suspend its disbelief that far. The only times that you take a step back and realise how ludicrous the situation is coincides with the moments that Theodore does too. As our everyman, Phoenix gives a sensitive and vulnerable performance and becomes a cipher for us all, questioning the validity of his love toward a programmed voice, lamenting his inability to actually make a connection with a human being.
It is this that the film is really exploring. In the age of smartphones, in which everyone is constantly communicating but constantly glued to their phones, what has happened to a real human connection? Theodore struggles with people in the flesh; his divorce has torn him to pieces and, riddled with insecurities, meeting new people is difficult. He has become someone who yearns for a human connection, but because of the isolation that technology has created, finds himself cut off and scared of unfamiliar faces. That he is able and open to fall for a voice from inside his computer is just indicative of how damaged he is. But at the same time, how different is this from our reality today?
The film is glossy and clean, like an iWorld made in collaboration between Apple and Ikea. Theodore lives in a vast clean metropolis; population has clearly exploded, but the people we meet in it live sparse lives, disconnected but lost in their own freedom. It’s a world of emotional maturity, but in which reality and technology blur and in which artificial intelligence is completely assimilated into society. This is a robot-movie unlike any other, that says the future will not be that different from the now; it’s a beautiful but scary thought. The amount of nights I’ve spent, glued to an interaction with someone I’ll never meet, who for all I know might not even be real, is scary. We’ve all had those moments online when we realise that we’re speaking to a dronebot… but what if they actually had emotional intelligence? How long would it take us to work it out then? Would we even work it out at all?
Her raises a lot of questions for the twenty-something singleton who grew up with online dating, but it is also a critique on the modern psyche. It’s a superb piece of filmmaking, anchored by some strong performances from its leads: Phoenix, Johanssen and Adams are all perfect matches for this sparsely desolate world. In Jonze’s fourth feature, we see a maturity from the kooky director that we’ve not seen before, but the worthiness and self-aggrandisement evident in his earlier films is still present. Unfortunately, the film feels long, the relationship a little laboured and its social commentary (and Jonze’s own clear viewpoint) is somewhat hammered home. The Academy has rewarded him with Best Picture and Original Screenplay nominations and this is his finest work to date, period. Jonze will top this film, I have no doubt about that, but its uniqueness and its refreshingly individual quirk make this a great addition to the Oscars’ lineup. While it may not be full marks from me, this is a must-see modern romance.