As someone who often condemns film and television for being too formulaic I cannot believe I have slept on Spike Jonze’s Her for this long. After about four days of sitting on this film I can safely say that Her is now alongside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as one of my favorite love stories ever. Following the separation of his wife, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) strikes an odd liking, well not so odd in this future setting, for his operating system Samantha (V.O. by Scarlett Johansson) that soon deepens to a committed relationship. Every scene shared between the them is as enticing as the last, and given that most of the film’s runtime primarily focuses on the two, Her does a great job at fully immersing viewers into their love story. Like Eternal Sunshine, Her is an extremely unconventional tale of love but effortlessly explores the feeling of falling for someone, being in love as well as the detriments of heartbreak.
Her opens with the camera pressed on the face of Theodore while he reads a love letter that we initially believe is for his partner — he actually writes love letters for other people but it indicates his sensitive personality. Visually, this super close up shot, combined with the distinguishably bright and vibrant cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar), suggest an incredibly focused insight into the personal life of Theodore. Several scenes throughout the runtime see an emotionless, blankly staring Theodore followed by cuts to dream like sequences that are in fact his favorite memories shared with his past wife (Rooney Mara). Other scenes are conducted in a similar fashion but instead cut to a reverse shot depicting Theodore’s point of view. These are all extremely subtle stylistic choices but successfully depict the feelings of emptiness and deep emotional pain after a breakup.
The way this film uses visuals to help develop the world and mind of its protagonists is to be lauded. Those who are heart-broken or in love may often find themselves engulfed in their emotions and the film’s colour palette perfectly encapsulates this feeling through the repetition of warm pinks and reds surrounding Theodore.
The core element of Her, without getting too lost in its fantastic visually storytelling, is the arc shared between Theodore and Samantha. In the early stages of their relationship Theodore sees Samantha as purely a friend, and she the same. Initially her character is quite robotic. She acts as somewhat of a personal assistant of Theodore’s by organizing his emails and creating daily planners. Samantha, as she explains, is an A.I. that is programmed to forever grow and learn just as a human would. She has emotions, thoughts and opinions and soon is capable to share a love with Theodore, which at first is a little jarring and hard to believe, but the honest portrayals by Phoenix and Johansson really help sell it and demands viewers to take their relationship quite seriously.
As the film progresses, the their love becomes easier to digest and you soon understand that they resemble the average couple. Samantha cares deeply about Theodore’s career and he is empathetic towards her feelings. They go on dates, surprise each other with gifts and support each other emotionally.
In addition, screenwriter/director Spike Jonze’s worldbuilding brilliantly helps add some authenticity to Samantha and Theodore’s love. While the story of Theodore unravels, futuristic screens hang in the background, and we get glimpses of phones and computers which’s specs make our current devices look outdated. Although the year is never explicitly mentioned, it is clearly set in the future and technology is completely integrated into daily life highlighting that people have fully adapted to the digital world. So it makes sense that friends of Theodore’s aren’t startled or concerned that he is in love with his operating system. Their support and their casual attitude continuously makes falling in love with your operating system increasingly believable to audiences.
Her challenges viewers to truly question any previous connotations they had of what is meant by love as well as what can be loved. It’s hard for one to not reconsider if having a beating heart or even being tangible and physically present truly entails that one can be loved after watching Her; I know I certainly did.
In an era of frequently unoriginal Hollywood injections Jonze’s film is easily one of this decade’s most unique and daring. You’re as invested in the relationship as you would be in any other love story and it’s just as weird and immersive as Eternal Sunshine. Nonetheless, Her isn’t just another love story and it isn’t Eternal Sunshine. Her is Her and what is meant by that is it doesn’t try to be anything but itself. The story is obviously quite foreign to film and it utilizes this fact by creating unique and original twists and turns breaking the conventions of the common love story. And I must say what a beautiful love story it is.