Next up in my ongoing quest to make Oscar night worth watching, I went to see Her the other day and it was pretty fantastic. I've always been a fan of Spike Jonze films, going back to Being John Malkovich in 1999. Then ten years later he made one of my favorite films of all time, Where the Wild Things Are. He has such a unique way of telling stories that are both unconventional and yet, at the same time, extremely poignant to our contemporary lives.
Her is no exception to this quality, creating a near futuristic world that seems like a very plausible extension of our own. The characters are absorbed in their technology, lost in their private world of cell phones and social media during commutes much like people are today. But in Her it goes even further, showing people as being almost divorced from personal connections. The very nature of Joaquin Phoenix's job is the perfect metaphor for this as he spends his day writing letters to strangers, hired by their loved-ones. At one point he mentions that he's been writing letters back and forth from one couple for years, and at another, from parents to their child for nearly the child's entire life.
In a world where people don't even bother to communicate to their closest loved ones, but rather hire the task out to strangers, it's no wonder that someone could fall in love with computer operating system, especially one with an artificial intelligence component that allows them to grow and mature. Essentially cut off from real relationships, Theodore quickly strikes up a friendship with his new OS, opening up to her in a way that he doesn't with other individuals. Their connection quickly grows, which is easy since the OS has access to all the details of his life. Basically, the OS simply becomes someone to talk to. As the OS, who takes the name Samantha, begins to grow, her excitement towards new experiences attracts Theodore and they fall in love.
At first glance, I could see many people finding the very concept to be farfetched, but when you consider how many "friendships" we create online these days, love is a natural next step. But at the heart of this love story is the trend towards isolation that our modern lives are taking, and no matter how immersed we are in our technology, the need to connect with others is too powerful to fade. In the end however, an artificial partner cannot satisfy the same desire. Theodore learns this lesson only after the artificial intelligences created by this new OS decide to leave humans. But the seeds of his realization are born before, when confronted by his ex-wife, the one woman he ever really loved, when she criticizes him for his relationship with a computer, saying it's what he always wanted because he never wanted to deal with real arguments or problems that come with spending a life with someone. And essentially that is the real reason we currently seek out virtual friendships, because it's hard to be annoyed or frustrated with someone who isn't physically there.
As with Spike Jonze's previous films, Her takes unexpected turns, delving into fantasy to make the viewer think about their current lives. It's also a very beautiful love story, detailing the excitement of falling in love, and the difficulties that come as a relationship grows.
On another note, I saw this film at the celebrated Alamo Draft House in Austin and it's no wonder this new era theater chain is taking off. Dining on quality food, served throughout the film, along with drinks, it was a delight, and would probably make any movie that much more enjoyable.