One only needs to take a trip on the MTR to see how we love our technology more than we are love each other. Couples don’t talk to each other anymore. They are each engrossed in their own personal devices, texting friends, playing games or watching movies. Human relationships are not dead yet but they’re on their last gasp of air. And that’s what HER is all about.
Not your typical boy-meets-girl romance, HER gives us a glimpse into what relationships might look like in the near future.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a professional letter writer. In this dystopia, people don’t send intimate, heartfelt letters to each other anymore. They get the staff at beautifulhandwrittenletters.com to do it for them. But, just as the adage goes that those who can’t do, consult, while Theodore knows all the right things to say on paper, he’s at a loss when it comes to his own life. Theodore is lonely and stuck in a relationship rut after coming off a divorce from his childhood sweetheart.
That is, until he installs a new operating system on his computer. It’s the new OS1. When he starts it up for the first time, it asks Theodore whether he would prefer to interact with a male or female voice. Theodore chooses female and, within 2/100 of a second, Samantha is “born”. Charmingly voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha is the ultimate personal assistant. She notifies Theodore when important emails come in, she reminds him of his appointments, and she sorts through his trove of written letters and sends the best ones to a publisher. She tries to cheer him up when he’d rather spend the day hiding under his bed sheets, and she even hires a surrogate to meet his sexual needs. Needless to say, it isn’t long before Theodore and Samantha connect and develop feelings for each other.
Before committing himself, Theodore gives tradition one last chance and goes out on a blind date. Sadly, he finds dealing with this woman’s relationship rules to be too much work. Having a relationship with Samantha, on the other hand, is easy. There are no demands, no pretenses, and she knows what he likes often before he does.
Although Theodore is a reluctant to disclose his new relationship status to his friends, he soon learns that he’s not the only one who has entered this brave new world of cyber-dating. His best friend, Amy, played almost unrecognizably by Amy Adams, has started up a similar relationship and she knows of others in her office who have done the same. One of her co-workers is even seeing someone else’s operating system. I’m not quite sure how that works but cyber-cheating has obviously risen to a whole new level. But, as desirable as this new age style of dating is, it’s ultimately unsatisfying for both Theodore and Samantha. Unfortunately for Theodore, Samantha figures that out first.
HER is not your typical sci-fi love story either. Everything is very familiar to us. People still take the subway to work, they walk around with takeout cups of coffee in their hands, snail mail still gets delivered, and you still have to press the elevator buttons to get to your floor. Even the 70s-inspired earth-toned fashions and Theodore’s cheesy moustache are somewhat nostalgic. And that’s what makes HER so disconcerting. The film is not set 25 years in the future. It’s the day after tomorrow.
HER is written and directed by Spike Jonze who also made the wonderful BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION. He is a writer who takes reality and twists it ever so slightly. His stories make you think about the “what-ifs” in life.
Do yourself a favour and go see this movie. Then put down your mobile device and go talk to the people in your life before it’s too late.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 38:44)
After you’ve seen the movie, come back and watch this parody of the HER trailer, called HIM. I couldn’t resist including it here: