Sometimes, brilliant movies have concepts that sounds incredibly dumb when you first her them summed up in a single sentence. (Who honestly expected a movie about the creation of Facebook to be very interesting before they saw The Social Network, for example?) The new movie Her is, boiled down to a single sentence, about a man falling in love with his computer. Explored using the nuances and flavours afforded by a feature-length running time, though, Her is an absolutely magnificent movie.
Her takes places in the near-future, probably just 15 or 20 years from today. Fashions have changed, skyscrapers have grown taller, and technology has advanced. Despite futuristic touches, though, the world of the movie is very much our own.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) works for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, a service that composes personal letters on behalf of people too preoccupied with technology to write letters themselves. Theodore’s still hurting from a recent divorce and feels not just lonely but alone.
Then he gets OS1, “the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system.” As soon as Theodore answers the setup question of whether he’d like it to have a male or female voice, Her begins down a dangerous and thought-provoking path that reels you in and forces you to watch it all the way down its twisted rabbit hole.
The operating system in the movie, which dubs itself Samantha and is blessed to have Scarlett Johansson’s voice, gets to know what Theodore likes and tailors her system to his lifestyle’s needs. Being intelligent and self-aware in her own right, Samantha also is capable of learning and adapting, leading to her continuous “improvement,” both in her eyes and in Theodore’s. As they each begin to develop feelings for the other, Her slowly begins exploring territory that is at once fascinating and unsettling, walking a delicate line without ever becoming ridiculous.
Her touches on every emotion that a movie really can. Over the course of the film, it’s funny, it’s worrisome, it’s sad, it’s joyous, it’s infuriating, it’s heart-warming, and it’s disturbing. (Often, it’s several at once.) It’s an incredibly rich experience that tackles realistic, modern romance in a remarkably clever way, while also containing important messages about technology and intelligent insights into the value of love in any form.
Told over a two-second sentence, Her sounds pretty dumb. Told over a two-hour story, it’s one of the very best films of 2013.