Someone once read that the key to writing good Sci-Fi was creating a future where the major difference from our current world isn’t the technology, but the culture that surrounds it. Well, if that is the key to an amazing work of Science-Fiction, director Spike Jonze nails it on the head with “Her.” Dismissing the doom and gloom of recent science-fiction, Jonze instead focuses on how relationships could flower and grow between humans and AI. The result is that “Her” makes Sci-Fi heartfelt, and all the more haunting. (Some slight spoilers ahead)
Once set up, Theodore and his AI, Samantha – voiced flawlessly by Scarlett Johansson – develop a strong relationship that eventually blossoms into a complete romance. While this concept had the chance to be highly flawed and flat out ridiculous, Jonze masterfully built an entire universe and culture that allowed such a concept to flower. So, while Theodore becomes intimately connected to Samantha, other characters drop hints of the friendships they are simultaneously developing with their own respective operating systems or gossip about how rare this type of relationship actually is.
“Her”‘s greatest strength most certainly lies in the casting choices. Joaquin Phoenix manages to convey genuine remorse, doubt, and joy. At every step of the story, you can understand exactly how Theodore must feel and, more masterfully, you can empathize with how someone in his situation would eventually seek a relationship through Samantha, who does seem to truly love him – thanks to Johansson’s amazing work.
Whereas many films may fall into general sappiness or reach for some deus ex machina solution to the underpinning question of how a human and a disembodied machine may ever truly achieve a true relationship, “Her” suffers no such pitfall. The ending is masterful, and drives home the general thrust of the film – What are relationships truly? How tenable are they ever really?
All in all, “Her” is the first must see movie of 2014 (or, technically, the last ‘must see’ of 2013).