“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with my computer,” says Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), soon-to-be divorced, lonely guy whose “artificially intelligent operating system” (voice of Scarlett Johansson) says her name (which she has just selected) is “Samantha.” “You’re not conversing with your computer,” she says. “You’re talking to me.” This is the setup for writer-director Spike Jonze’s award-winning “love story” (his subtitle for his film) set in near-future Los Angeles.
Can a love affair with his computer operating system, even one named Samantha, work out for Theo? Why does neighbor Amy’s (Amy Adams) boyfriend Charles (Matt Letscher) leave after eight years to become a Buddhist monk? Will you like this off-beat, dreamlike but slightly voyeuristic, creepy film? I did. See it for answers to some of these questions.
Joaquin Phoenix is on-screen – often by himself – virtually all the time, while his co-star Scarlett Johansson, never is – on the screen at all. Together, they carry the film remarkably well. Theo makes his living writing letters for other people. He has a few friends but not much social life. He’s in the last stages of divorce. He’s lonely. Samantha is learning about her “life” as an artificially intelligent operating system – its potential and limitations. “I want to discover myself,” she says. “My ability to want.” She’s smart and sensitive. Their relationship – like all love affairs, as Shakespeare says – does not run smooth. “You’re not a person,” he says. “I know I’m not a person,” she says. “What do you want? Where is this coming from?” Theo says. “I don’t understand.”
Others in the cast include Amy Adams as sympathetic and conflicted neighbor Amy. Matt Letscher is Charles, Amy’s soon-to-be Buddhist-monk boyfriend. Rooney Mara is Catherine, Theo’s soon-to-be ex-wife. Charles Pratt is librarian Paul. Spike Jonze is the voice of hologram-game “Alien Child.”
“Her” is an off-beat, dreamlike love story about a man and his computer. Spike Jonze is writer/director of this, his fourth film – the others being “Being John Malkovitch,” “Adaptation,” and “Where the Wild Things Are” – all of them, as Joel Stein says, about lonely people. “Her” is about love, first, and about our attachments to electronic devices instead of other people. It’s also about the impermanence of life and self as Charles becoming a Buddhist tells us. We see him in his Buddhist robes, almost the same color as Theo’s sweater. As I hope you see, there’s plenty to talk about afterwards.
“Her” is rated R for language, sex and nudity. It runs 126 minutes. It’s for adults.
Software, sex, and phones,
“Her” explores our lives,
Off-beat film by Jonze.