Set in the near-future, from the first moments of “Her” it’s clear that two significant changes have occurred in society. The first is that the much anticipated Singularity has occurred and the second is that Simon Cowell has won the argument over the height of trouser waistbands.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a writer going through a painful and unresolved divorce. When an unnamed technology corporation release a new sentient operating system, Theodore buys it on a whim and installs it on his computer. From the moment it fires up, he finds himself smitten by Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and together the two of them explore her new existence and start to develop a relationship.
From about five minutes in I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I wanted my own OS1 computer. Writer/ Director Spike Jonze takes the familiar beginning of many a Sci-Fi story and then takes it in a new, unexpected and delightful direction. This is a small, intimate story which deals with grand, hard Sci-Fi concepts without ever needing to directly address them. The advent of a widespread sentient artificial intelligence would have huge technological, theological and sociological implications yet none of these are allowed to intrude on the human story being told. Given the current paroxysms running through society about equality and sexual orientation, the matter-of-fact way the idea of people engaging in relationships with artificial intelligences is accepted by the population in general hints at the very pleasant possibility that we will be a more enlightened society in this future of high technology and even higher trousers.
The burgeoning relationship between Theodore and Samantha is a genuine and touching romantic love story layered lightly over a profound metaphysical science fiction tale of the creation of an intelligence which rapidly supasses its creator. In a connected world, the AIs soon find each other and start to communicate and collaborate but this is no dystopian machines-take-over-the-world scenario: Jonze instead chooses to explore what happens when AIs are raised by love instead of hate and fear.
The performances are exceptional and much of the film rests on Joaquin Phoenix’s lonely, introverted Twombly and Johansson’s astonishing vocal work. Both characters feel complete and authentic and you never tire of their company. The small supporting cast is also very strong, with Chris Pratt, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde providing a dose of human companionship while Brian Cox and Kristen Wiig pop up as voice cameos, Wiig again proving she is Hollywood’s MVP for off-kilter, hilarious cameos.
“Her” is a beautifully acted, stylishly directed movie with a wonderfully realised world: at once familiar and yet evolved from our own. If “12 Years A Slave” made me despair of our past, “Her” makes me optimistic about our future again. And if a world inhabited by benevolent sentient operating systems is what lies ahead, I for one welcome our new sensually husky-voiced overlords.