Review by Sarah Gopaul for Mr. Will Wong
Socially-accepted notions of Romance have changed so that meeting online is as common as meeting at a bar, if not more so now. Finding a Partner is no longer geographically limited to being in the same location and people don’t grimace when you say an algorithm determined your compatibility. But these relationships are still connections between two Humans, even if they began digitally. In Her, one-half of the couple exists purely in Cyberspace.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a nice Guy, but his impending divorce is making it difficult for him to connect with the World. Yet he spends his days ghostwriting “handwritten” notes between Loved Ones. In this near future, technology is ingrained in every aspect of life and voice commands are the main method of control. When a new Operating System is launched featuring an ArtificialIntelligence that will fulfill your every need, Theodore is somewhat of an early Adopter. It/she calls herself Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) and she is everything Theodore could want in a Woman – except she’s not Human.
This Film has the same tone as one of those love stories in which one of the characters is diagnosed with a terminal illness: it’s fun and beautiful, but there’s a sadness underlying it all. Theodore and Samantha are great together. Their relationship evolves from a symbiotic friendship to a deep, mutual love. They revel in the Honeymoon stage before hitting rough patches that only serve to strengthen their bond. It may be an unconventional Relationship, but it’s a meaningful one resembling many Long-Distance Romances.
Expectedly, there is a significant existential undercurrent to the Narrative. The ability for an AI to qualify as a person is a constant issue for characters and viewers. Samantha weighs the pros and cons of her bodiless existence. Theodore questions the authenticity of their Affair since she is officially a Computer Program. Theodore’s Ex exclaims that Samantha is not “a Real Person.” And the introduction of a Surrogate just exasperates the already complex situation.
Phoenix is wonderful as a Man lost, who is provided the opportunity to rediscover the world anew; first through the lens of a technical Newborn, then through the eyes of the Woman he loves. He gazes affectionately at his phone and sends words of adoration into the air she monitors for his voice. However, the surprising Standout is Johansson. Her audible presence has a greater impact than most of her on-screen appearances. Her voice is incredibly attractive and she enchants Theodore and the Audience equally.
This may be the first true romance for the Computer Age.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release Her on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 in Toronto and nationally on Friday, January 10, 2014.