Based on his four feature films, it’s clear that Spike Jonze’s mind is nothing short of an endlessly inventive wonderland. He brought two of the most creative screenplays ever written to life in “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.” In “Where the Wild Things Are,” he took a 48-page picture book and transformed it into one of the most emotionally complex family movies of all time. “Her,” the director’s latest outing, is simply a revelation of imagination.
Joaquin Phoenix hits just the right levels of lonely, dumpy, and pathetic as Theodore, a man who writes personalized love letters for other people. The sad writer’s own love life is ironically a mess as he’s facing a divorce from his wife, played by Rooney Mara. Theodore isn’t completely without companionship as he has friends in Amy Adams’ Amy and Chris Pratt’s Paul. A majority of his nights, though, are spent playing video games and having weird phone sex with strangers.
Determined to make a connection with someone new, Theodore purchases an operating system designed to think, speak, evolve, and feel like an actual human being. The female OS names herself Samantha on the spot and is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Although Samantha is never given a visual body, the audience can always imagine what she looks like and what she’s experiencing based on Johansson’s effective performance. She’s real to the audience and she’s really real to Theodore, who goes from having an unlikely friendship with Samantha to a romance.
The idea of dating artificial intelligence might have seemed far-fetched when Rod Serling wrote about it in “The Twilight Zone” 50 years ago. Nowadays, however, most people spend more time on their phones, iPads, and computers than engaging in face-to-face conversations. There was even an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” where Raj essentially dated Siri. At the rate we’re going, it wouldn’t be surprising if we got an operating system as sophisticated as Samantha in another 10 years. Let’s just hope the OS is closer to Samantha than HAL 9000.
Jonze’s screenplay tackles its subject matter with great intelligence, great humor, and great sincerity above all else. The conversations Theodore and Samantha share are some of the most thoughtful of all modern romances. Even if one’s a machine, their whole romance is infinitely more believable than the relationships in a majority of romantic comedies and Nicholas Sparks adaptations. It further provides a fascinating commentary on the state of artificial emotion and human emotion.
The look of the film is additionally quite intriguing for a science fiction picture. Although it’s never made clear what year this is supposed to be taking place, one can assume it’s in the not-so-distant future. Jonze doesn’t litter every shot with multi-million dollar special effects, however. Rather, he paints a subtle future that’s more about ideas and people than eye candy.
If “Her” has one issue it would be the ending, which isn’t bad. If anything, it’s perfectly satisfying. Yet, it eventually becomes clear to the viewer that a story like this can only have one foregone conclusion. For a film that’s otherwise so utterly unique, it leaves you wanting something a little more unpredictable in the end. But that’s merely a minor problem in not only is it one of the most memorable films of recent times, but also a film that’s very much ahead of its own time.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.