"What if your butt-hole was in your armpit?"
I am he that aches with amorous love;
Does the earth gravitate? Does not all matter, aching, attract all matter?
So the Body of me, to all I meet, or know. - Walt Whitman
HER harks to where we are as a society. Theodore Twombly rides the subway home from work, and nearly every passenger is logged in to a variety of devices. Some have argued we've lost, or at least hindered our ability to converse face-to-face. I'm just as guilty as the next person. Moments of silence have been replaced by the clickety-clack of texts and emails being written. It's as if we dread the act of doing nothing. There's an apparent comfort in having that metallic weight in your hand.
Theo is the ultimate sad sack, and is more hopeless than romantic, seeking through his musical library, asking only to hear melancholic tunes. He was formerly married to Catherine (Rooney Mara), a childhood sweetheart. The union dissolved over time, as both failed to adapt to the other's wishes or hopes. He takes the split harder than his ex. Theodore sheepishly peeps at naked photos on his device, and frequents chatrooms while in bed, talking with various females with similar issues and bizarre fetishes. He eventually relents to a blind date, but his apprehension outweighs whatever emotion is felt. The night fizzles and he returns to his solitude.
His loneliness is cemented by his occupation as a personal card writer for those who can't express themselves. All day he writes beautiful words for complete strangers, an act that monopolizes his personal growth and expressiveness. He's talented, and receives praise from his boss, Paul (a typically goofy Chris Pratt), but like most of us, Theo is looking for something more. One night on the way home from work, he stops to watch a commercial about a new operating system, OS One. This OS is a new invention, filled with a form of artificial intelligence. It learns and adapts, and creates a unique personality with each purchaser.
"Samantha" is Theo's OS. In many languages Samantha means "listener," perfectly appropriate given Theo's needs. At first she sorts through his emails, and helps him navigate a video game. She soon evolves into something much more, becoming a friend and later, lover. We're told that Theo's interconnection is a common thing; relations are popping up all over the place. People are even dating other people's OSes.
On paper HER sounds preposterous, creepy even. Spike Jonze has the ideal amount of quirkiness and acumen to succeed with the material, however. His script sets a really wonderful stage, allowing us to join Theo and Samantha along their burgeoning road. She is bodiless, yes, but Theo feels her presence and so do we. Samantha is voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and her throaty delivery is a flawless vehicle for the role. It's really much more than seduction, though. She is playful and compassionate. It's neat to hear her character go through this journey. She too has a starting and finish line.
As well, it's difficult to see anyone else in the role of Theo other than Joaquin Phoenix. It's the innocence he's able to exude. After he and Samantha get acquainted, he brings her along on a variety of outings around Los Angeles, where the film takes place. In a cute touch, Theo safety pins his pocket to allow Samantha to "see" the world that he encounters. They spend an afternoon on the beach; another time at a fair. Theo holds Samantha (his device) at arm's length and starts spinning around. The two of them just break out into laughter, cracking up at their laissez-faire attitude. They share stories and secrets; Samantha draws Theo pictures on her diminutive screen. It's incredibly goofy at times, but it absolutely flows without ever toeing the line into mawkishness. I was happy to be invited into their lives for a short amount of time. Amazingly, Phoenix and Johansson were never on set together. Both were essentially acting alone: she read her lines off-site, while he spends the majority of his scenes talking to himself. The way they were able to come across so naturally is a real testament.
Jonze directed the film as well, the first time he's been behind the lens. HER is set in the near future, but not too far down the road where it should be called purely science fiction. Transportation and cityscape-wise, nothing has changed; in fact, the only noticeable remodeling is that no one wears belts any longer. Jonze's Los Angeles carries around an affectionate glow with it. It goes along with Theo's wardrobe, full of color. He is a creature of the city, but a reluctant one. He has resigned himself to pine until he finds a companion made from postmodern technology. A Hollywood love story in the City of Angels.
In a trade where the massive and brash are overly celebrated, HER quiets the noise. But for such a seemingly contained story, it travels to very vast places. It's assured in its reach, touching on topics of empathy and mortality. We don't choose who we love. Be it white, black, or a fancy apparatus with a sexy voice. Love and connection is what matters. They keep us from floating away into the ether. Theo and Samantha are each what the other needs, a symbiosis.