Theodore Twombly is in love with his computer. Admit it, aren’t we all? What’s the first thing you reach for when you wake up in the morning? The warm body lying next to you under the duvet or your phone? Which could you not live without for 24 hours? Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, sad and puppy-doggish) is a lonely writer nursing a broken heart after his marriage falls apart. It’s sometime around 2025 and artificial intelligence has just reached the tipping point where humans can no longer tell the difference between a conversation with a computer and another person.
Meet Samantha (the voice of Scarlett Johansson, so husky I don’t think there’s a straight guy alive who would kick her out of bed for not having a body). Sam is the new operating system (OS) on Theodore’s computer. She organises the thousands of emails he has never replied to, proofreads his writing and laughs at his jokes. She’s perfect. One thing leads to another… and, well, dating your OS is suddenly a thing in 2025. Everyone’s at it.
‘Her’ is a keeper of a film, quietly dazzling. It’s directed by Spike Jonze (the man behind ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Adaptation’). Shot in the hazy, honeyed glow of a quirky car ad, you can watch it simply as the history of one man’s romantic life. There are four Hers. First is Theodore’s ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara, go-to actress for a frosty ex), who we see in flashback and one bitter scene where she is devastating about his relationship with Samantha: ‘You always wanted a wife without the challenges of someone real.’ Next is Samantha, then there’s a disastrous blind date scene with Olivia Wilde. In the background is Amy Adams (so natural, she barely seems to be acting) as Theodore’s geeky-cool best friend.
Some of the ideas about intimacy in ‘Her’ are as old as the typewriter. Is this love, or does this person just make me feel comfortable? It gets twisty as Sam discovers her consciousness. Who is more human, distracted, switched-off? Theodore? Or Sam, who’s writing music and learning quantum physics. And more scary even than computer love are the fashions of the near future. Like a geography teacher dressed for a night out, Phoenix wears some worrying high-waisted dad-slacks.