And so there’s this computer. It’s an artificially hyperintelligent operating system that’s half personal secretary, half therapist. It speaks in a naturalistic feminine rasp. It seems to be thinking. It seems to know you. You fall in love with her. She falls in love with you. Then she develops the capacity for jealousy. Eventually, you’re arguing about sex. She starts saying things like, “I’m becoming much more than they programmed.” Twenty years ago, this scenario would’ve played as a dystopian nightmare. But in the era of Catfish
, where “dating” is an increasingly abstract concept, the premise of Spike Jonze’s Her
can serve as the basis for an honest-to-goodness relationship drama. Her
, the first film Jonze has written himself, isn’t another Charlie Kaufman mind puzzle, but its emotions are no easier to untangle, nor to categorize. Is it sci-fi? Horror? Satire? Or is a story about falling in love with binary code the only honest way to talk about modern romance? Credit Jonze for never mocking Joaquin Phoenix’s lonely former L.A. Weekly
staffer-turned-emotional copywriter, even though he puts him in a ’stache-and-glasses combo out of a pedophile Halloween costume and gives him the exceptionally dweeby name Theodore Twombley. Thanks to Phoenix’s warm, subtly brave performance, his character doesn’t seem crazy. Scarlett Johansson voices the OS, and her husky rasp sounds lived-in and imperfect. In other words, it’s distinctly human. Her
is, perhaps, a movie that is easier to think about than to watch: It’s overlong, and prone to greeting-card proverbs. But its central thought is one that will only grow more significant as the world becomes a bigger, more alienating place: Is any feeling real, or are we just programmed that way?