Move along Siri. There’s a new personal assistant in town. Hollywood has taught us over the years that AI is scary and something to be approached cautiously. As soon as you hear the word ‘AI’ thoughts immediately jump to a world where mankind no longer rules the roost and the dominant species is that of the silicone chip. In ‘Her’ Artificial Intelligence shrugs off its role as an all powerful villain and instead takes on the role of a romantic lead.
We meet Theodore as he is going through a very tough divorce and now living a largely solitary life. Ironically he writes deeply emotional letters for busy husbands on behalf of a company called BeautifulHandWrittenLetters.com. It’s a service that you can well imagine existing in the not too distant future as society becomes more and more distant. This sentiment holds true for the whole setting of the film. It’s futuristic but not to the extent that the audience feels detached from their world. There are no flying cars to be had here.
Theodore’s life is turned upside down when a new computer operating system is released promising a highly intelligent AI acting as personal assistant. After choosing a female voice and having a brief initial chat, Theodore is blown away by the technology, the AI is indistinguishable from a human being. Think Siri Version 300. They both agree on the name ‘Samantha’ and with the detachment of everything else in his life who can blame Theodore for slowly falling in love with Samantha, she feels just as real as anything else in this world. Scarlett Johansson’s soft, lilting delivery of her lines certainly helps.
Johansson plays the flirtatious, endearing Samantha excellently, oftentimes making you forget that the character is a technological advancement and not just an intelligent young woman with unlimited minutes on her phone contract. It’s largely down to Johansson’s delivery that the chemistry between Samantha and Theodore works. An impressive feat considering her character is completely voice work with no physical manifestation. Though Joaquin Phoenix plays his character well (pleasant and thoughtful with just enough awkwardness to make the situation believable) the whole relationship lives or dies on the audience’s belief in the relationship. And that may not be the case if they had just opted to actually use Siri.
Visually the film is beautiful but that’s just what you’d expect from Hoyte van Hoytema, the cinematographer of such films as Interstellar, Spectre and Dunkirk. There’s a myriad of dusky tones, pastel colours and clean, uncluttered composition. Everything from the interior design to the clothing feels like a natural progression of trends today. At times Hoytema shoots in such a way as to really drive home the intimacy of a scene to the point where it can make you feel uncomfortable, like you are eavesdropping on a conversation that was clearly only meant for two.
Her is, in many ways, a romantic comedy with a lot to say. It’s a story about loneliness, self delusion and the continued social withdrawal of mankind into a digitally distracted age. But first and foremost it is simply a film about love, in whatever form it may manifest itself. It all feels a bit too real at times, a bit too close to home.