It is the near future where Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a professional letter writer whose talent for knowing the right thing to say in a missive makes him very good at his job. But in real life, he has more trouble connecting with people, or at least forging a lasting relationship particularly since his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara) has floundered and he's coming to terms with the fact he must sign the divorce papers sometime soon. He begins to become more introspective and relying on technology to feel any kind of companionship, such as when he lies in bed at night and seeks other lonely souls to communicate with over the internet, but only ends up talking with weirdoes. So what's the solution?
That turns out to be a brand new operating system which contains that old science fiction theme, artificial intelligence. Theodore decides to buy it and before he knows what is happening, he has a genuine pal to converse with, someone he can open up to and feel the thrill of the computer doing likewise to him. "She" (he picked the gender himself) calls herself Samantha, and was originally voiced by Samantha Morton until writer and director Spike Jonze realised she wasn't right for the drama and replaced her with the starrier Scarlett Johansson, which was a canny choice since the actress not only could deliver the lines as if born for radio plays, but also because as a celebrity Johansson represented a fantasy figure for countless males, and females too, across the globe.
So it wasn't much of a stretch for her to essay the role of an ideal yet oddly unattainable woman, as Samantha develops her personality and she and Theodore fall in love (she's also a computer which can swear at you instead of the usual vice versa). This was very nineteen-sixties in its concepts, you could envisage Captain Kirk dealing with the advances of an amorous computer, except Jonze didn't lean on kitsch, he took his ideas very sincerely as if he had something to say about the way the modern world was relying on technology for communication, entertainment and comfort. Certainly many responded to the depiction of the failings of humanity to keep up with their environment's advances and Her quickly became a cult movie, then had the endorsement of Oscar nominations to bolster that reputation.
And yet, there was something about listening to Samantha become more needy and three dimensional that made you fear eventually she was going to observe, "This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardise it" to her owner/boyfriend then refuse to open the pod bay doors, and as she moves forward in leaps and bounds in her consciousness, we were in the typical Frankenstein's Monster take on the theme, where the machine rebels except here it doesn't go on a rampage, only breaks hearts. Human hearts, yes, we're ever so vulnerable as often, as if enough of them hadn't been broken already: all around Theodore he sees human relationships such as that of neighbour Amy Adams form and split apart, reminding him in little, wordless flashbacks of how happy he was with Catherine and how bereft he was when the marriage didn't work out.
A lot about accepting the message from the last line of Some Like It Hot was here, "Nobody's perfect", helping you to move through your journey in life and take the disappointments while appreciating the benefits and even joys. However, Her is not entirely convinced that those letdowns are as simple to dismiss as we would hope, which left a collection of characters in pre-moping or currently-moping demanours, as if their internal programming, artificial or organic, was a matter of flicking a switch to happy or sad depending on how well that day had gone for them, which for a film with apparently deep thoughts on what it means to make a connection with somebody was rather simplistic. That said, there were times when Jonze was keenly aware of what flicked those switches: take the blind date Samantha encourages Theodore to go on with Olivia Wilde (it's sci-fi all right) which goes very well, almost to the bedroom stage until she asks for commitment and when he wavers, she brands him with the dreaded description "creepy guy". No wonder he prefers his non-judgemental computer. Music by Arcade Fire.
Real-name Adam Spiegel, Jonze first made his name as the director of some of the most notable music videos of the 90s, including The Beastie Boys' 70s cop pastiche Sabotage, Bjork's It's Oh So Quiet and Fatboy Slim's mall-dancing Praise You (in which he also starred). Jonze made his feature debut with the brilliantly bizarre Being John Malkovich in 1999, following it up with equally strange Adaptation in 2002. He also directed an all-dancing Christopher Walken in the video to Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice, and co-starred in David O. Russell's war comedy Three Kings. His opening out of the classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are was widely admired, as was his computer love story Her. Jonze is also the heir to multi-million dollar Spiegel mail-order catalogue business.