Have your heart broken by ‘Her’

By Lauren Romag

Warner Bros./MCT
Warner Bros./MCT

Although “Her” is advertised as a love story between a socially awkward man who writes beautiful handwritten letters for strangers and an artificial intelligence, it proves to be so much more.

While following the relationship of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), an operating system that he falls for while in the process of separating from his childhood sweetheart, “Her” is the universal equalizer for dry romantic comedies and sci-fi dramas everywhere. In its use of subtle effects, the near-future timeline is established without it being shoved down your throat. Sure, the concentration of high-waistline pants is a little overwhelming at times, but there’s a sense of belonging in the quasi-sterile, kinky, hipster-dominated world to come.

There are very few films that can get so much right, and director Spike Jonze’s attention to detail makes this movie stand out among a box office that includes the likes of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “August: Osage County” and “American Hustle,” truly making it a worthwhile watch.

It’s mainly the small things like the placement of audio-devoid flashbacks played to a character’s verbal reminiscence, Phoenix’s calculated pushing up of his horn-rimmed glasses at the most opportune moments, the score that so perfectly reflects the mood of each scene and the aesthetically pleasing use of space to portray the protagonists’ crowded world and their isolation from those around them. There isn’t a single character whose potential is wasted. All maximize their significance without overstaying their welcome.

“Her” feeds on our universal longing to be accepted and understood all while bringing phone sex to a level that no one is quite yet ready to deal with. It loves to pose the question of whether or not a non-physical, humanoid entity can be satisfactory in long-term companionship, but isn’t afraid to include the misuse of a dead cat.

It’s a shame that Johansson’s role, in all of its devastating beauty, did not qualify her for an Oscar nomination. Theodore’s heart isn’t the only one that’s stolen as her breathy, unassuming voice metaphorically fills the screen without a second of being on the other side of the camera. Samantha proves to be the supporting character necessary for the film to progress as a beacon for showing the inherent need for interpersonal contact. She makes this movie. It’s her, in more ways than one.

Secretly, you may muse that the “Terminator” series is a natural epilogue for this film. Maybe you hope that, as the credits for the upcoming “Transcendence” movie plays, they pause to inform you that the true title was “Her 2.” Nonetheless, you leave the theater content. Or, at least as content as you can be after Jonze’s creation mercilessly rips your bleeding heart from your chest and laughs as you try to fill the hole in your thoracic cavity that these past two and a half hours have left you with.

Regardless, “Her” is a pleasant surprise: a highly anticipated film that actually delivers. It’s “Lars and the Real Girl” and “Synecdoche, New York” re-imagined, all the while retaining its originality.

You don’t expect to become emotionally invested in a socially awkward, stubbornly sentimental, middle-aged man who can’t let go in this haunting, mildly unsettling cinematic masterpiece. You don’t believe that a relationship between a man and an operating system can be heart wrenching or draining. But, lo and behold, “Her” leaves you utterly defeated and psychologically wasted as the credits roll.

Lauren Romag can be reached at [email protected]