She sounds like the girl next door young, friendly, eager. For Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), the poetically melancholic hero in Her, Spike Jonzes exquisite new movie, that voice (Scarlett Johansson) is a lifeline to the world, on which he has loosened his hold since separating from his wife.
The voice brightly greets him in the morning and, with a sexy huskiness, bids him good night. The voice organizes his files, gets him out of the house and, unlike some multitasking females, doesnt complain about juggling her many roles, which makes her ideal, even if shes also just software.
At once a brilliant conceptual gag and a deeply sincere romance, Her is the unlikely yet completely plausible love story about a man who sometimes resembles a machine, and an operating system that very much suggests a living woman.
Its set in Los Angeles in an unspecified time in the future. The machines havent risen, as they have in dystopian tales, but instead have been folded into everyday life.
Theodore learns about the operating system from an advertisement and is soon running it on his home computer and phone. Before long, he and the software, which calls itself Samantha, are exchanging pleasantries, playing the roles of strangers fated to become lovers.
Its a perfect tale for Jonze, a fabulist whose sense of the absurd informs his more broadly comic endeavors and the straighter if still kinked art-house films hes directed, such as Being John Malkovich.
Written by Jonze, Her features plenty of talk and little action, partly because its a neo-classic boy-meets-operating-system romance and only one of them has a body.
This is a minor setback as far as the characters are concerned, although only Samantha frets about it. If this profound existential difference doesnt worry Theodore, its because isolation is his default state.
Thats both because of his own life, including his separation from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), and because everyone around him seems more plugged in to their machines than to other people. He has one friend, Amy (Amy Adams), who lives nearby, and talks to only one colleague (Chris Pratt) in the office where he spends his days writing intimate letters for other people.
Samantha saves him from solitude, drawing him out of himself and then into life itself. The role was initially voiced by the British actor Samantha Morton, who, after the movie was shot, was replaced by Johansson and whose casting feels inevitable. Her voice isnt an especially melodious instrument, but its a surprisingly expressive one that slides from squeaky girlishness to a smoky womanliness.
Its crucial that each time you hear Johansson in Her, you cant help but flash on her lush physicality, too, which helps fill in Samantha and give her a ghostlike presence.
Her is even harder to imagine without Phoenix, an actor who excels at exquisite isolation.
This is a movie you want to reach out and caress, about a man who, like everyone else around him in the future, has retreated from other people into a machine world. In Her, the great question isnt whether machines can think, but whether human beings can still feel.