The love story that is Her is beautifully constructed. In many ways it underlines what should be the perfect relationship: symbiotic, wholesome, pure. The difference is that it’s all in the mind: a meeting of two intelligences with a shared view on life. Except one of them has never lived.
Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore. Scarlett Johansson is Samantha. One of them is flesh and blood. The other is a computer-operating programme – a sentient “lifeform” that, over time, becomes the focus of his life. She is part personal assistant, part analyst, part mother, part sex surrogate.
As he becomes ever more reliant on her voice – all-knowing, wise, perfect – so his life and mood improves. But where will this stop? And when it does, how might he react?
Her presents the premise – maybe a prescient and entirely plausible one – of a near future where physicality is replaced by virtual sexuality. Samantha (voiced in a piece of genius casting by Johansson) has genuine personality. Theodore’s has been wiped from him by an unhappy experience.
Artificial intelligence in the movies is often sinister and manipulating. Samantha is benevolent – as if the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey has undergone a sea change and been crossed with the perfect girl from The Man with Two Brains.
Phoenix gives a remarkable and multi-layered performance as the lovelorn loser in what is undoubtedly the best – if unconventional – romance of the year. It is heartrending to hear his comment “Sometimes I think that I’ve felt everything I’m gonna feel”. Samantha is the cure.
This quirky tale from Spike Jonze offers equal opportunities to Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt. And it champions the power of audio in a way not seen in/on film for years. Phoenix is a reactive force with Johansson as his muse. It’s a magnificent double-act and one that, in the case of Phoenix, should have been rewarded with an Oscar nomination.
Star rating: ****