Spike Jonze’s new sci-fi comedy romance, Her, is set in a dreamy, sunshine filled, near future Los Angeles. Scientific advance has created a techno-perfect society where people are progressively becoming locked into their own virtual worlds.
The emotional landscape of the film is playfully introduced by the main character, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who works as a ghost writer for a company called “BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com”.
In a society where personal intimacy is seen as just another commodity, he and his co-workers are employed to compose love letters for those with money who can’t be bothered to do it themselves.
The plot is simple enough – Theodore is trying to recover from his recent marriage break up. After a number of abortive attempts at relating to other women, he falls in love with his computer operating system.
This, sadly, is not as far fetched as it sounds. In 2009 a Japanese man, in front of a congregation, became the first man to marry a computer game character.
And in Britain, Dan O’Hara at Birmingham City University designed a new type of autonomous online programme last year, which uses information people share online to construct virtual personalities.
Jonze pushes this one stage further. Theodore’s new operating system is called Samantha – a hyper-sophisticated artificial intelligence with a woman’s voice, played seductively by Scarlet Johansson. She becomes the sympathetic ear which his ex-wife lacked. Designed to suit his needs, she is there to listen, she organises his affairs, is smart, witty, flirtatious and non-judgemental.
Taking narcissism to an extreme, he falls in love with his own fantasy. Echoing Woody Allen, the film is witty and self-conscious but also contrived. Cliches and stereotypes annoy and irritate rather than work as irony.
Big questions about the nature of human relationships in the age of social media are raised but no answers are offered by what is in the end a rather dull Hollywood rom-com with all its conventional highs and lows, lovers’ tiffs and reconciliations. Visually stunning throughout, style definitely wins over content.
At a time where we are being challenged and confronted more than ever with very real questions of alienation in an increasingly atomised society by popular TV series such as Breaking Bad and The Wire, audiences have a right to demand more.