A golden rule for titles is to keep them short, sweet and meaningful. The film stuck to this rule and struck gold. There could not have been a more apt title for this story about a man sharing his story of love with his ‘artificial’ lady love. The film’s title is a reiteration of how the simplest words can be the most powerful.
The word, ‘Her’ manages to focus our imagination towards the romantic essence of the film. The word is simple, poetic and offers high recollection value. It suits the minimalistic treatment of the film.
One may think that this basic word is not unique but its singular usage makes it outstanding, as it generates sufficient intrigue for the viewer to catch it.
Premise/ Logline Review
Logline – Set in the near future, a lonely introverted writer is on the verge of divorce. During this period, he buys an Artificially Intelligent Operating System for assistance but gradually falls in love with it. (Click here to find out what a logline is)
The premise is clear and easy to understand – Romance between a middle-aged man and his AI (Artificial Intelligence). That’s originality for you. The strength of this premise lays in the fact merges the genre of science fiction with romance.
The concept is easy to connect with because it deals with relatable themes like love and loneliness while drawing a picture of the near future that seems absurd yet plausible.
Set in Los Angeles, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is the protagonist and we follow his story. He works as a futuristic letter writer for a company that specialises in writing personal letters for people who don’t have the bandwidth to pen to their dear ones. As a writer, he showcases how eloquent he is in his expression and observation. He quickly grows on you as a likeable character even though we don’t see him go through much interaction with others as the plot progresses.
He is established as a loner struggling with mild levels of depression due to his on-going divorce with Catherine (Rooney Mara), his childhood sweetheart. To cope with his situation, he purchases a new virtual assistant that is an artificially intelligent operating system so futuristic in its design that it can evolve consciously. Just like humans.
The operating system is Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha surprises Theodore with her sweet, witty and charming interactions. With each interaction, Theodore finds her like a person who he enjoys spending time with. Their bond transitions from Samantha being his aid at filtering emails to setting updates for him. Soon their communication deepens as they discuss love and confess their feeling to one another. Their relationship grows to such an extent that they even make love. Yep, you heard that right! They are in a full-blown relationship which develops from strength to strength as they discover themselves.
Writer Spike Jonze is skilled at making these interactions organic. The film has minimal action in most scenes but the masterful dialogues progress the plot efficiently. The flow from scene to scene is seamless and the development of this strange romance feels authentic and believable.
Due to the organic flow of the story, it is very difficult to question the pace of it. There are a couple of instances when the pace of the story seems slightly slow and sluggish but heavy doses of witty dialogues and continuous plot movement blankets this feeling.
The timing and rhythm of the dialogues are excellent with apt comedy complementing gloomy and introspective moments. The pacing of the story also adds to the overall mood of the film and makes the entire experience poetic and lyrical much like an ode.
For those of you who love using minimal characters in your stories, the character treatments of Her can be your holy grail. The story has a first-person point of view with at least half of the scenes presenting Theodore in his loneliness. His soft, sheepish introvert character has been designed so well that he manages to hold the audience’s attention and makes us empathise with his situations and his fallacies.
The masterstroke character is Samantha. I call it a masterstroke because even though she is what the story is about, she never visually appears. That is in itself one of the boldest character treatments I have seen yet. While in scripting terms, Samantha’s dialogues are the only measure of how great her character is, Scarlett Johansson’s voiceover turns Samantha into the most alluring operating system which will probably grace a cinematic story.
Both Theodore and Samantha’s character arcs are dynamic and overwhelming. Both characters go through tremendous change and have multi-layered personalities. I was heavily invested in both characters because the stakes for them progressively increased throughout the story.
Secondary characters like Theodore’s wife and friends are also very memorable as each of them has a purpose and unique wants and needs. All of this comes through clearly during their short cameos.
The underplayed and minimal storytelling style doesn’t allow Her the scope to have a lot of memorable dialogues. That is not to say that the dialogues are unimpressive. Quite the opposite as almost every line is measured, articulate and natural.
There is not much contrast in the way different characters speak and everyone has normalcy in their speech. None of the characters has speech impairments or catchphrases which separate them from others. The only exception to this is the video game robot that constantly abuses Theodore. That dirty little bast**d has the funniest lines while Samantha finishes a close second.
Theme & Tone Review
The prominent themes Her delves into are that of the journey of love, the irreversible advent of technology and loss of human connections.
Theodore lives as a loner with only a couple of friends who are suffering from loneliness themselves. Much like most of the people established in this futuristic world, Theodore doesn’t address his loneliness and represses it by using various gadgets to satiate the void of love in his life.
Technology governs his life so deeply that instead of connecting with new women, he finds comfort in having a relationship with his computer. And he is not alone as we find various people having such relationships with their AIs. The film gives us a barefaced perspective of how the advent of technology masks the misery of the loss of human connections.
The structure of Her is simple and straight forward. It follows a linear pattern of storytelling with the first-person narration of Theodore’s life. Theodore is present in every scene and we do not follow any other character’s journey except that of Theodore.
This is precisely why the romance between Theodore and Samantha becomes compelling as we never delve into what Samantha is going through as an AI. We never delve into how she is evolving and questioning her consciousness throughout the story.
The scenes are extremely poetic in their transition and sequencing. The length of the story is appropriate for its genre and context at just over 2 hours.
How can one even question the originality about a love story between a loner and his computer? The concept is as fresh as they come. The originality of this story helps it sail through the most tested ocean of endless previously told love stories. As for characters, Theodore is a compelling character but not one which we haven’t seen before. He is an archetypal character. Samantha, on the other hand, is a completely new character design. We have seen robotic characters before but none have attached me to them as emotionally as Samantha’s voice has.
The story maintains originality with the various interactions and twists it offers along the way and provides complete emotional catharsis to its captive audience.
Even though Her is extremely entertaining, it is not a film that is for everyone’s palette. Her is also not the most commercial designed film we will come across in an age of superhero and high octane stories.
I would call Her a niche film but the storytelling is so universal and fascinating that I am certain many people who enjoy films with a faster pace and more action will enjoy this piece of art and might even start building an appetite for stories of such sensitivity. The target audience of the film is everyone old enough to watch a couple of nude scenes and listen to the occasional expletive.
This is not a low budget story by any stretch. The production budget was of 23 million and it grossed over 48 million. This is an encouraging statistic for writers who enjoy working on similar genres. The cast of Jaoquin Pheonix and Scarlett Johansson is second to none and it is no surprise that such a cast helped pull audiences to the theatre.
Most Memorable Scene
Most Memorable Dialogue
Hope you enjoyed this review. To download the Her screenplay of Her click here.