Joaquin Phoenix stars as Theodore Twombly, a quirky writer drifting through a lonely existence in a not-too-distant future Los Angeles. His work entails composing love letters for other couples, a job I can imagine people taking up pretty soon. When not on the job Theodore checks his emails on the train home like so many of us today, he plays videogames alone in his tidy apartment, and seems to enjoy the small doses of human interaction he does have. Theodore is also still in the process of recovering from the collapse of his marriage with Catherine (Rooney Mara) and has retreated into his own shell.
As the wounded protagonist Joaquin Phoenix is phenomenally cast, we can see the pain and confusion in his eyes and feel the loneliness of his heavy heart in the atmosphere of the film. A truly stellar actor for a number of reasons, Phoenix transforms into the stumbling and sympathetic role of Theodore with such ease that the character almost breaches the void to becoming a real person to us. Such goes the theme of the film, as Scarlett Johansson breathes life into the voice of Samantha, an operating system that Theodore falls in love with. The question of whether Samantha is aware enough to develop her own true feelings and to cultivate a unique personality is left for us to decide, but with Johansson’s terrific voice acting we, along with Theodore, seem to suspend belief enough that she really exists in the room with us. The power of the performances is so key to this film that I can not imagine anyone else in the roles say for Phoenix and Johansson.
After buying this new operating system and answering a few set-up questions, Theodore is introduced to Samantha for the first time. With her friendly yet oddly seductive voice, Samantha and Theodore develop a friendship as she cleans his computer's folders and writes emails for him. The level of interaction the two have is so deep and continuous that Theodore almost can’t help himself but begin to care for Samantha, as she helps him rediscover his own thrill to learn and adventure and be joyous. Together the two visit the beach, the circus, they even go on a double date with Theodore’s coworkers.
Almost unexpected here is the level of humor, as Spike Jonze expertly navigates from heartbreaking scenes to comedic ones with only a few moves in between. Also unique to the emotional level of the story is how Jonze navigates our sympathy towards Theodore, and then later away from him towards Samantha for a time and even his ex-wife Catherine before back to Theodore. This way we understand and feel for all of the human characters in this film. Filmed with beauty and written with intellect, Her is one of the most original, and one of my favorite, films of the year.