Warning: Potential Spoliers Ahead!
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) writes letters for a living. He sits at a pristinely organized desk in a pristine and sterile cubicle that’s located within a pristine and sterilized office where other letter writers ply their trade. The letters he writes are addressed to strangers and written on behalf of strangers. Theodore has been writing on behalf of some of these clients, if we may call them that, for years. He dictates the letters to a software that transcribes his words and produces a final document that appears to be handwritten.
When he’s checked out for the day, Theodore gets on an elevator and inserts the earpiece from his smartphone. He asks it to “play a melancholy song,” and in less than a second his command is met.
A melancholy song is fitting. For someone with a romantic attachment to the art of letter writing, these opening scenes can leave you despondent. The most sacred of emotions and actions have been outsourced and expressions of love and longing have lost authenticity because they come from a complete stranger
A handwritten letter is a unique treasure in that it does not strive for efficiency or even necessarily clarity, but instead for vividness. In however many words it may take, letters are confessions of very deep sentiments that we typically guard closely, conveying insecurities and vulnerability and absurd aspirations. We write someone a letter only if we trust them enough to show our scars and silly thoughts. We write to someone if they’re worth the effort of picking up a pen and paper.
The world that Spike Jonze has created in Her is one in which people do not have to expend effort in order for their needs to be met because they can rely on technology to satisfy most of their desires. It’s an intriguing world to look at as realized by Jonze. It looks like what living inside a Macbook might be like. The colour schemes are overwhelmingly simple, but with enough variety to avoid being bland. Nothing is out of place and in the major metropolis that Twombly inhabits, there is no litter and no immediate hints of diversity. Everything on the surface is safe and sterile.
Theodore is in the middle of a divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara) and as a result is deeply depressed and unsatisfied. He discovers an operating system with aritifical intelligence designed to evolve and adapt. Twombly gives his operating system a female identity who names herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and immediately she begins to grow.