Her 2013 ★★★½

Builds its near-future L.A. out of high-rises, sunlight, earth tones, and a level of digital immersion plausibly extrapolated from the present day. Empathetic and unfailingly warm where our relationship with technology is concerned—a refreshing change from movies' usual PSA-ish condescension, although it does mean the satire and darkness in Her are restricted to mere dribbles. But then, that's clearly not what Jonze is interested in, even if I think it's a sorely missed opportunity. He's put a hero who's "sensitive" and "in love" into a world where both those traits have been commodified, yet all that's just incidental, because Her is emphatically a love story.

An inside-out love story, at that: it occupies the space between Theodore and Samantha, and from there puzzles out a series of conclusions about romantic relationships, artificial intelligence, and the overlap between the two. It's a very savvy use of speculation and metaphor to demonstrate how we grow accustomed to the ones we love, how we evolve alongside one another. How, for all our affection, some parts of our loved ones will always remain beyond our ken. Samantha is admittedly an extreme example; she's invisible, nonhuman, sometimes a little frightening. (I could easily imagine this story edging into Demon Seed territory.) Yet her capacity for love, as with Theodore's, is never the slightest bit in question.

It's really a fascinating way to depict A.I.—not as a symptom of utopia or dystopia, but as just another step forward, with some pros and cons and mild social fallout. (Being in a relationship with an OS initially seems non-normative, but Theodore's friends adjust quickly.) I'm also enamored with the film's subjective soundscape, which renders this brave new world palpable, mostly as a set of voices in Theodore's head. As Samantha, Scarlett Johansson gets to be what sound theorist Michel Chion termed an acousmêtre—a disembodied voice whose intangibility grants it onscreen power—and she plays with this status, sometimes becoming emotionally naked yet always and inescapably staying at a slight remove. (This reaches its apex in the dazzling "surrogate" scene, which turns sound/image disjunction into awkwardness and pathos.)

At times like this, or during the couple's long bedside chats, Her asymptotically approaches the kind of sci-fi Éric Rohmer might've made: rich with patient, circuitous dialogue; shifting around fault lines formed by personal decisions; set in a pretty but difficult world. That said, Her still feels a little hazy when strong emotions are in question, signifying loneliness with pensive montage and infatuation with quirk. I'm most convinced by this movie when it's about the sinews and nerve endings that make up a relationship, detailing their everyday functions rather than their outermost limits. In those moments, it contextualizes the mundane within the fantastic, and goddamn but that's a very impressive thing for science fiction to pull off.

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