Her ★★★★★

What does it mean to do be in love? True love, surely, requires bi-direction - a reciprocal relationship between two parties sharing in that experience. But the feeling of love is inherently subjective, and though we can attempt to express our feelings with one another, its an internal process that’s intensely personal. So does that mean that, to be in love, it doesn’t actually require the other person to truly be in love - only that you love and feel as though you are loved back?

This is a question Her seeks to explore. And on the face of it, the premise of finding that love in an artificially intelligent OS seems like it would be predisposed to over-satirization, an insincere parody of what it means to be in love through the lens of a disconnected soul who’s unable to find a fulfilling connection in humanity. But that’s not this film. Not at all.

Spike Jonze has crafted one of the most endearing and - at the same time - thought-provoking films I’ve ever seen. It’s completely full of comedy and satire on a number of levels, but never does any of it feel like irreverence. Jonze’s exploration of love in the near-future doesn’t draw any conclusions for its audience, and it feels like it comes from a place of genuine inquisitiveness and is devoid of a sense of moral superiority. You might call it twee (a term I hate), but it feels truly sweet - a heartfelt confessional to the core ideas of relationships.

The not-so-distant future that Her presents, a beautifully art directed mega-LA, gives us a glimpse of how some of the most modern emerging trends could evolve within the next decade or two. Jonze’s choice of time-setting is perfect for satirizing many things that our society still hasn’t learned how to balance, but, again, the manner in which he explores these notions with satire feels like it comes from a place of genuine adoration. In the film’s encapsulation of things like casual video games, Theodore’s job and online dating, we get a perspective on how limiting these technologies are, but also how liberating they can be.

Her’s supporting cast is stellar, and it’s a pleasure to watch both yet-to-break-out Chris Pratt and already-broken-out Amy Adams as great supporting characters. But make no mistake: Joaquin Phoenix completely carries this film, and justifiably so. His performance is a perfect blend of social anxiety, lethargy and reluctance, but beneath all of these serious limitations he demonstrates a heart that yearns for something more from this life. Phoenix connects so effortlessly that his victories - however small - feel like our victories too, and his pains and awkwardness are felt all the same.

Scarlet Johansson, at first, feels like an odd choice for a supporting actor. Lending her distinctly un-artificial voice, with its nasal smokiness, to a lifeless Operating System seems more like a hurdle than an obvious choice. But as the film develops, it becomes clear how essential the attributes of her voice, and Johansson’s performance, are to what anchors her character’s artificiality in a believable realm of sentience.

Her has instantly become my favourite film of the year. And like the best films, it’s difficult to categorize cleanly. It’s science fiction, in one sense, but grounded in a way that the science becomes transparent to the fiction. The soundtrack by Arcade Fire, including contributions from Owen Pallett and Karen O, is spectacular, and the art direction, writing, editing, and cinematography are all equally strong. But none of this gets in the way of the story being told. Flawless films don’t come around often, and rarely are they so personal. Jonze demonstrates that he is a true visionary, and a wonderfully sentimental storyteller. This film will leave you thinking, but also feeling, as its ideas resonate long after you leave the theatre.