DISCONNECT: Amy Adams as Amy and Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore in the romantic drama Her.

DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
RATING: ****


HER is a wistful love story which highlights the very human need to connect as the basis of every relationship.

By setting the story slightly in the future, writer and director Spike Jonze asks the ultimate “what if” question, making you look inward at your own reaction.

Apparently, Shanghai today is Los Angeles’ future – the film was mostly shot in the Chinese city and if you look closely enough you will see some Chinese signs and identifiable buildings – though this is not a dystopian future, but a pleasant one.

It is also a future in which people do not interact. Everyone is in their own little world, walking down huge walkways, talking to their phones. The disconnect theme is a big one, which calls attention back to the need for a connection.

The film is centred on sweet, creative, shy guy, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix). Blessed with a name like that, he could only be a writer, but in this future he finds a singular yet highly impersonal way to exercise his creativity.

He writes personalised letters for people, from a grandchild to a grandparent saying “thank you” for a present, or a love letter to mark a wedding anniversary.

While he can turn just a few pictures and a suggested topic into an intensely personal moment for someone else, Theodore struggles to make a personal connection of his own, in the throes as he is of a divorce.

Smarting from the pain of rejection, Theodore has all but withdrawn from socialising with his friends, but then he strikes up a friendship with a computer operating system, billed as the first artificial intelligence.

Calling herself Samantha (voiced by Johansson), this operating system quickly becomes a very real friend to Theodore, teasing him when he gets de- pressed, keeping him company when he goes out and eventually becoming the receptacle of all the positive emotion he wants to share with someone.

Unbeknown to him, or at least at first, his friend Amy (Adams) has done exactly the same thing, striking up a friendship with her AI in a different way.

Hoyt van Hoytema’s (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Let the Right One In) cinematography goes a long way to highlighting how Samantha experiences the world for the first time with Theodore’s help. Light becomes a physical character – whether it is the warm and inviting light of the city outside Theodore’s flat at night, or the flare of the light on the beach – and the colour blue (usually a big one in futuristic sci-fi films) is virtually eliminated.

A lot of the film is actually close-ups of Phoenix’s face expressing his reaction to Johansson’s voice and the handheld camera creates intimacy, while the soft lighting and colour scheme help to create a landscape that comes across as digitally created, yet is very real.

The film is all about contrasts: warm colours, but then the main character is so sad and melancholy; it is set in the future but highlights the modern condition of individual isolation despite being in the age of communication; AI becomes so real to Theodore he falls in love with her, yet she questions her own existence; there’s stark impersonal architecture and yet there are thousands of people all around him and Theodore could not be lonelier.

Jonze paints a melancholic picture, but leavens this with wry humour and throws in some big questions about consciousness and free will while he’s at it.

It is Phoenix’s touching vulnerability, though, that holds it together, even when the questions become profound, he is still real, as is his need to connect.

If you liked Silver Linings Playbook or Midnight in Paris you will like this.