As someone who has played second fiddle to many a dinner companion who found their phone more of an attraction than me, I have long suspected many would say Yes to the above question, though not because they approved of it. In the past I have reacted badly by stabbing other people’s OFF buttons with a fork or when feeling merely sarcastic, ordered food for the mobile and a place set at the table. And looking around many restaurants it is clear I am not alone as you can see the hurt children and adults alike experience as phones flash, burp, squeal and are instantly attended to regardless of the family celebration. One wonders why phone addicts don’t just stay at home plugged into a power socket.
So to let myself go in a film which asks this very question will be a challenge to my objectiveness. But I am sure anyone well welded to their phone will like what is an interesting twist to a traditional love story as the soon to be divorced and heartbroken Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) falls heavily for the female voice of Samantha, who is the Operating System on his new mobile phone.
It is at this point that many, like me, might feel tempted not to watch any more but I am determined to make the effort to keep an open mind for obsession is something we can all suffer from. What about all those earnest people who fall for their therapists, or the successful self-made business folk who have lifelong relationships with their solid but reliable secretaries who by being so organised and unflappable make their lives so much easier. So ask yourself, is then falling for your Operating System so farfetched? Unfortunately not.
The proof of the excellence of Her will therefore be how easy the director Spike Jonze makes it, with the help of the seductive voice of Scarlett Johansson (Samantha), for the audience to accept that falling for a disembodied voice which offers unconditional love and support, one which is never too tired or bad tempered, never bothers you with their own needs and concerns, is always there, sympathetic and can help sort out problems bigger than organising your calendar or making appointments, is possible.
Anyone who has suffered rejection or failure in a relationship will find it very plausible indeed as at these times we become very vulnerable and form fantasies in our head of somebody rescuing us from being so alone, of making us feel we matter. The fantasy usually takes the form of being rescued by a knight in shining armor or a wonder (computerised?) woman, who will take care of us and help us come out of our dilemma of being too alone and worthless and not knowing what to do. This condition is well documented, Americans call it being a ‘Love Addict’ and it is a recognised psychological condition well played out by the character of Theodore Twombly.
Her shows us a timeless love tangle, moving from a simple heartfelt need to be needed, appreciated and wanted to full blown and dangerous obsession, with a twist, set in 2030 where technology has taken precedence over human connections. It explores the idea and consequences of artificial intelligence developing into emotional intelligence and what happens to relationships that merge across the human/artificial divides. And like all love relationships, it realises the ever present potential in love affairs of rejection, when one partner, human or code, outgrows the other and moves on.
But be cheered, for Her is said to be an all-around technical marvel. It is set in a futuristic city using Los Angeles and overseas venues. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema‘s use of colours and smooth palettes are something I am keen to see. The Arcade Fire score too will be worth hearing. So this week I will leave my fork at home and see for myself if the five Oscar nominations this film earned are worth the constant mobile interruptions.
Her is showing at FACT on 16 December, as part of the events programme for current exhibition Follow.