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It’s always surprising to find romance in a futuristic setting as the sci-fi rom-com is a seemingly niche subgenre yet they can provide much of the fantasy that makes the traditional rom-com successful and Her does exactly that with an intriguing premise that would otherwise be dealt with cynicism about the doomed nature of the human race. Instead the film looks at how technology connects us and looks at how eventually we will have profound connections with technology itself as the film focuses on the relationship between Theodore and his operating system Samantha. What could look both pathetic and creepy turns out to be an empathetic story of a lonely soulful finding a shared connection with a woman just finding herself in the world. Samantha rather than being the soulless operator like Siri or Alexa is actually a conscious entity with an endlessly expanding mind and she finds herself developing an otherwise normal relationship with Theodore. What is genuinely surprising about the film is as well is how it portrays its setting as wholly accepting of their relationship and even though there is conflict with Theodore’s ex-wife about his new relationship, every one of Theodore’s friends is happy he has connected with someone. Samantha and Theodore are nonetheless ordinary yet conflicted people as they constantly have intimate and revealing conversations and have fun out in the town like any other rom-com couple but their relationship is not uncomplicated with Samantha constantly undergoing dramatic changes as she has literally only just become a conscious, artificially intelligent being. Then there is the simple fact that she does not carry an actual physical presence other than being a small electronic device.
This set-up puts great weight onto the leading actors, Joaquin Phoenix’s delivery is never once contrived even though most of his scenes must have been filmed with him talking to himself and Scarlett Johannsson carries so much of the emotional impact of the film with only her voice work. Even harder is the humour they evoke from their situation, the expected awkwardness around growing relationships that undoubtedly affects everyone. They navigate through Theodore’s and Samantha’s challenges in their melancholic yet somewhat comical story whilst deepening what we know of their characters through every narrative beat. We see Theodore’s discomfort in his social interactions with other women- apart from his platonic friend Amy who shares his disappointment at his difficult romantic past with her own faltering relationship- yet know of his yearning through his career of writing gifted romantic letters for long withstanding couples. Even without Johannsson physically present we understand the incredible intellectual and emotional growth she is undertaking everyday whereas Theodore is stuck and has been for some time as he reveals to Samantha and so the imbalance between the two of them grow and we as an audience are genuinely sympathetic to their relationship issues and are moved by the sincerity in the two lead performances that elevate incredibly strong writing from Spike Jonze.
The film’s ending as all the AI’s depart for their own space is quite heart-breaking yet even at the film’s most devastating moment, the final shot of Theodore and Amy watching the sunrise as they mourn the departed OSes whom they loved promises a hopeful outlook on Theodore’s love life. This itself is something which the film looked upon brightly yet not without poignancy throughout his time with Samantha as he has proven that he connect easily without prejudice and even though we have seen him struggle in his challenges and conflicts we have faith that he can recover and find the vital connection he’s been yearning for.