Hell is having to explain the movie Her to somebody. A man falling in love with an operating system is definitely a bizarre premise and by all accounts makes Her a weird film, but there’s more to it than the surface level would lead you on to believe. It’s a wonderful commentary on human relationships as well as our rapidly changing technology and the way we incorporate it into our day-to-day lives. It also weaves a simple yet moving love story to accentuate the new ways we are meeting our emotional needs with technology. There’s so much warmth and beauty to this film that it has stuck with me since I first saw it this past Monday and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite movies.
Unable to move forward with his divorce, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has slowly become a lonely introvert shielding himself away from society. Silently reaching out for some sort of connection Theodore eventually buys a new product called OS One. OS One is a personalized A.I. assistant designed to adapt and evolve into a more human like companion. Theodore chooses a female OS named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as his companion and together the two help teach other learn about life, dealing with the complexity of emotions, and finding happiness.
It’s a never-ending debate on whether or not technology is hurting or helping the way we interact with each other. We’ve never been more readily connected than we are now and yet there’s still a sense of detachment, especially in face-to-face communication. I’ve seen lasting friendships made through online communities and I’ve seen stories of malicious deception through online anonymity. Her takes this debate and provides us with a smart, funny, and often awkward look on both sides. The film opens up with Theodore going through the various different ways we use technology to connect with others but illustrating the emotional disconnect without the personal touch. From online chat rooms, video games, and automated news feed, Theodore wanders aimlessly through his life. He’s searching for some connection but each readily available avenue doesn’t provide him with the satisfaction he is looking for, as is evidently seen with his late night chat room partner. Enter in Samantha. Together Samantha and Theodore hit it off far more than any of the other contrasting human relationships in the film. On paper the two are perfect for each other despite the fact that Samantha is a computer.
The biggest and obvious challenge the film faces is getting you to buy into this strange relationship. Personally it works for me largely due to the wonderful chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. The conversations are playful and fun and the sense of happiness the two bring to the screen is undeniably warm. Scarlett Johansson especially brings Samantha to life with nothing more than her voice. The sheer range of pure emotion she brings to Samantha is pleasant and incredibly soothing. I found myself really invested not only in the living breathing Theodore but also the artificial Samantha. Her progression from an enthusiastic AI to something far more emotionally complex is interesting and served as a nice compliment to Theodore’s journey to understand his emotions. Joaquin Phoenix gives a great performance as well. He really captures the isolated sadness his character faces all while providing a warm sense of optimism. Both Johansson and Phoenix work in tandem to create a melancholy but beautiful look at human relationships and helps the film capture a true sense of love. Not just the romantic lovey dovey everything is perfect aspect but also the fears, the insecurities, and jealousy as well. By including this less than glamorous look into something as complex as love, the film impresses the rewarding experience of sharing your life with someone. Needless to say the film sold me on their relationship and it only opened up more interesting questions.
I remember thinking it was strange how matter of factly some people accepted this bizarre relationship, especially when Theodore and Samantha would be out and talking in public. However, in this near futuristic setting where professional companies are created to write personal love letters for others it makes all the sense in the world. It took me a second to realize how disengaged others often were in the public settings yet still communicating with their own devices. To them Samantha and Theodore are no different, if they even stopped to take notice at all. It really showcases the similarities to the way we are today whether it’s through long distant relationships or purely Internet based relationships in both a romantic and non-romantic sense. We’re constantly bombarded with notifications from social networks, texts, and emails, all while holding extensive phone conversations with seemingly no one. It really showcases the film’s ideas looking ahead at the evolution of human relationships and how obsessed we are with technology.
Sure what Samantha and Theodore have is strange, but who’s to say we’re not that far off? To quote a soon to be over quoted line from the movie, “Falling in love is a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.” Samantha and Theodore found their own sense of joy so what’s it to others as long as they’re happy? They seemingly meet each other’s needs emotionally and are helping each other learn new things. Although the film does a good job of showing both sides of the argument it eventually tips it’s hat on how it feels in the end and I think it serves as a wonderful litmus test for your own feelings, which is what makes this film great.
Without going into too much detail the film begins to capture the painful fall out of any relationship. It’s wonderful that although this film is first and foremost a love story it manages to include a very thoughtful sci-fi narrative on artificial intelligence as well. As things begin to take a turn for the worst the film begins to shed light on its personal feelings about emotional needs. I’m always amazed at how we strive to imitate such human nuanced responses in machines but I highly doubt we’ll ever reach a point where it becomes the alternative. My feelings with technology and relationships seems to fall in line with the films in that although it can be a wonderful thing we still need that elusive human element to reciprocate true happiness. Like anything there needs to be a balance in the way we handle our relationships and the way we handle our technology. It was nice to see the film shed light on the way the OS One adoption was spreading through their society. People were interacting with their own personal AIs in a variety of different ways to meet a variety of different needs. There’s room for this technology to aid us in connecting with others and learning about ourselves but the moment it becomes an escape to hide away from facing our problems or pure instant gratification is the moment it becomes just a hollow experience.
As I said early the hardest job this movie faces is getting you to accept the idea of falling in love with an OS. Playing the devil’s advocate here, it’s a tough pill to swallow that will leave you unengaged and most likely repulsed by the absurdity. On the outside looking in it is such a weird concept and most of the drama and tension evaporates under this silly premise, leaving it wide open for unintentional humor. It doesn’t help that the idea of being absorbed by our technology isn’t exactly fresh grounds either. It’s a constant debate that’s has been beaten to death going in circles. However, if you can set aside your feelings and buy in for just a moment, you’ll be rewarded with a love story that is far more thoughtful and speaks more about love and human relationships than most traditional romance films.
If you couldn’t tell I really loved the movie Her. On top of the thought provoking ideas the film provides it also creates such beautiful imagery. It’s a wonderfully colorful film with perfectly timed music creating an almost dreamlike perfect day. On the surface it seems to borrow just about every cliché moment from any indie feel good movie ever but it’s in its execution and knowing when to use these moments that make the film stand out.
In addition to Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix, the film also features a sincere performance from Amy Adams who provides a heartfelt friendship to Theodore. Although it’s understated, Amy’s story mirrors Theodore’s in finding happiness. Amy’s journey and search for emotional reciprocation is a nice contrast to Theodore’s and shows the non-romantic side of emotional needs. Overall it’s such a warm movie and I’ve left the theater in a euphoric state and the glow has stayed with me since. If you’ll allow me to gush for a second it’s movie that really conveys the happiness about being alive and being in love. There’s a lot of depth to this film and it’s a great conversation to have.
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