Her is the story of a man who falls in love with his artificially intelligent operating system. The premise is definitely interesting, and combined with the great cast, had me really anxious to see this movie, and I’m so glad I did. I turns out to be one of my favorites of the year: both a great science fiction and romance film with a perfect balance of intellectual and emotional involvement.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a letter writer for a website called beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, in which he lives vicariously through the relationships of other people. Like most of this movie, it is simultaneously sweet and heartbreaking. He is delaying signing the papers that will make his divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) final. His friends all worry about how withdrawn and “mopey” he is, and in his free time he plays video games and has phone sex. He’s not exactly at the ideal point in his life at the moment.
This all changes when he gets a new operating system: OS1, the first artificially intelligent operating system. After answering a few questions about himself, the operating system activates and a perky voice introduces herself as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Theodore, in his loneliness and unhappiness, is amazed at how Samantha is so eager to discover the world. Samantha is happy to have Theodore’s help, and the two form a partnership that deepens into love. It is very strange at first, and even a bit after that (I’m not gonna lie, that thing with Isabella wierded me out a bit). This comes with the territory, and Theodore and Samantha try not to let the fact that he has a body and she doesn’t stand in their way.
An important aspect of this movie is how is depicts artificial intelligence and how society responds to it. It’s very interesting, as more and more people get OS1s, that others don’t really seem to judge Theodore that much for dating an operating system. He is troubled by the reaction of his ex-wife, but for the most part people get it. His friend Amy (Amy Adams) becomes friends with hers, and he and Samantha go out on a double date with a guy from Theodore’s work. Most people accept the operating systems into society and everyone lives in peace. This positive view of human nature (while even if it might be inaccurate) really stuck with me and I appreciated it. It reminded me a lot of Spielberg’s peaceful aliens in Close Encounters. It’s a very hopeful view for the future that had me questioning previous assumptions of artificial intelligence.
It’s going to be hard to address all of the aspects of Jonze’s depiction of artificial intelligence without giving too much away, but I’ll do my best to keep this spoiler free as I think it will significantly improve the experience of watching the movie. I feel like in most movies centering around artificial intelligence (the first one that comes to mind is AI, but if I remember correctly Blade Runner also fits this bill) is that even if they seem like humans, they just can’t feel emotions. They can seemingly replicate them exactly, but they never are truly emotional beings as humans are. In Her, this is different, or at least it feels different. It seems that even though Samantha is a product of the people who programmed her, she never stops growing. This is both in intellect and emotion. Through her relationships, she learns how to emote. Who’s to argue, really? I suppose you can never really know if anyone, human or otherwise, feels emotions, but if Samantha is highly advanced intellectually, it doesn’t seem that strange that she is also highly advanced emotionally. In most artificially intelligent beings, intellect and emotion are kept separate, but here is think Jonze really is combining them. How Samantha discovers the world and evolves along with the other OS’s is really ingenious and thought provoking, and it’s on an emotional level not just intellectual. This evolution sort of reminds me of 2001, though I’ll admit it’s a lot more straightforward here. It ends up in a completely different place than I would have guessed, but watching the movie it makes complete, beautiful, and ingeniously simple sense.
While the film does go into these intriguing science fiction issues, it is also a romance and a rather touching one. Though Catherine believes that Theodore has problems with advancing his relationships, and she’s right, it’s not as though he doesn’t try with Samantha. It’s great to see them come together and heartbreaking to see them come apart, but it’s a part of life that people grow and in a relationship two people don’t necessarily grow the same way. Theodore tries his best but eventually has to accept this fact, and this goes for Samantha as well. It’s very emotional to watch and both me and my friend who I saw this with were crying and laughing at the same time by the end of this film because it’s just so true. I don’t often cry at movies and I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed and cried at the same time, and even though it’s very personalized it’s the highest compliment I can give this film.
Joaquin Phoenix is without a doubt, one of my favorite actors working today and perhaps of all time. He continually exhibits courage in his choice of roles and his turn as Theodore here is no exception. He is able to make him sympathetic but not pathetic, relatable, and most importantly of all, very sincere. Especially after playing a very closed off, hard to reach, and just generally unlikable character in The Master, it is strange to see him here doing almost the exact opposite, but it doesn’t stay strange for long because he does it so well. His lack of best actor nomination is one of the most disappointing things for me this year. The film essentially falls upon his shoulders, but Scarlett Johansson has an important part to play as well. She makes us believe that Samantha can experience emotions as a human can. Amy Adams and Rooney Mara both put in some good work as well, though they do not appear in the film as much.
You’ll notice that throughout this review I’ve compared Her to several other science fiction classics, and deservedly so, I think. It’s a great film that really gets you thinking, about both science concepts and humanity, which is really what sets the genre apart I think. I think and I hope that it will continue to be relevant as computers take up more and more of our lives. If the film has a fault it has a tendency to explain things to us (the characters will often spell out what they are feeling), but that doesn’t mean the larger background issues aren’t left for us to ponder. This didn’t hold the film back for me in any significant way, and basically everything else works perfectly. Her is a heartfelt examination of love and intelligence, and absolutely earns all the praise it gets.
“It’s hard to explain, but if you get there, come find me. Nothing will be able to tear us apart then.”
Long story short: 4/4 stars
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