Movie Review – Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jonze

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Matt Letscher

Theodore (Phoenix) is a writer who is recovering from a divorce. He lives a solitary life and is rather melancholy. On a whim he installs a new operating system, who starts calling herself Samantha (Johansson). He ends up talking to it and forming a relationship, which leads to conflicting feelings of joy and doubt.

Her has a premise that will instantly turn some people away. How would anyone fall in love with a machine? Especially one without a physical body! And yet I found it a moving film with a lot to say about the nature of love and relationships. The film is slow to start but the two lead actors give amazing performances, especially Johansson, who does so much with just her voice. I do wonder though whether it would be different with an unknown actress, because Johansson’s voice is well-known and distinctive, so it can conjure up our existing images of the actress, whereas if it were a voice we did not recognize we would be in the same position as the lead character.

The progression of the relationship feels natural. At first Theodore is lonely and Samantha is there to keep him company, but the more they talk the more of a connection they feel with each other. The chemistry between them is sold well and it’s testament to Phoenix that he can play this solo role and yet have it feel like he’s there with another person. The first instance where I knew that this film is something special was the sex scene. They started chatting and moving into explicit talk, then the screen goes black and I almost felt like a voyeur; as though I was intruding on this intimate and private moment between two lovers.

They endure the usual troubles of a relationship although the jealousy mostly stems from Samantha’s lack of a body. There’s also the doubt about whether it can be classed as a real relationship and while a lot of people will take this film as evidence that it’s not, I think it’s also a valid interpretation to say that the relationship was in fact real, as it had an effect on both parties. It’s an interesting topic for discussion though as you question what does constitute a ‘real’ relationship.

I also enjoyed how the wider implications of this technology were shown in the background. The film focuses on Theodore and Samantha but other characters are shown to be using the operating systems and forming connections too. Also, there are people who act as surrogates, to provide a physical avatar for the artificial intelligence. It lends itself to a wider exploration of the world yet it doesn’t bog down in the minutiae of it all. I felt fully invested in the relationship and even felt defensive when other characters suggested that Theodore was wasting time. As Samantha grows the relationship goes through more pains and I think it showed how people in relationships can change, and how sometimes the changes can be accepted and other times, well, they can’t.

I found Her to be a fascinating film and is the perfect example of how sci-fi can be used to reflect our humanity. While it can be seen as an example of the way technology plays such a big part in our lives it also examines the complex interactions that go into relationships. There’s a lot to think about and while the film does drag in places the two lead performances are incredible. I think it’s an absorbing film and I have no hesitation in recommending it.

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