Monday, February 3, 2014

Her: Movie Review

I think humanity's always been a little fascinated by robots. Whether dealing with Mary Shelley's pessimistic view of man-made creatures in Frankenstein, or Isaac Asimov's helpful Three Laws of Robotics, there's something about artificial intelligence that tends to draw us in.

This is definitely true for Her, which follows Theodore Twombly, a man who writes personalized lover letters as his job. Ever since Theodore separated from his wife, Catherine, he's been incredibly lonely. This issue is seemingly solved when he buys a brand new operating system with AI - one that names herself Samantha. Over the course of Her, Samantha and Theodore fall in love, and the film explores the issues of existential isolation and relationships through their dynamic.

I really loved Her. I've been fascinated by the issue of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl - or a female love interest who exists purely to save and fascinate the male lead - for many years. I don't think there's a better example of a MPDG than a humanized operating system. I'm not entirely convinced that Jonze tried to make a statement about the male gaze and issue of gender relations in this film, but that element was one of the most compelling aspects of the story to me.

Her's world doesn't seem unlike our own. The aesthetics are slicker, and there is a lot more voice-activated technology, but I can easily see tech and media advancing in the direction shown in Her. This makes its loneliness even more poignant, as everyone seems to be too invested in their own universes to acknowledge anyone else's. Theodore keenly feels this detachment, and it's only once he starts interacting with Samantha that his emotions change. With Samantha, he's able to  empathize in a way that's more than superficial. In certain parts of the movie, I'll admit that having a personalized OS seemed desirable to me, because Samantha is able to give Theodore a regained sense of wonder and connection. However, being in love with an operating system doesn't keep Theodore from feeling removed and inferior. Watching the evolution of Samantha and Theodore's dynamic was intriguing, because it showed how even when Theodore is in a relationship with a piece of technology designed to service him, he cannot escape his deficiencies. The movie frequently deals with the issue of Theodore's mental state: is he so screwed up that he's incapable of relating authentically with a real person, or is the human condition so torturous that we'll all eventually prefer the company of machines to people? Her's answer is a little disconcerting, but it is honest. 

The movie wouldn't work without Joaquin Phoenix's exceptional performance, which ensures that Theodore is a relatable character rather than an absurd one. It's also amazing what Scarlett Johansson is capable of emoting with only her voice. However, it was very difficult for me to see Samantha as only an OS while constantly visualizing Johansson's sensual aesthetic. I can see how that may have been a conscious directorial decision to make the audience understand Theodore's perspective, but it was a bit disorienting in parts. Another one of my favourite aspects of the film was the cinematography, as it helps create an atmosphere of beauty and solitude in equal measure.

Overall: A really compelling piece of work that raises interesting questions about human connection, gender dynamics, and how technology is changing the way we relate to one another. With fantastic performances and visuals, as well as a great plot arc, I have little to say besides go see the movie.


  1. Great commentary! Haven't seen the film yet, but we loved hearing your (spoiler-free) insight. :)

    1. Thank you very much! I hope you see the movie eventually. It's worth watching. And I'm glad to hear that you don't think it's too revealing. That's always the tricky bit with movie reviews, I'm noticing.