“Her” Movie Review

The Tale of Semi-Sentient Love

On December 18, 2013, the mature Spike Jonze wrote, directed, and co-produced the film, Her, which was initially released limitedly in North America, then widely released on January 10, 2014. The strange launching of the movie parallels both its content and creator. You may recognize the name Spike Jonze from the 2009 live-action “Where the Wild Things Are” movie, Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” music video, or the “Jackass” series. Spike Jonze is a jack of all trades and a master of translating surrealism straight to audiences. However, it came as a surprise to many that he would be throwing his hat into the sci-fi-romance genre with the movie Her. To most, he does not seem like the most whimsical or romantic guy, but that same realism and bleakness bleeds into the movie and makes it outstanding. Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a sensitive and insecure but kind man stubbornly holding onto his failing marriage and refusing to sign his divorce papers. His legal wife, Catherine, played by Rooney Mara, has been living separately from Theodore for months. She is much more assertive and realistic than Theodore. This clash between personalities leads to the introduction of Samantha, Theodore’s OS1: a highly intelligent and growing A.I. consciousness, which fills the hole left by Catherine. Theodore is initially taken aback by the idea of freely communicating with an A.I. like a person, but begins to find Samantha both therapeutic and romantic. Eventually, they both fall in love, creating questions of what love is, the moral bounds of technology, reality vs. feelings, and what it truly means to be human.

With the invention of Amazon’s Alexa and ChatGPT, it is fair to say that A.I. is more human and socially relevant than ever, making this movie’s message age gracefully. However, there is still much I am holding back to say about this movie because it must be genuinely felt to be fully appreciated. The film has garnered much critical acclaim with a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8/10 on IMDb, not to mention the Academy, Golden Globe, and Writer’s Guild awards it has won. However, it is more than just a wonderful score, brilliant acting, clever filming, and gut-wrenching flashbacks. It is a story that truly makes you feel something every step of the way.

The movie begins with a somber synth setting the table for Theodore confessing passionate and smitten love, only to be revealed that he is repeating someone else’s letter for input into a highly intelligent computer that can mimic handwritten letters. Off the bat, we are met with technological emulation of human love and effort. Something as simple as writing a letter to a loved one is mass-produced at Theodore’s work and stripped of its purity. Not to mention that Theodore also takes the initial letter and improves it by adding personal details about the subjects, therefore making it more heartfelt. However, the smile on Theodore’s face when reading his work aloud is quickly followed by a dull expression and an apathetic schedule of his daily life. Only a few minutes into the movie, a similar but futuristic world is set. Theodore’s emotional intelligence, kindness, and current rut in life are shown, and the interference of technology in the human effort is explored. Theodore is surrounded by people on his daily commute to and from work in New York. Despite this, he seems lonely and only communicates with the Siri-like A.I. connected to his phone. His desperately searching for distractions in the forms of digital media whether that is through his emails, chat rooms, or a highly advanced VR game that has him running uphill and sliding back down. Following these failures, Theodore goes to a museum to take his mind off things but is quickly brought back to the digital realm by an advertisement for an OS1, a highly intelligent A.I. assistant. Of course, looking for anything new in his life he decides to buy one. This is where the audience meets Samantha, strangely similar to his wife but without judgment. Samantha is impressively voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and her non-physical form and convenience allow Theodore to develop a genuine bond with her, where he falls short with real women because of his fear of commitment and heartbreak. This is showcased through Theodore’s date with a personable Harvard graduate who he clicks with instantly but ultimately falls out with because he just cannot commit. The complex scenes like this are emphasized and perfected by the switch to steady cam, wonderful acting, and music or, lack thereof. This is also seen in the lunch scene between Theodore and Catherine, in which their full characters and flaws are highlighted in a tense scene with outstanding production decisions. These insights into how to make scenes pierce a viewer’s heart set this movie over the top. While you may expect it to be difficult for a man and A.I. love story to be touching and moving, it is even more than that. It is truly a test of morality and human nature, leaving the viewer to ask themselves how far they would go in the same situations. The struggle of exclusivity and true human love against the predictable and easy-going nature of having a computer love interest is beautifully shown throughout the film. This is also capitalized by the struggle of Samantha herself.  Despite being an A.I., she is strikingly human and even has some conflict with Theodore, in which she possesses her own opinion and path of thought. Not to be overshadowed, Amy Adams turns in a phenomenal performance as Theodore’s friend, who struggles in her relationship because her partner is overbearing and lacks the ability to read tones and situations, unlike the OS1, who can practically be dismissed at any time and is highly socially aware. Once again illustrating the success of technology where humans fall short.

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