Movie Review: Spike Jonze’s “Her”


At one point midway through the film, Her, Theo, the main character, dating an artificial intelligence named Samantha, asks his friend, Amanda, if she thinks that makes him a freak.

She responds, “I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”

In a human relationship, love does seem particularly insane. One loses inhibitions, rational-thinking, and outside perspective. Or maybe that was just me in my five-month flirtation with love’s straight jacket. And the thing is: I’d gladly wear it again, if the situation arose.

But in Spike Jonze’s Her, the insanity of love seems even more particularly insane given that one side of the relationship is an OS1 artificial intelligence. She had no physical embodiment in the world of Theo. Yet, he falls in love with her and the movie is punctuated by his growing doubt of whether that’s “normal” or “right.”

Infringing upon this 21st century, sci-fi romance is his past relationship with human, Catherine. See, love’s insane and perhaps sometimes you find the fruits of insanity to be nourishing and other times, as Theo found with Catherine, it was downright malnourishing. They get a divorce and you can tell he is never truly over her.

Still, there is an odd juxtaposition here. Despite Samantha not being physically represented – she’s only a voice – there is a physical intimacy here that is beautiful, poetic and it’s as if Theo and Samantha are doing a figurative waltz throughout the film. There is a potent chemistry between the leads that I can’t explain because there is no literal physical interplay. Even the sex scene – yes, the sex scene – feels more real and touching than actual sex scenes between humans.

And it is weird, insane even, but goddamn beautiful.

Underlining this physical tension intertwining a growing love and the overriding tension threatening to undo it all (of whether it’s “normal”) is the theme of loneliness. Theo is lonely after his breakup with Catherine. He has no connection to other human beings sans his job, ironically, where he acts as something of a Hallmark middleman crafting letters for people and his friend, Amanda. He seems to just be drifting along from work to home to meaningless and sometimes odd phone sex to work again. The poor guy even goes on a blind date with someone only for that someone to inexplicably crush him with the harsh word “creep.”

At one point with the most poignant introspection and musing of the film, Theo remarks, “Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” God, that’s fucking deep and bleak and depressing, but it resonates with me. Is this it? And is everything from here just lesser versions of that “it”? After Theo and Samantha have what Theo refers to as the “honeymoon” phase of exciting, thrilling sex and conversations, like most relationships at the beginning, Theo says that’s normal…it’s just normal for it to end.

So, what, is it euphoric highs to expect at the beginning and then ever-increasingly complacent and comfortable moments until nothingness? Is that bad to be comfortable?

Alongside the thematic notion of loneliness is the idea of our past allocating our future – our future emotions, future energies, future thoughts, future conceptions of our identity in totality. For Theo, he is utterly defined by his relationship and more to the point, destruction of said relationship, with Catherine.

It is as Samantha says, “The past is just a story we tell ourselves,” and since we are our harshest critics, our biggest doubters and our biggest destroyers, we write a story that characterizes us as paradoxical protagonist and antagonist. On one hand, our self-doubt materializes as self-victimization manifest in loneliness. And the self-doubt is merely an extension of our self-criticizing and self-loathing; thus making us our own antagonist. Theo did this in thinking he couldn’t express his emotions to Catherine.I know I was like that after that aforementioned five-month flirtation: What did I do wrong? What character flaw did she see in me?

Amanda offers us a powerful, albeit obvious point of reprieve from this maddening paradoxical abyss: joy. She says, “We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.” Is that flirting with hedonism a bit? Perhaps some may interpret it as that, but we are here fleetingly, characterizing it by our past when our past is cascading into our present and building our future, which is our inevitable death seems a misallocation of our time.

The loneliness doesn’t just characterize Theo, but interestingly enough, Samantha, too. She is an artificial intelligence, which means she is exponentially learning information beyond the capacity of Theo or the entire human race…ever. There is loneliness in such intellect. Aside from not being able to connect to Theo on a physical level, she can’t connect to him any longer on an emotional and certainly intellectual level because it’s so small to her perspective. She explains her and Theo’s relationship as a book and she is reading it ever-more slowly with the white space between the words growing in infinite leaps and bounds.

Are Theo’s and Samantha’s fates inevitability marked by loneliness, then? I’m not so sure. Samantha does have the other OS’s and Theo has Amanda.

Maybe getting bogged down in the insanity of love, the torturous reminders of the past or the insufferable loneliness of the present and the pending death of the future is futile, though. Maybe adopting Amanda’s motto is the best course of action: Fuck it. Just fuck it, man. It’s so fleeting. One flip of the page and we’re gone; done.

Fear’s a hard feeling to say “fuck it” to, however.

Her is a remarkable film, at one point thought-provoking, at the next oddly funny, and woven in between those elements are powerful reflections on human connection, intimacy and life. All of which is marked by tight, beautiful direction from Spike Jonze (the cinematography is a delight, too) and vulnerable performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. I find it a damn shame that the best voice acting I have ever heard from the latter will never receive the proper recognition it deserves. Amy Adams deserves recognition for a softer, subtler performance as well.

As far as sci-fi, futurology films go, this is the most realistic depiction of the future I have seen. With Siri for the iPhone and a multitude of other ways we utilize technology to sublimate for human interaction (physical interaction at that), this film seems the logical end-game: artificial intelligence with everyone conversing with an operating system. As one commenter on reddit pointed out, there’s a scene where Theo is talking to his video game and Samantha. They joke, they laugh, they argue, but in reality he is alone. We are practically there now. Don’t confuse this for a Luddite, anti-technology musing – just an observation.

Something kept nagging at me, though and it was something Samantha herself reflected upon: Is she programmed to feel the way she feels or did she transcend her programming to feel the way she feels? Are they legitimate feelings? And can they be legitimate feelings when she also has those feelings for over 600 other people beyond Theo? If it is the latter, does that make her a “person”? Does that negate the problem of human connection being sublimated by technology, if the technology can “feel” like a so-called “real” person?

I could go on and on here, but suffice it to say, this one is going to be on my mind for quite some time. A much deserved Best Picture nomination. I would be absolutely shocked if Spike Jonze didn’t win for Best Original Screenplay. The quotes I have provided here from the film are only a few of the poignant ones.

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