Theodore just got out of a relationship and he’s looking for a friend. If that relationship happens to blossom into something more, who’s to say there’s anything wrong with that? And so what if that friend/romance just happens to be his operating system.
Yup, you heard that right. Her is a movie about the relationship between a man and his operating system. There have been some weird combos before. A Beauty and a Beast, sure (maybe he’s funny). A puppet frog and a high maintenance pig, why not? Charlie Sheen and a human female, apparently it’s happened (or so he tells us all the time always). But a man and his operating system, that’s just wrong. It’s creepy…
And that’s as far as some people are probably ever going to go with Her. They’ll never take that initial plunge and they’ll spend the whole movie wondering why they’re watching it. Actually, they probably won’t be in the movie in the first place.
But what Her is doing isn’t all that different from some of the great science fiction to come before it. Blade Runner, Battlestar Galatica, 2001: A Space Odyssey – all of them ask the question of what it means to be human. It’s just that these films were cloaked a little more in the conventions of the genre. Her just isn’t that simple.
In fact, layered is probably the best way to describe Spike Jonze’s first crack at a solo screenplay (he also directs). It’s one part exploration of humanity (and by the same token, it’s limitations), one part a chronicle of the rise and fall of a relationship, and another part a personal journey of self-discovery. If you’re keeping score at home, that would make it one part Blade Runner, one part 500 Days of Summer, and one part Good Will Hunting.
Now I make these comparisons not because every movie needs to be some derivative of every other movie. I do it because it’s the best way I can explain Her’s uncanny ability to somehow be both heart wrenching and hilarious at the same time. How an argument with an operating system can be both an emotional gut punch and really, really funny.
I mean, could you imagine being afraid to turn on your computer because you’re trying to avoid an uncomfortable conversation with it?
But that’s Her in a nutshell. Insert a normal, living breathing human being into its central story and you’d probably still have a pretty decent, albeit pretentious, movie exploring the nature of relationships. But add to that a little twist of science fiction and you have something I’m not quite sure I’ve seen before.
In fact, I think that might be what makes Her so disconcerting at times. Whether an artificial intelligence, especially one as charming as Scarlett Johansson, would ever be possible is one thing. But Jonze’s vision of the future is not too far off from our own. Ostensibly, the computers in this world are just Siri with slightly better voice recognition. There’s nothing that crazy about having an email read to you or dictating a letter. Needless to say, these aren’t the hoverboards and flying cars from Back To The Future (which according to that picture are due to come out next year – even in the 80s that had to seem dumb).
Her takes the time to establish a future not too unlike our own and only then makes the jump to Samantha, the sweet, bright eyed (though not literally) operating system with a heart of gold. And from there Johansson and Jonze do the rest, charming and surprising until the idea of a human being falling in love with an artificial intelligence doesn’t seem so farfetched.
At the same time, Joaquin Phoenix (and again Jonze’s script – which I continue to mention for a reason) give Theodore the appropriate amount of skepticism towards his newly purchased OS. In fact, his first scene with his Samantha is hilariously aware of the sort of awkwardness most would experience in that situation. And frankly, the question of whether this is all simply some sort of devilish programming trick lingers over most of the proceedings.
Her is the type of movie you could see over and over again and still pick up more with each viewing. Whether it’s questioning our own consciousness, analyzing the ebbs and flows of two people growing apart or just following one man’s own personal healing journey, it’s a dense film filled with great insight and real emotion. I certainly haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
But that’s also because all of our kids are probably going to grow up and have sex with computers. You can’t unthink that…