Film Review: Her | Star-crossed and Cross-themed

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Spike Jonze’s Her is a movie I really wish I saw back in 2013, because I know I would have put it on my Best of 2013 list. I think I would have put it ahead of Wadjda and beneath 12 Years a Slave. It’s a film that really had me in awe after watching it, and it’s one that I think can provide hours of discussion. I don’t have that kind of freedom with the medium, but let me say what’s important.

Her is about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer for an online company, who is going through a divorce and finds himself isolated in Los Angeles in the near future. He downloads a new artificially intelligent operating system that dubs herself Samantha (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). Now interacting with a hyper-aware program, Theodore and Samantha begin to fall for one another and begin an odd relationship, one that goes beyond what is considered normal, although only one other person shows any notion that this might not be healthy or natural.

This is a really fascinating movie. This movie could have gone so many ways. It could have been a comedy about a guy becoming too obsessed with a computer program. It could have been a thriller where the computer program becomes too jealous and starts to destroy his life. Strangely, Jonze decided to make this an incredibly sincere romance film, but one that has plenty of subtext and philosophy to add depth to the tale.

See, I actually found myself thinking, “This can work. These two can have a relationship.” The Samantha program works so well. She’s intelligent, and she can learn. She has realistic reactions to everything Theodore says to her, to the point that you might forget that she’s even there. The problem with the relationship is simple: because one of the people involved isn’t human. There’s a limit to how far they can go.

Despite this, the film never really says that it was wrong to have this relationship. Theodore clearly experiences genuine joy, sorrow, and frustration in his time with Samantha, and even if it’s difficult for Samantha to understand herself, she clearly is able to react in a way that suggests that she is capable of expressing humanity.

This film has such a rich story, and it’s aided by such incredible direction. Jonze’s touch is wonderful, and I love the near future setting he has created. There’s a lot of open space, from Theodore’s minimally furnished apartment to the open locations of the beach or the forest. There’s bright colors everywhere, predominately shades of red (it’s like they know Three Colors: Red is one of my all time favorite movies and wanted to appeal to me by reminding me of that). I really think the art direction is one of the best I’ve seen in a while.

At the same time, this is probably one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. I saw this movie with my brother, and most of the car ride home was us discussing the various philosophical or film theory aspects of the film (such as the philosophy of Alan Watts and the male gaze) while also having trouble explaining why we enjoyed this movie so much. I felt such a genuine connection to the protagonist and his OS. I know what it’s like to feel alienated and to be emotionally withdrawn, and this movie takes such a unique approach to discussing these issues.

I’m really glad I saw this movie, and I think a lot of people should see it. I definitely think you should see it with another person, since I think each person might have a different reaction to it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and I hope to bring you more reviews like this.

This review was originally published in Quail Bell Magazine.

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