Several people have accused me of over-intellectualizing my emotions. Her is kind of the movie version of that. Very smart and filled to the brim with creative ideas, the newest film from Spike Jonze is a film that has so much to offer, it likely requires several viewings to decode. I don’t want to imply that there is a great mystery to be unravelled at the center of the film, it’s more that Jonze packs so much into the film that I’m not sure it’s possible to take it all in the first time through.
It’s a very simple, straightforward story. The lonely, introverted Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) spends his days as a letter-writer for hire in near-future Los Angeles. Theodore purchases a new artificially intelligent operating system (OS) who names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). As the OS grows, she evolves in personality and intelligence, and she and Theodore develop a relationship. The film also shows Theodore navigating other relationships in his life, including his boss (Chris Pratt), and his neighbor (Amy Adams), and how they react to Samantha.
While the film does play with many science fiction ideas, the core of this film is an exploration of relationships. Remove the genre trappings, and Theodore and Samantha could be any long-distance couple where seeing each other is an impossibility. Like many couples in the same situation today, they leverage technology, using audio and video to experience dates and share things with each other. It’s the aspect of the film I find most resonant, and most fully developed.
There are many other threads in the film, including loss, the amount of work relationships take to be successful, how difficult vulnerability and honesty (including with one’s self) are for most of us, and what happens when everyone has an artificial intelligence they can talk to all the time. Many of these ideas (and there are even more of them in the film) are not as developed, but no less as meaningful. Based on some discussions I’ve seen on Twitter, reactions to this film, like the endings of The Graduate or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, could be taken as a reflection of the beholder. That is to say, that what you take away from Her is ultimately a reflection of your feelings toward love.
I was completely surprised by how much comedy is in the film. I don’t often laugh out loud, but this film had a few moments of genuine laughter. The humor plays an important part, not just softening some of the blunter, more unpleasant ideas, but endearing us to the concept of an intelligent OS. Her is a heartwarming film, and this is only reinforced by the spectrum of emotions on display.
An extended think piece with heart to match, Her is the kind of thoughtful imagination we’ve come to expect from Spike Jonze, and will surely have us discussing it for years to come.
Her opens in Philadelphia area theaters today.