This review of the movie Her was written by Andrew P. Clunn and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Directed & Written by Spike Jonze
Directed & Written by Spike Jonze
It’s hard to say whether Her (directed and written by Spike Jonze) is a romantic comedy, morality play, or science fiction story. While it deals with the complexities of relationships and marriage of today, it does so safely through an imagined future. It speaks to today’s court battles over same sex marriage seeking to legally define love and relationships, but with a premise of the isolated but deeply thoughtful Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falling in love with his Artificial Intelligence Operating System Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).
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. - Amy
For the main character of Theodore, the only real forays into the notion of marriage are a blind date, where a woman presses him for a commitment in a passive aggressive manner that is all too realistic. The other is his clinging to his own failed marriage by constantly delaying signing his divorce papers (much to his ex’s frustration). To him the marriage document is a symbol of their relationship and love, and if he lets it go then he lets her go. Theodore is only able to do so after his relationship with Samantha comes to fill the gap, and though his ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) seems willing to forgive him for delaying their divorce so long, she lashes out at him when she learns that he’s replaced her with a computer program. It’s from this encounter that Theodore comes to question and doubt his relationship and becomes fearful of how others might judge him.
At one point Theodore and his friend Amy (Amy Adams) are discussing their lives since their marriages fell apart (Amy’s somewhat more recently). Both withhold that they’ve found companionship (in Amy’s case platonic friendship) with their OS. Both fear the judgment of their friend, but when they reveal themselves, Amy laments that it took her so long to end her stifling marriage. Fear of others’ judgment, fear of feeling like a failure, had kept her from ending it for so long. When they both come clean about their present relationships, the acceptance and genuine pleasure at each other’s happiness is palpable.
The recently divorced Amy is a video game programmer. In the game she’s working on the player who takes on the role of a traditional mother. The player scores points by doting on her kids, making baked goods for school events, and picking up her children from school on time. The clear contrast within the world of Her between how people actually live their lives and the way that “normal” people are portrayed is one of the many ways in which it feels so real. Of course Amy puts in a hidden glitch where the super mother avatar begins humping the refrigerator, and how Her manages to be both so crude and touching is perhaps its strongest point.
Dear Catherine, I've been sitting here thinking about all the things I wanted to apologize to you for. All the pain we caused each other. Everything I put on you. Everything I needed you to be or needed you to say. I'm sorry for that. I'll always love you 'cause we grew up together and you helped make me who I am. I just wanted you to know there will be a piece of you in me always, and I'm grateful for that. Whatever someone you become, and wherever you are in the world, I'm sending you love. You're my friend to the end. Love, Theodore. - Theodore
While the film’s story is science fiction, the realism makes that a forgettable afterthought. At one point Theodore and Samantha go on a couple’s picnic with a co-worker and his girlfriend. The fact that she isn’t human is incidental, serving as little more than dinner conversation. When a little girl asks why Theodore’s girlfriend is in a computer, Samantha responds, “Because that’s where I live.” No further explanation is needed. The notion that people and relationships come in all forms seems so natural, and the acceptance that how others define love has no bearing on how we define it is made to appear so obvious and intuitive that, by contrast, it’s our dogmatic judgmental society that seems out of place.
Traditional relationships exist in Her, as well as imagined possibilities of relationships that do not yet exist. The new form of relationships don’t mean that the old form go away, and each is left to thrive, fail, or change according to the desires of the participants. It’s so elegant an idea that people should be in relationships with whoever they want to be because they want to be. And best of all, it makes for one hell of a romantic comedy.
You know what, I can over think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself. And since Charles left I've been really thinking about that part of myself and, I've just come to realize that, we're only here briefly. And while I'm here, I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it. - Amy