I haven’t come to expect movies about the future to be as intimate and individualistic as Her, Spike Jonze’s fourth directorial effort. Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games, Elysium, Cloud Atlas, and countless other prospective-world films of recent memory share a distrust of the path that humanity’s currently on.
The atmosphere in Her is definitely full-blown futuristic, complete with uncountable skyscrapers, sleek minimalistic interiors, and tiny earpieces galore – but this isn’t a bad place to be. That said, it isn’t especially good – utopia can’t stave off the loneliness for protagonist Theodore Twombly. His problems don’t come from without; this is an inner-struggle, and a very relatable one at that.
Theodore’s a recent divorcee, clearly struggling to get excited about anything around him. He purchases a new Operating System, marketed as the first truly artificial intelligence. His OS names herself Samantha, and the two of them wind up getting along swimmingly. One of cinema’s strangest love stories is set in motion.
The artificial intelligences of Her might have ulterior motives, but nothing that’s any more sinister or self-serving than the motives a human being would harbour. Samantha has a secret agenda, so to speak. It comes out when she flirts, reads through Theodore’s emails (“You’re a little nosey,” he says when she comes clean), or asks somewhat inappropriate questions about kissing, sex, and the human body. She wants love, and all the things that that involves: intimacy, intellectual stimulation, sexual gratification.
There are discrepancies between Samantha’s nature and Theodore’s, and these ultimately drive a wedge in their relationship, one that cannot be amended by their devotion. For instance, he doesn’t have her superhuman intellect. He can’t read books by the thousand; he can’t have prolonged simulated conversations with dead philosophers; he can’t put every last hour towards mental stimulation, because eventually, he’s got to go to bed. (Early in the film, best friend Amy – played by Amy “I’m in everything” Adams – shows Theodore a documentary she’s been working on. It’s just a long shot of her mother sleeping. The implication was clear by the time Her was over: the human body has unfortunate limits.) Samantha, in turn, cannot touch Theodore, and this bothers her a lot more than it bothers him. A bizarre effort of hers to solve this problem – involving a third person – unfolds horribly, and reveals a lot about the efforts lovers make to compensate for their own shortcomings.
Since Siri is still really bad at intimate conversation (When I asked her, just now, what she looks for in a romantic partner, she told me it’s none of my business), I doubt many viewers of Her will identify with the story whole-heartedly, screaming, “Oh God, that’s JUST like my relationship with my cell phone.” However, it’ll resonate with anybody who’s ever felt any sort of disparity within their relationship – in terms of intellect, ambition, perspective… I might as well say, “it’ll resonate with anybody who’s ever been in a relationship.” (The viewers most likely to find this story close-to-the-bone, for my money, would be those who have found themselves, or who currently find themselves, in long-distance relationships.)
Early in Samantha and Theodore’s courtship, Theodore is at his goddaughter’s birthday party, and desperate to get away from the hubbub. He finds an empty room and calls Samantha. His goddaughter comes and bugs him, and Theodore introduces Samantha. “Where’s your body,” asks the goddaughter, and when Samantha admits she doesn’t have one, the little girl doesn’t question it. It’s a really clever scene, demonstrating that this sort of story might be far-fetched, but it isn’t absolutely inconceivable. Her doesn’t even need that sort of plausibility to make its point, though. It’s one of the most relatable love stories in recent cinema.
Words: Ben Ladouceur