Her ★★½

Her looks great. Designing the near future must be one of the most difficult projects because every detail has to be believably near reach. The pants with their belt less high waists, the phone with its small form factor and old-school photo frame look, the palette with just enough futuristic grey. It was gorgeous. The performances were good. Joaquin Phoenix was great as Theodore, and had to be given that the film is basically a one-man show. Amy Adams gave a subtle yet touching performance and Rooney Mara did what she could with the part.

The beginning of the film was fantastic. The introduction to Theodore and his work was original enough to keep us interested and perfectly established the mood: he is melancholy personified, a lonely guy just existing for the next day. The introduction of Samantha was intriguing and it was fascinating to see what the writers were going to do with it.

But at one point the film lost me. The last act was altogether too new-age-y with Theodore being and talking as though he were on Oprah. It got all a bit too touchy-feely for me. I probably could have over looked this had I been able to buy into the main relationship in the first place.


1. Theodore befriends a computer

Can we be seduced by words and words alone? Of course. Poetry. Stories. Radio.
Can we be seduced by fictional characters? Of course. Who hasn't fallen in love with Cyrano de Bergerac or Mr. Darcy? Who hasn't wanted to befriend Indiana Jones?
Can we be seduced by someone we've never met in person? Absolutely. Words again. Or music. Or film. Or anything that touches us. Choose the medium. Go retro with the phone or be a pen-pal. Forums? Online Dating Services? Letterboxd? Take your pick. You'll find someone you like.

Why is it then that I could not buy into Joaquin Phoenix's character falling in love with a voice?

Bear with me here. Imagine that you are falling for someone online. You've been exchanging mail, flirting, you stay up way too late chatting because neither of you wants to the be one to say 'gotta go'. You get giddy whenever you have mail and a bit sad when you don't. One day you discover that you have been had. The other person wasn't a person at all; it was all a joke. And yeah, it was an experiment in AI.

That feeling you have, the betrayal, the embarrassment, the foolishness at having been so open with a machine, take all of that, and that is exactly what is wrong with Theodore and Samantha. It doesn't matter that he knows from the get go that it is an OS; in fact, it is worse. He knows from the get go that he's talking to a thing. Oh sure in the beginning it's cute. Who here hasn't asked Google or Alexa to name their favourite Beatle? It's a long way from finding it cute or being seduced by it to falling in love with it. All I could see throughout the film was Theodore falling for an object, an OS, a chip or whatever. All I kept thinking was what if that chip were in a lamp instead of a phone. So here is Theodore talking to his lamp, laughing, oh how witty the lamp can be. He dances with it, takes it out on walks, has a romantic montage with it and even has sex with it. With a lamp. A talking lamp. That's how I saw the film.


2. My name is Samantha

Ok, let's be more generous. Theodore is one lonely guy and really just wants companionship. He doesn't want to date anyone real but he sure could use someone to chat with. So he gets the OS and they become friends, lamp or no lamp. it is a meeting of the minds as they say. Just words, ideas, banter. Ideal, really. Totally low maintenance. And Theodore gets to talk and laugh and discuss whenever he wants. Who doesn't want that?

I gather then that nothing would change in the film if the OS had been called Jim?

It would still get all the same ratings and it would still be as beloved?


3. At least she isn't naked

Note that Samantha Morton was the first Samantha, but was replaced by Scarlett Johansson because, well, we can only assume it is because of Johansson's more sultry voice. But yeah, I'm not going there. I'm not going to mention the fact that even females without bodies have to be sexy in movies. Not even going to mention that.


4. "Make me feel good"

And even if I had been totally engaged in the film up to this point, even if I had found nothing wrong with it, it still would have freaked me out a little because it is all about the "make me feel good" version of 'love'. What is it that Theodore "loves" about Samantha? He loves that he feels less lonely, that he feels good. He loves that he gets to talk and laugh. It is all about how he feels and nothing about the act of loving. I'm starting to talk myself into the fact that Theodore actually deserves Samantha, and might want to consider sticking to an OS after all.


5. Wittgenstein: if a lion could speak, we could not understand him. (PI, p.223)

I am really big on gadgets and tools and if I could get a 'smart fridge' or a robot maid that could cook and clean I'd be one happy camper. All tools, though. Always tools. I'm not one of those who thinks that AI will ever approach being human, not because of any scientific limitation, but because of a conceptual one.

So I always have a hard time with science fiction that presents AI as the thing that will perfect or replace humans (as though we know how to do it or that it needs doing). I see this in Her. It isn't explicit. The story isn't about perfecting human beings. The story is about AI that is so complex and so close to human that someone could fall in love with it. And in saying that, it is also saying that for people who think being in love is all about feeling good and being catered to, then no one does it better than a low-maintenance computer with an off switch. So yeah, in essence Her kind of is saying that for some (or for many) AI is the way to go. AI or a human lap-dog.

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