The film Her is not the film I expected to see. When I first saw the advertisement, all I could think about was the fuzzy, caterpillar, lip-hat they gave Joaquin Phoenix to make him look like a normal guy. To me, he looks like a guy trying to bribe children with candy but in an “I only want to cry with you kind of way, not wear your skin.” Needless to say, I think a lot of people are going to go into this film with preconceived ideas about what they will see. All I can say is forget all of those ideas. Joaquin Phoenix is a great actor.
So this film, of course, follows Phoenix as he plays a guy named Theodore Twombly. The story is set in the near future and is strongly based on technology that I feel is very achievable within a short period of time. This adds a certain depth to the whole thought process while watching this film. This guy is actually rather amazing. He’s obviously shy, sweet, and guarded, but it takes a certain sentimental and sensitive guy to write love letters for a living, which is what Theodore does. He does this while dealing with an impending divorce and searching for himself along a new emotional beginning. Theodore is aware enough of his impending heartache that he keeps himself busy and expresses his frustrations through curiosity. He decides to buy an advanced talking operating system that uses a type of artificial intelligence and learning capability to adapt itself to each individual user. He decides on a female voice and the OS names itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Samantha quickly and easily becomes a helpful tool for Theodore to express and explain his feelings through mutual exploration. These thoughts are all new ideas to Samantha, and they are both fascinated by them. The two begin to form a strong friendship, and Samantha urges Theodore to meet new people in order to move on from his ex-wife. Eventually with all the relationship talk, Theodore begins to share close feelings with Samantha that he had never shared so openly before. The friendship eventually becomes a relationship and Theodore learns more about himself and love in the process.
I’m always complaining about plots being reused and restarted in order to create the illusion of new stories. This idea and take on the way relationships can work opens up an entirely new frame of thought for how we can view human experiences. This is all done while watching Theodore’s connections to Samantha. It’s almost electric how easily and openly his thoughts are expressed to something that has no prior concept of what love or heartache is. The journey the pair experience is honest and simple, making it very easy for an audience member to feel that electricity. While awkward and odd at times, you feel for Theodore as he tries to deal with his hardships.
Eventually, Theodore struggles with the rationality of expressing human emotion on something that is inhuman but feels so familiar. His perception on the relationship and the way they deal with certain milestones strain the two inadvertently. This was really the only problem I had with the film. Eventually you, just like Theodore, realize he’s saying these things to a computer.
The intimacy of the film can be overwhelming. A large portion of it consists simply of you watching a screen with only Phoenix’s face, which is a testament to the acting diorama invested in this film. I can’t think of a better voice than Scarlett Johansson to listen to with such detail. The two work well off each other and form a sweet and real bond with the audience.
Watching Her will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about love and emotions. Explaining them to someone who’s never experienced them before can be daunting but freeing at the same time. This is the basis of Her entirely. Really exploring emotions and experiencing them helps us to understand what it means to live. Add to it a subtle bit of heartfelt humor and this makes a wonderful film for an older audience.
I give Her 4 “beautiful hand written love letters” out of 5.
by Jason Burleson