I’m the first to admit that the premise of Her is preposterous. Set in the near future, a new operating system achieves artificial intelligence and will tailor itself to the owner’s needs. This isn’t a case of one massive computer lording over humanity, this is artificial intelligence for all. If you want to pay for the operating system, you can have your very own artificially intelligent computer. One such owner, Theodore, falls in love with his OS, Samantha.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a desperately lonely man in the final stages of divorce. He works, he plays video games, and then he works some more. When he buys the artificially intelligent operating system, it is warm, funny, and exciting. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha is a dream come true for Theodore. She instantly becomes his best friend, but as she constantly evolves, she begins to yearn for more, and it’s not long before they say they are dating each other.
Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but Phoenix and Johansson are so earnest, so utterly believable, that you accept this development and roll with it.
And is it really so hard to believe? You can walk into any coffee shop and see people spending more time with their phone or tablet than with an actual human being. Her simply takes it a step further – a step that I fear is a logical progression from this moment forward.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Theodore doubts his relationship, but after a bitter conversation with his ex-wife, he eventually accepts Samantha as his true girlfriend and introduces her as such to coworkers and friends. He takes her on vacations, on double-dates, even to family parties. Before too long, though, Theodore realizes that he’s not the only one falling in love with his OS, and that’s when things with Samantha get very complicated, especially considering that she is always expanding, always growing, always achieving new sentience.
Her is one of those science fiction movies that at first makes you groan when you hear about it, but as you watch it, you recognize real human emotion in the characters, you witness a true – albeit unconventional – love story unfolding, and you feel for all the characters involved. When I finished watching Her, I looked at my phone right next to me, my open laptop next to it, and I started thinking very deeply about my own relationship with technology.
That’s the power of Her. You cannot watch it without experiencing a deep level of introspection both in regards to technology and our human relationships. Quite subtly, Her points out a poignant transition taking place among humans and delicately asks us to consider our role in it.
The philosophical questions abound, but it raises these questions as unobtrusively as possible. At no point does it feel forced, but when you watch a heartbroken man, a man desperate for companionship, fall for his own computer’s operating system, you can’t help but put yourself in his shoes.
The acting is superb. Phoenix and Johansson are about as charismatic as you can get, which is funny because you only hear Johansson’s voice, and all of the supporting actors like Amy Adams and Chris Pratt are fantastic, too. It looks completely realistic and feels like a very likely near future. The story is so completely human. Though it features an artificially intelligent computer, this is all about love and the human condition.
Be aware, though. There are some really uncomfortable sex scenes. Yes, Theodore and Samantha have sex.