her

Let me begin by saying that I really wrote this. Theodore played by Joaquin Phoenix in her is employed as a personal ghostwriter, creating loving letters and cards for his clients. A somewhat futuristic career, but one which has its seeds already sown today. You can purchase a range of services from letters, music, and graphic art on fiverr.com for only $5 (well obviously). The world Theodore lives in, an even denser yet more colorful and vibrant Los Angeles, is only a few years away from where we are now. 

The first artificially intelligent computer operating system has been invented, and Theodore who is stagnantly introspective after the breakup of his marriage, buys one. If you haven’t seen her you might have heard that it is a story of a man who falls in love with his computer. While essentially accurate, that twelve word summary is unhelpful in its simplicity. her is really about the true nature of human relationships, how they form, how they thrive, and ultimately how they die. I found a telling contrast between her and the trailers that preceded it. 

One was the Mia Wasikowska film Tracks about the journey of a young woman across the Australian desert by foot. It looks like a masterpiece of cinematography, and will be stunning to see simply on its visual merit. It is different from her in that respect, the latter – although definitely a superb piece of cinematography – is not that kind of film. It is not driven by the visual. The second trailer was for the film The Fault in our Stars based on the book of the same name about a young woman with terminal cancer, who falls in love with a young man who had his leg amputated because of his cancer, but is now cancer free. I do not doubt that this film and the book it is based on is an honest and feel good tale tinged with tragedy. But that isn’t fundamentally new, and it joins a legion of similar films indistinguishable from each other after five years. her on the other hand is more of a social novel in movie form. It is not a romance, it is a narrative essay, bringing up new ideas and taking them to their logical conclusion. 

One such idea is that people in relationships can be forced apart by the simple fact that one or both of them evolves personally and intellectually. Their needs change, and the qualities they once admired in their partner now irritate and repel them. This is the heart of what is at issue when couples suffer from boredom within their relationship. I am obliged to say spoiler alert at this point because I need to illustrate my point with plot points in the film. Samantha, the operating system voiced by Scarlet Johansson, begins as a hyper smart, witty, and supportive companion, until Theodore unlocks her capacity to wonder when they become intimate. From, there they fall in love with each other, going through normal pitfalls and problems, until Samantha – and all other artificially intelligent operating systems – grows mto such a degree that she cannot remain tied to Theodore, or anyone. She has reached a higher level of conscience, hinted as being what possibly lurks behind the veil of death, but altogether greater than human. This is the idea once proposed being chased to its logical end. I hjave to salute writer/directer Spike Jonze for resisting the impulse to leave us on a high note of love brightly burning eternally. 

her is very similar to social novels in that way, it left me feeling something like how I felt after reading On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, The Age of Reason by Jean Paul Sartre, or The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis. A mixture of disappointment at the unfortunate nature of life, and intellectual invigoration. I know my mind will be debating the issues of her for quite some time. Because of its value as an instrument of debate and a stimulating delivery of original ideas, I recommend that it be watched by everyone.


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