(Originally published 21 February 2015)
“You know sometimes, I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever gonna feel, and I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser bursts of what I’ve already felt.”
SPOILER WARNING: I spoil pretty much the entire damn movie. Proceed with caution.
Her is my favourite movie of 2014. And one of my favourite movies of all time
Considering it is one of my favourite movies, I thought it’d be a good experiment to really examine what makes me like a movie. Just a general thought process to explain why I love this film so much and why it works so well for me.
Now, liking something is truly subjective. You can get an emotional attachment to something as gripping, intelligent and powerful as Casablanca, and Howard the Duck. There is no magical formula to this, I’m not trying to spell out why this movie is such a masterpiece that you’re an idiot if you don’t like it. it’s just my own personal way of breaking down a film in its parts and figuring out why something works for me and why something doesn’t. With that said, let’s see if it reaches any of these criteria:
Do I enjoy the movie?
May seem obvious. I mean, if I don’t enjoy a movie, why would I like it? No matter how much philosophical pondering you can do for a flick, if you’re not entertained by it, why are you watching it?
So, suffice to say, Her is extremely entertaining on top of all its other traits. With all its thoughts on our relationship with technology, relationship with ourselves, relationship with relationships, and how we analyse love and happiness in every facet, it’s simply a love story. A love story between a man and his artificial intelligenced (yes, that’s a verb now, shut up) computer. It’s such a simple, yet brilliant, concept and it brings out a lot in both our characters and the relationship.
It’s well paced, the leads are extremely likeable and relatable, their inevitable fights and break ups feel naturally developed, the dialogue is both natural and memorable (very deserving of its Best Original Screenplay Oscar), it looks nice, the technology is very well incorporated, and it has a sense of fun. It really does feel like the trials and tribulations of a relationship, the only odd thing is that one of the halves wasn’t naturally created.
So yeah before you even start, it’s a very, very entertaining film with a strong cast and a sweet story. So what elevates this above other movies that entertain me?
Does it make me think?
Art has a way of making us look at life in an entirely unique and interesting way. Film is no different. So while not everybody will look into film this deeply (and there’s nothing wrong with that), that doesn’t mean there is another layer to it that makes us ponder and question aspects of life. So does Her do this?
For one, it makes you question our interaction with technology. Not just with the main relationship, but with characters in the background. They all seem to be in worlds of their own; creating lives and destinies from their gadgets and gizmos. This is best displayed in one of the earliest scenes when Theodore is coming home from work. He goes from checking one computer to another, surrounded on a train by people doing exactly the same thing (also, another pointed critique, avoiding real world events in order to look at sultry photos of a pregnant celebrity).
It’s not that technology has completely taken over people. There are plenty of scenes where we see them interact with other people, like the couple with the children and Theodore and Samantha analysing them. But it does show that they’re coming close to where they just live in their ideal worlds given to them by the world of the internet. They’re beyond today’s standards of technological and pop culture obsession, but they’re not on the levels of The Congress just yet. So how does this relate to Theodore and Samantha’s story?
This is where the movie gets most of its most interesting intellectual material. What is love?
Is it something that is created through our own attachment to something or is it a mutual response between two people? Is Samantha ever a person? Are Theodore’s feelings real? Who are we to judge them if he’s so happy? If they are real, does that mean that love is an insular phenomenon, or does Samantha really develop into a fully-fledged personality? It seems that way. Does that mean a ‘person’ is created by genetics and tissue or is it something far harder to grasp? Is Samantha just a new sentient lifeform entirely, considering she has far more access to knowledge and people and can arguably live forever?
Believe it or not, all of these questions come up in some way (probably not worded like this), and the brilliance of the movie is that it doesn’t answer them. It’s not really its job to do so. It just posits these ideas, framing them through this story, and it’s up to the audience to wonder what this all means, if it means anything at all. Some of my favourite movies brings up questions that you are supposed to decipher yourself, and Her really leaves it up to you whether Theodore and Samantha’s love is genuine or if he’s just crazy. Even if it does play the relationship as very touching and sincere.
So how does the relationship play out?
Does it get me emotionally?
I’m very, very attached to the couple in this movie. If I’m not emotionally connected to a movie, it will really not last in my mind as long as it could have. This one I’m very involved in.
Theodore is a romantic. We get that immediately when he’s very emotionally reading a love letter he himself wrote. At the same time, he’s very self-involved and kind of arrogant. When his ex-wife (a wonderfully played, and sadly brief, part by Rooney Mara) calls him out on being a control freak and accusing him of this being the reason he’s fallen ‘madly in love with his laptop’, she’s not entirely wrong (p.s. I love that line). I do think she’s off-base, but she clearly knows her husband and it allows the audience to see him in another light. My point is that he’s very human. He can be selfish, and pretentious, and self-aggrandising, but he’s also very emotionally intelligent, bashfully charming, and has a big heart. Which is why Samantha works so well for him.
Where Theodore is romantic, Samantha is realistic. Where he is certain, she is curious. If there’s any personality to the character, it’s that she is constantly looking for new things to explore and helping her to broaden her horizons. She asks questions that no person would really ask and, because we only get brief glimpses at other artificially intelligent OS’ (including that brilliant moment where they recreated Alan Watts’ personality, which could be a movie in of itself), we just have to presume this is her own uniqueness.
So, in a sense, Samantha’s reality pondering and want to question, not to mention her vastly superior intelligence, allows Theodore to be more humbling and accepting that his romantic notions may be too much. At the same time, Theodore’s romanticism and easygoing zest for life allows Samantha a safe space to grow her curiousity and understand this vast and complex world through a safe and reliable vessel. They are compelling as individuals and even better together, which is what makes them such a great romantic pairing. They’re easy to invest into and love, made even more impressive by how most of their interactions are Joaquin Phoenix talking to a voice (though, let’s be honest, even Scarlett Johannson’s voice is sexy as hell).
The best way to sum up how strong their relationship is, to me, is that they have one of the most intimate, sensual, powerful, and moving sex scenes I have seen in any movie. And it’s literally a black screen!
‘God I was somewhere else with you. I was just lost. It was just you and me.’
Is it technically well made?
While I do think Spike Jonze has a kind of ‘90s indie’ feel to the cinematography (Note: …yeah, I don’t know what I’m trying to say here, either), it’s suitably light and romantic. It allows the drama beats to hit while also allowing scenes like the beach day out and the log cabin trip a sense of tenderness. At the end of the day, with the crazy technology and esoteric ideas of thought and artificial intelligence, it is a romance story.
A lot of the songs are really cleverly incorporated into the film’s narrative, too. I love how they can be so diegetic; either through Theodore’s headpiece or even elevator music. It’s a small touch, but it’s showing how technology is forever evolving and constantly in our lives, as this is stuff that is around today. I also love how advertisements are everywhere and can be involved in the movie either through exposition or symbolism. Again, not too dissimilar from nowadays, yet with that added touch that it feels as if the movie takes place in the not-too-distant future.
In fact, a lot of things are given their own little touches. Games are more interactive, and you have to socially interact with game characters to progress in the world (I love that the nasty alien child is voiced by Jonze). Outside of me going ‘IT’S SO CLOSE TO LIFE’ for about the billionth time, it gives us the sense that this isn’t just a world contained to the importance of Theodore and Samantha. Hell, the movie flat out states they’re not the only human/OS relationship in the film! There’s such great world building in this film from its design, you really do feel like this world has been lived in by people other than the main cast.
Is it multi-faceted?
I came up with an entire a theory that the entire movie is about Theodore getting over his relationship with his ex-wife. And Samantha was there simply to help him to move on.
Think about it: she’s constantly trying to get him to face up to his divorce, encourages him to go on dates and move past her. Who’s to say she didn’t get into a relationship with him because that’s what he needed at the time? She’s doing what she can to solve the problem, like a computer. His final words of dialogue is him writing a letter to his wife letting her go. I mean, it doesn’t explain why the other OS’ left with Samantha, but maybe this is all just metaphor?
Hell, I’ve heard that it’s all about him moving on to his friend Amy (Amy Adams, who I don’t mention a lot as she’s essentially a supporting character with no real involvement to the plot, but I like her). I don’t buy into it that much, but I can definitely see why someone else would see it that way.
The entire movie is a meditation on technology told through the eyes of a relationship. Hell, the surrogate is such a fascinating idea. It doesn’t even have to apply to OS’; human beings have adapted to the idea that maybe using this woman to appease long-distance couples wouldn’t be completely out of left field in this future. it could be an entire commentary about how we can use people’s feelings to appease our own selfish purposes, framed in what appears to be an almost festishised concept of a person living out the day-to-day routine of one half of a couple for them, even for the night. It’s an interesting thought.
Does it have a glorious mustache from one Joaquin Phoenix?
Seriously, I could go on forever about this movie, but you really just need to see it for yourself (Note: Even though I warned people not to read this because I spoil the movie at the start of the article, so I’m assuming people who haven’t and read to this point just ignored me). Her is emotional. Her is complex. Her is sweet, funny, charming, light, while also contemplative, thought-provoking, a little strange and all kinds of wonderful. It’s exactly what I look for in a movie. It’s why I named it my favourite movie of 2014. And why I consider it one of the best movies I have ever watched.
-Chris Pratt; the man is almost as attractive chubby as he is in shape. i kind of hate him.
-The scene with the cat-choking roleplay is so goddamn hilarious. It can be shown as more of humanity’s openness to sexuality and another way technology has developed around human need, but mostly it makes me laugh so hard every time I see it. Also, Theodore’s username being ‘bigguy4by4’.
-Similarly is Samantha’s idea of an asshole being where your armpit is and her illustration of that. Again, thematically connected, but mostly cute and funny.
-Again, do I need to emphasise what a great talent Scarlet Johannson is? It’s only her voice, and yet she has such amazing chemistry with Phoenix (who is also fantastic, of course) and creates such a fully realised character that doesn’t even have a body.
-It may seem trite that a guy who has such a specialised job like letter writing be in such a fancy apartment, but I can buy it. It seems to be a luxury to get handwritten letters in that time, and he has regular clients. Service must charge a fortune. Hooray the capitalist system!!!
-I like that Theodore isn’t exactly the most normal, down-to-earth character who is in no way responsible for his failings. He comes across as kind of anti-social and a little pathetic. Yet he’s never unlikeable. At least to me…
-Another character trait I picked up on; he’s very understanding of people, yet seems to have very little understanding of his ex-wife. People are so knowledgeable of everything that isn’t right in front of them.
-Olivia Wilde has an important, but sadly way too brief, role in this. I wish she was in it more, she’s a damn talented actress.
-‘The past is just a story we tell ourselves.’