Written by Guest Contributor: Jefferey Pinkos I do not like Her. There. Now I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy.
Of course there are many things to like about it. 1. It’s a pretty picture. Spike Jonze and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have created a gorgeous cityscape of Future L.A., with its sumptuous pastel/citrus coloring. 2. ScarJo is so damn charming, it’s insane. Ms. Johansson has such a natural style and range as OS1/Samantha that Ray Kurzweil just plotzed.
But try as I might, I can’t un-kick that puppy. I may as well explain my actions.
Theodore Twombly is the quintessential Sensitive Young Man. Even his name is adorable. Played with overweening heart by Joaquin Phoenix, he does everything a SYM does. He bemoans the dissolution of his last relationship, a marriage by his critical ex Catherine (Rooney Mara). He’s financially successful in a futuristic SYM trade, writing love notes for strangers. It’s a meaningful career, not just in securing him a middle-class existence, but in becoming an empathetic cypher for his clients, the emotionally unavailable and fetishists of the really-not really homemade. A commodity of intimacy. Already, I hate him. He’s a genius, he’s paid well, and he’s terribly, disastrously lonely. IF ONLY SOMEONE OR SOMETHING COULD HELP.
In enters Samantha. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is a personality part of the OS1 PA system. It’s designed to organize your life, but it has feelings and a responsiveness that imitates humanity so well it’s nigh indistinguishable. Samantha’s lively, flirty, and effective. Immediately the both of them are smitten. We get why he’s taken with her. He’s the SYM, prone to love things that are lovely. We love her immediately. But, to paraphrase Joe Jackson here is she really that taken with him?
There’s some discomforting questions Her never resolves, nor intends to resolve. A famous critic said that discomfort, which I will discuss further, is the discomfort we feel about computers nowadays. All sci-fi is of-its-time. With the NSA and Facebook forever altering human relationships and how we view privacy and technology, it’s an interesting if immaterial interpretation. We never entertain the idea that Samantha has some ulterior motives. Even as she rifles through your things, she employs discretion and sensitivity. The movie doesn’t end with her selling off his private messages and credit card numbers.
The discomfort lies with Samantha. Far be it from me to judge romance, but everything is crazy idealized. Twombly lives well, and earns constant critical appraisal from everyone (except his ex). His ego’s bruised and needs diagnostic and repair. Samantha (created from a few set questions) is made for him, which reads so weird. Samantha regularly makes choices; she even chooses the name Samantha. So she chooses Twombly, but her design is fabricated strictly for him. Is it a choice or a design? Those questions are for deeper souls than mine.
A curious scene involves their relationship on the mend. Catherine scolded Twombly on his choice of rebound partner, invoking the irreconcilable differences that landed their relationship in divorce, and now he’s critically reexamining the commodity/sentience he’s chosen to date. Samantha is still going through a period of developing an identity for herself and in this relationship so she’s chosen a physical cypher to play-act as her. It’s an uncomfortable scene that Twombly reluctantly agrees to. It gets intimate. Samantha tells Twombly to declare his love for her to this stranger, and he balks. It’s possible to agree with him. That professing your affection for a third-party is weird. It is, but it feels like a half-truth. When you have a woman without a body, it doesn’t eliminate the male gaze. Her physicality is imagined. How she acts and behaves and looks is presumed. She in effect becomes every woman; but with an amenable displaceable personality. It’s masturbation plus.
It’s possible I read too much into the scene. “But did it move you?” Jonze will ask. This isn’t a sci-fi film, rather a modern love story seen through a sci-fi lens. I can’t say. I look back at the romance story that did move me, and I felt was a strong and curious and human, and it’s the Before trilogy. Jesse and Celine. That could be seen as fantasy too, but both parties have an interplay that challenges and denies the other. They argue. They have differing opinions. They have stories. None of which you see here. Here it’s a one-sided relationship. As human as Samantha is, she has no experiences that shape her. She has creation and definition. Arguing isn’t a part of this relationship, and it suffers from that. It feels too idealized, too perfect. She does.
Another thing I reminded myself of watching Her. The sci-fi bent is merely a backdrop. There’s a brilliant episode of Black Mirror called “Be Right Back” in which something similar happens. A woman gets an AI to replace her husband. It works great until she realizes the commodity never replaces the human, then it becomes a heartless reminder. Perhaps the sci-fi bent feels so trivial here in retrospect.
Director/Writer: Spike Jonze Studio: Warner Bros. Run Time: 126 Min.