Her movie poster
SPOILER-FREE (aside from general plot from the trailer)
After seeing the trailer for Her a few months back, I thought the movie looked terrifyingly brilliant. A lonely man named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) purchases a copy of the first ever Artificially Intelligent Operating System (who names herself Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson), who he ends up falling deeply in love with. After seeing the movie this weekend, I can confirm that my initial thoughts were correct. Her is both brilliant as well as terrifying.
I know that the topic of falling in love with an artificial life form has been covered numerous times in science fiction. However, this take on it steers clear of any science fiction elements, and focuses on the drama of falling in love. Theodore falls very quickly for Samantha. Being a computer program, Samantha slowly learns what love is before she realizes she is “in love” with Theodore as well.
There are numerous hurdles for a human dating an AI program, the most obvious of which is the physical aspect of the relationship. This topic is tackled straight on in two separate scenes, both very different, and both of which made me feel uncomfortable as a viewer. They find ways to make it work, and it turns out being clever, but pretty creepy at the same time.
It has to be many introverted geeks fantasy to create the perfect man or woman to be their mate, even if that mate does not have a physical form. To me, Her acts as a warning of why this is a bad idea. Regardless of whether this type of couple break up or “live happily ever after,” (and to keep it spoiler-free, I am not going to say the direction the movie takes it), neither option can end in true satisfaction for the human in the relationship. In the end, it’s a person, alone in a room with a computer program. No matter how real it feels, it cannot replace to companionship of another person. It may or may not be easier than a relationship with another person (depending on just how intelligent the AI is), but if AI ever becomes intelligent enough for something like this to actually happen, it could easily lead to the end of humans as a species (because you can’t have a baby with a computer).
Her also acts as a social commentary on how much we currently rely on technology. Theodore does a lot of walking in the movie, and just about every person constantly has their face buried in their phone/pocket computer. Theodore even makes a little game out of dodging the people not paying attention. Whether they’re talking to people, or their own Operating System doesn’t matter. The clear point is that people do not interact with each other face to face enough anymore.
Both Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson give very powerful performances in this movie. I (along with most of the world) had written off Phoenix after his Sacha Baron Cohen-like “prank” rap career and documentary I’m Still Here. He proves that he’s still a star in Her though. Scarlett Johansson proves that you can give a powerful performance with nothing but your voice as well. The Golden Globes don’t seem to agree, as they refuse to nominate Johansson for playing Samantha.
Voice acting has always fascinated me, and doesn’t get the respect that it deserves as an art form. Some time in the near future, I’ll be watching and reviewing a new documentary about voice acting called I Know That Voice. I don’t imagine that will find a huge audience, so I hope that Johansson’s performance sheds a little light on just how brilliant a performance can be with nothing more than a voice.
Overall, I highly recommend seeing Her. I’m not sure it fits in the category of a “date” movie, and I definitely don’t think it’s a movie I would want to go see with “the guys.” However, it’s a movie, that as a single geek, I feel needs to be seen. It is both very entertaining, as well as shows the slippery slope we can lead ourselves down if, as a society, we create AI smart enough for us to fall in love with, as well as for it to fall back in love with us.
As one final thought, even though the movie only came out in wide release this weekend, I’m very excited that they’ve already green-lit a sequel!
Her sequel, to be directed by Mitch Hurwitz!