Her is a futuristic retelling of the ancient Greek story of “Pygmalion,” the namesake sculptor who molded the woman of his dream and married her after she was given life by Aphrodite. The artist role of Pymalion is Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who is a boring and failed writer separated from his wife. The statue made in his perfect image is the operating system Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. But unlike the base story, the two lovers do not end up together forever. Instead, we get the most genuine portrayal of a relationship I’ve ever seen.
Twombly works at a company that writes handwritten notes for people in couples for events like anniversaries or birthdays. He’s sexually repressed and alone, which draws him to buy a new artificially intelligent operating system. He answers some simple questions, tells the computer he’s anti-social, and that he wants it to have a female voice. Thus,
Samantha is created, unleashing a Pandora’s box of sorts.
I’ll preface my review by stating my appreciation of the director and writer, Spike Jonze, and his work. I’ve seen Being John Malkovich multiple times and I wrote my senior paper in highschool based on Adaptation. However, he’s only had director credit, utilizing a partnership with Charlie Kaufman, a three time Academy Award nominated screenwriter. In contrast, this film was completely written by him, and after his last foray in screenwriting with his adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, I was a bit skeptical of this new movie. I went in expecting a surreal romantic comedy, and was blown away by how wrong I was.
I’ll start with the characters. Twombly is a loner with limited friends and no drive. Samantha is created to be compatible with Twombly and adapt with him. Their relationship is formal at first, but they quickly start to grow into friends and eventually a couple, which given the setting of the film, is not as uncommon as it may seem.
The power of the film is in the character’s evolutions, and how Twombly and Samatha rely on each other. It is stated early on that the reason a relationship crumbles is not just that they grow apart, but they evolve at different rates. From the beginning, Samatha strives to understand humanity, and this curiosity inspires Twombly in his writing and attitude, but the rate of Samantha’s accelerated learning eventually causes a rift between them.
Phoenix and Johansson deserve to be lauded for their performances, as their chemistry was very powerful; however, the fact that Johansson was hired as a replacement for the original voice of Samantha after the majority of the filming shows the dialogue written by Jonze is what shines through the film. With a Golden Globe already in the Best Screenplay category and with a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards, it can be said as fact that Jonze has truly written something great.
Additionally, the futuristic Los Angeles setting and the music by Arcade Fire and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were all superbly done. I think of it as a perfect storm of a movie, one that is very open and genuine, with characters that are flawed without being trite movie personalities. It is absolutely a must see movie that will change the way you look at and evaluate relationships.
I don’t like Her. All my friends raved about Her and critics rated Her highly. However, I just wasn’t a good fit for Her. Word play aside, if you’ve read any of my notebooks or heard stories about me you may be thinking, “Hey, this Chris guy, he’s sensitive and romantic, why didn’t he like Her? It was funny, cute, and romantic all at the same time.” Well, yes, you’re right–partly.
Listen, I love long walks on the beach, dramatic acts of true love, and witty lines. I love buying presents for Valentine’s Day. But in my opinion, Her was a little ahead of its time, perhaps too avant-garde. At least for me, the idea of falling in love with an artificial being seems a little far-fetched. Healthy relationships are equally physical and emotional. If there’s no physical connection, then the relationship is doomed. The entire movie, I tried to put myself in Theodore Twombly’s shoes, but I just couldn’t. Joaquin Phoenix’s character, for me, was too unrelatable. All I could do the entire movie was sympathize. I felt sorry for him, sorry that he was going through a depressing time in his life, that he was falling in love with his operating system, what his life had become, but I couldn’t empathize with him. I mean, it may partly be because he kind of looks creepy, with the mustache and all. For me, and I’m sure a lot of other people, that’s an important part of watching movies; seeing yourself in that person’s spot, feeling, and experiencing what that character would be feeling. But it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief.
Additionally, what I found hard to believe was that Her was also advertised partly as a comedy. The movie was clearly a drama. Most scenes are solely him talking to the AI, which at first seems okay, until you realize shots are just of him reclining on a sofa or lying down in bed. It’s not dynamic. In most romantic comedies, the gestures and facial expressions of the actors make up half the interaction, the other half, the conversation. However, in Her, all of it was just the conversation, which created a disconnect between the movie and me. This human part, which was significant, bored a hole in substance that was distinctly noticeable. The dialogue couldn’t fill this void that was sorely missed.
Yes, I may be emotionally unfulfilled by the movie, and I may have problems with the main character himself, but it doesn’t stop me from saying that it was intelligently pieced together. Spike Jonze, the mastermind of the film, who is most known as a producer of the TV show Jackass and directing music videos, doesn’t seem like the guy to make a serious film. I mean think about it; Her is a movie about a guy falling in love with his artificially intelligent operating system. At first, it seems like a flimsy idea that could flop in theaters, but Jonze nailed it. Does that sound surprising? Although I hate Her, I still appreciated the themes and parallels that were made throughout the film. I appreciated the artistic and musical styles. The movie’s simplistic futuristic approach was breathtaking, with the soundtrack complimenting each and every scene. Though the human part was nonexistent, the dialogue was meaningful and real. Phoenix’s performance is admirable. The talent required to pull off a taxing role such as Twombly is unimaginable, as the movie is solely based on him; his facial expressions and tone of voice make or break the movie.
From performance to content, Her was brilliantly composed, like a modern classical piece; intentionally dissonant in melody and harmony, yet thematically sound. Again, just like modern classical music, the film also had variations on motifs. For example, Twombly works at a company that writes personalized love letters for people that have difficulty explaining their feelings to their partners. However, when it comes to his own relationship with Samantha, his operating system, he has difficulty saying what he truly feels. Allowing a surrogate, a third party human woman who acts as the body Samantha does not possess, into their sexual relationship ends disastrously. Additionally, evolution makes an appearance here as well. Twombly and his childhood sweetheart, Catherine, drifted apart after they married. They evolved emotionally different from each other, eventually leading to their divorce. The same happens to him and Samantha, whn she literally evolves intellectually above and beyond him. Samantha, after undergoing patch changes, begins communicating with other operating systems like her. As a result, she begins developing at an exponential rate and finds that her relationship with Twombly is not enough for her.
Her is not your everyday cup of tea. It’s not even accurately publicized as a romantic-drama comedy. But as much as I hate its lack of human interaction, the film was artistically sound and thematically cohesive. It’s a love-hate relationship for me. I can appreciate the genius that Jonze put into his work through motifs and meaningful dialogue. But then again, that’s something that I didn’t like: the conversations Twombly had with Samantha and others were real. I wanted levity, I wanted wit, but I didn’t get that. Jonze painted a shatteringly real picture of just a regular, lonely guy in this futuristic, artificial romance, which I can respect.
Personally, I wouldn’t watch this movie again. But I do respect it enough for what the film is, that I would recommend Her to a friend; however, I would tell them exactly what it is first: a sci-fi romantic-drama.
After discussing our final thoughts of this film, we realized we probably had enough original thoughts regarding the film that we could talk for hours. The focus on the great performances, the art style, music, it really is a film worth discussing, and understand that after watching it, you will want to talk about it too.
Our consensus is that Her is a great movie that is poorly marketed. While original and powerful, advertising sells the film as a romantic comedy, which it clearly is not. It’s a genuine, depressing, narrative. While some people may enjoy the surprisingly deep story, it is fair to be bothered by the deceptive nature of the advertisements. However, we can both agree that as long as you see the film for what it is, you will have a great experience with a truly unique film.