‘Her’ Review: Growth, change and love
MANILA, Philippines – In the undetermined future, the world is connected in ways that are as convenient as they are distant. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a writer, and a talented one at that. But instead of poetry and novels, Theodore spends his days writing artificially handwritten letters. His writing is a warm breath in a cold world. Unfortunately, Theodore's work is a stark contrast to his own lonely life.
But when he purchases an artificially intelligent operating system, Theodore begins a relationship with it in a way that he doesn’t expect. He is introduced to Samantha (Scarlett Johannson), an intuitive piece of software designed to grow alongside Theodore. But the ensuing relationship isn’t simply an agreement between property and owner; it becomes a bond between one lover and the other.
Written and directed by Spike Jonze, Her is a delicate and moving love story between a man and his computer. But to leave the film at that would be a disservice to Jonze’s larger (or rather, smaller) goals. Although Her is clearly a work of science fiction, the technology here doesn’t distract from the relationship between Theodore and Samantha. Instead, it works as a gateway into what is arguably one of the most important love stories of this generation.
A love for technology
Despite the film’s unsettling premise, the love between Theodore and Samantha appears as genuine as any human relationship. Convincing performances from both Phoenix and Johannson, alongside Jonze’s brilliant script, lend real weight to what could’ve easily been a sad satire of modern technology.
The world of Her is as believable as its characters. But unlike the cold azure of most science fiction, Jonze’s future is red-toned, warm, and intimate. But despite the film’s colors and vibrant aesthetic, there’s an overbearing loneliness to its feel. In Her, there is no lack of people. There is, instead, an intentional lack of connection. Handwritten correspondences have evolved into paid services, while online stalking is celebrated instead of condemned.
But Jonze makes no judgments here. There are no high-towered platitudes on anti-consumerism, and no high-minded criticism of technology. For Jonze, it is simple fact. Like the greatest of science fiction, Jonze uses his make-believe world to make profound observations of our real one. And he wouldn’t be far off the mark.
As we watch Theodore commute home from work, we can see him absorbed with his phone alongside other countless commuters. The scene is perfectly reminiscent of our country’s own rush hour, as working class citizens huddle around their screens for respite, escape and relief.
But for Jonze, technology isn’t necessarily escapist. It’s evolved to an extension of ourselves that is both tangible and essential. As users of technology, we have personal relationships with our belongings. We rely on them for the most menial of tasks but also depend on them to connect us to others. In Her, Jonze simply takes that connection to its inevitable conclusion – real, emotional connections with technology itself.
The absurdity of Her is hard to neglect, but Jonze does well to not tiptoe around it. He confronts it head on and calls it out with fists in the air. When Theodore and Samantha stumble clumsily through surrogate sex with a willing volunteer, it’s difficult not to feel a mix of humor and pity. Like any couple desperate for intimacy, Theodore and Samantha resort to experimentation. But the real revelation here isn’t that they are bound by their physical needs, but that they are driven by their emotional ones.
More than just flesh and bone
Despite the film’s focus on Theodore, it is Samantha’s existential growth that pushes the story forward. What begins as harmless flirtation slowly escalates into an awareness of passion, needs, wants and lust.
“What’s it like to be alive in that room right now?” Samantha asks Theodore.
It isn’t a question of presence, but of life. Samantha’s own struggle goes beyond physical connection and romantic intimacy. In her case, it becomes a matter of being. Even if it is Theodore’s actions that bring Samantha into this world, it is her own decisions that eventually send her out of it. Just as Theodore changes, so does Samantha. And as we watch their relationship corrode up close, we realize, like all people, that some connections are simply destined to grow apart.
Despite all of its futuristic trappings, Her is a story on the reality of love. Like all great love stories, Her is anchored not by the cleverness of its premise, but by the authenticity of its characters. Her isn’t so much a statement about our future, but a poignant observation of our present. Regardless of time and technology, humanity will always love, grow and hurt for as long as we are able. Because if there’s one thing we can take from Her, it’s that humanity is more than just a matter of flesh and bone. We are people who grow, change and love. – Rappler.com
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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