Joaquin Phoenix, contemplating life in Spike Jonze's Her.

Joaquin Phoenix contemplating life in Spike Jonze’s Her.

It’s funny to be in a room with non-movie buffs. I take it for granted that everyone knows the basic synopsis of every new release, the headlining stars, and the directorial talent behind the camera. Being a big fan of Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are two of the most inventive films of all time), I was excited to see what shenanigans he would get up to with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson’s voice. I was recently in a room with a few friends when the trailer for Her played, and one person looked around at everyone in disbelief and said “really?” For those of you who don’t know, Her is an unconventional love story about a man falling in love with, yes, the operating system on his cellular phone. Really.

That reaction got me to thinking about the movie (I saw it a few months ago, and wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the film itself) and how the concept isn’t that far-fetched. Technology has made human connection an entirely different beast – some would say we’ve regressed, rather than progressed. But it has opened up a whole world of new relationships because physical presence isn’t a prerequisite anymore. A person in Bangladesh can be in a relationship with a person in Brazil, and no one bats an eye. People fall in love over text message and instant dating websites. Really, Her is just the logical extension of this process. What can be more long-distance than the distance between a human being and an electronic program?

The most important scene in the film (in my mind) is not the eyebrow-raising central romance, but a blind date between two live individuals – Joaquin Phoenix and Olivia Wilde. When they first meet, the brief silences are awkward and their small talk is numbing. So, like most people in social situations, they immediately order drinks to loosen up. It’s a really interesting scene to me, because they both can’t talk to one another without help, and even then their interactions are still surface-level. Meanwhile, Joaquin can bare his soul to his intelligent operating system, making a connection more real and human than an alcohol-fueled date with a complete (but living and breathing) stranger. I think it’s because with his operating system, there’s no risk. He believes that an operating system can’t hurt him, but people can. It turns out he couldn’t be more wrong.

In that one scene, the theme(s) of the film are confused. Is this a movie about technology impeding and poisoning our relationships with other people? Or is it about technology opening up doors to new relationships that we wouldn’t have otherwise? Maybe it’s not about technology at all, but just lonely people, trying to break out of a prison with no walls.

It’s not just about scoffing at the incredulity of some sad sack falling in love with his computer system. Really.

Sidenote: I’d give the movie itself a “soft” B. It feels a little bit lost and meanders at times, never coming into a truly moving or cohesive package.


2 Responses to Her

  1. A few of my non-movie buff friends thought this looked awful, but more fool them. I thought it was brilliant! Nice write up!

  2. Nostra says:

    You have an interesting assumption. Even though I watch hundreds of movies every year I always try to know as little as possible about a movie in advance. So for this movie I knew that Joaquin Phoenix was in it, but that was about it. I like going in blank without any preconceptions of what the movie is going to be, keeping expectations low in advance.

    You make an interesting point about Phoenix’s character making that connection with his OS because the lack of risk. I like the fact that there are so many things this movie makes you think about. Happened to put up my review of it today and wrote more about the technology.

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