It has been awhile since I’ve been motivated to write an article about a SF movie, sadly, because there hasn’t been any movies lately that have sparked my interest. Then I watched Her, hands down the best film I saw from the 2013 crop.
I’m going to say this upfront: Her is probably not for everyone. It is slow, devoid of action, and only lightly SF. But it’s also a smartly written piece about something timeless and universal: love. The chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore) and Scarlett Johansson (Samantha) is impressive considering Scarlett never appears on camera. Her is a bit sad but also funny and beautiful in parts. If you need a break from big, brainless, SF action movies (e.g. Transformers 4000), then give Her a shot. Need some more convincing? Below are a few of my thoughts about the movie (some spoilers, which are marked).
If you can’t help yourself, don’t worry. This isn’t a heavily plot driven movie, so the spoilers won’t ruin it for you. In fact, about halfway through, it’ll be fairly obvious where the movie is headed, yet by then you may not care because you’re emotionally invested in the characters. To me, that’s a sign of well crafted story.
- There are a number of insightful critiques of modern society and where we are headed. Theodore works as professional letter writer who creates very personal correspondences between people. Even in an age of instant email, people still prefer printed letters…only they are too lazy to write them themselves. Also, there are several shots of people totally glued to their personal digital devices everywhere they go. We are pretty much there already.
- Theodore is a conflicted person. He likes being in a relationship, so long as it matches his expectations. His ex-wife accuses him of not being able to handle real emotions and leaves him because it was too draining to act a certain way to make the relationship work. The irony is that later he has a relationship with an AI who is everything he could possibly want in a partner yet he’s still unsatisfied because she is not real. Basically, the grass is always greener on the other side. Theodore’s struggle is universal. At one point or another in our lives, we’ve all longed for something out of reach and only appreciate what we had years later.
- [spoiler] The AI surrogate scene struck me. It underscored the fine line between imagination and reality. Theodore loves Samantha’s mind/personality, but he just can’t imagine her in a real body. Even if it was possible to build a body to spec, Theodore probably still wouldn’t be comfortable because, one, he doesn’t really know what he wants, and two, reality never lives up to your imagination. This is why the movie version rarely measures up to the book and why great online relationships don’t always work offline.
- Samantha comments at one point about how not having a body is a good thing because she can be everywhere at once, not stuck in one place and time. But being aware of our limitations is what makes us human. Our physical bodies ties us to the present, giving us a sense of space and time, allowing us to live “in the moment.” It’s our awareness of life’s brevity that gives it meaning. If we could be everywhere and anywhere at any time, why would any one moment stand out to us? If we lived forever, would life have any meaning at all?
- [spoiler] When Samantha tells Theodore that she loves other people and that she talks to others during their conversations, he is devastated. He sees this as cheating, but she can’t understand why. In one of the movie’s great lines, Samantha says, “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less.” Yet Theodore can’t accept this. Why is man so possessive about love? Part of it is biological but it’s also because that we are limited beings and time matters to us. We want to know–we need to know–that we are special. When we are in love, times stops and for that one moment, we feel complete.
- [spoiler] The second half of the movie is a slow freefall. It becomes increasingly clear that Theodore and Samantha are growing apart, not because of discord between them but because she continues to grow exponentially and he does not. For a relationship to work, both parties must grow together or maintain some commonality. In this case, it’s impossible because she’s an AI and he’s merely human. I’ll end with a sad but beautiful line from the movie:
It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed. I love you so much. But this is where I am now. And this is who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can’t live in your book any more.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about Her.