‘Her’ depicts human disconnect

Posted March 19, 2014


A love story between man and machine, it’s not surprising that there’s little action in “Her.”

Instead, it’s surprising the film is so full of emotion .

Or really, how the most emotional part of the film stems from a computer’s operating system. Samantha, the operating system protagonist Theodore Thombley falls in love with, does not sound like a machine, or even iPhone’s Siri for that matter.

Her voice (depicted by Scarlett Johansson) is remarkably human: it’s womanly, funny, and with a tinge of girl-next-door innocence. Theodore Thombley (Joaquin Phoenix), on the other hand, has even less character than his operating system: his voice is more monotone and his actions are dulled, as if he were on auto-pilot.

Set in future (although it is vague exactly when), their love is not too unconventional and accepted by others – there are even others out there who are in romantic relationships with their operating systems.

Thombley bought Samantha only after being prompted by an advertisement he saw at a train station. On the train, it becomes clear how disconnected humans are and how tapped in they are to their electronic devices. Instead of keyboards, people simply talk to their devices, which understands and talks back.

As Samantha represents how machines are slowly becoming more human and artificially intelligent, Thombley reveals how controlled and robotic humans are also evolving. Directed by Spike Jonze — who has also directed comedies like “Jackass” and “Bad Grandpa” and art-house productions like “being John Malkovitch” and “Adaptation” — “Her” is set in a dystopian society that’s surprisingly cold and unfeeling.

While the film carries comedic elements and could easily focused on those to reveal insights on the human condition (as in Craig Gillespie’s “Lars and The Real Girl” starring Ryan Gosling and the blow-up doll he comes to fall in love with), Jonze prefers to accelerate the plot slowly, making the audience endure each prolonged conversation.

Jonze specifically places Samantha and Thombley’s phone sex scene in the beginning of their budding relationship, to quickly address the question on the audience’s minds and prevent a prolonged wait for it to feel satisfying and meaningful (as in other romantic movies like “The Notebook.”).

Instead of capturing at least Thombley’s sexual experience, Jonze sets the scene in the dark of Thombley’s bedroom where only their heated, passionate voices are heard and nothing (not even the ouline of Thombley’s body) is seen.

Other than his conversations with his colleague (Chris Pratt) from work, and his friend, Amy (Amy Adams), Thombley speaks to hardly anyone in the wake of his ongoing divorce from his wife (Rooney Mara). Instead of interacting with others of his own species, Thombley spends the day working at a handwritten letter company where he ghost-writes letters to other people to convey the emotion that people in this Los Angeles future are ill-equipped to communicate.

In this unfeeling daze, there is Samantha, the operating system that is credited with making Thombley feel again. Both Thombley and his friend Amy are in unsuccessful human relationships because of their inability to communicate to their partners.

While there is not one successful relationship portrayed in the film, it is Samantha, a machine, that makes Thombley forget his pent up commitment issues (she is, after all, a program he bought online) and open up to “her” without the anxiety of a face-to-face human conversation.

Their relationship is foiled with Amy’s relationship to a simulated online game, where Amy controls a housewife and seeks satisfaction in seeing the housewife succeed instead of doing the actual activities of the simulated housewife for herself.

But Jonze titles the film, “Her,” and not “It.” Johansson’s voice is recognizable, which is crucial because it fills the void of Samantha’s appearance. Even though she is a machine, the operating system feels remarkably human. (A person can fall in love with “her,” but a person can not fall in love with “it.”)

While Samantha slowly grows to seem more and more human, Thombley retreats to the shell of his humanly frame, vulnerable from a divorce with a woman he loved as shown in a series of flashbacks.

Unlike other science fiction movies, “Her” is not campy or improbable. Its power is harnessed on its familiarity with the human disconnect to others in the growing digital age.

Despite the little action in the film, it carries a meta-physical effect, where as the audience you become self-aware of the almost 120 minutes spent staring into technology (a movie projector) without making contact with another person despite feeling completely moved by this unconventional romance.

  • “Her.”
  • Directed by Spike Jonze.
  • Romance Genre.
  • Rated R.
  • 120 minutes.
  • Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt