I’m not going to mince words here: “Her” is a thoroughly excellent movie and you should go see it.
The premise is pretty simple: In the near future, a sentient operating system is released that customizes itself to be compatible with the user. The main character, Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), is a lonely guy who is recovering from a divorce, and when he gets this new operating system, she names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johanssen) and they gradually fall in love.
Both Phoenix and Johanssen give really great performances, which along with the great writing make the love story in this movie between a guy and a voice inside his computer more convincing than the vast majority of love stories I’ve seen on screen.
In many ways, this movie is a very traditional science fiction movie. It makes one science fictional change to our world – sentient computers – and then explores all the fascinating ramifications. But what’s great about it is that at the same time it is exploring love in a really interesting and touching way. It asks questions that only science fiction can ask: Is it actually love if one party is a computer? How do you have a physical romantic relationship if one person has no body? But many of the things that it deals with are basic parts of any committed relationship, made fresh by looking at them through the lens of science fiction. How do you share your life with someone but allow each other space to be yourself? How do you deal with jealousy when your partner is socializing and making friends outside of your social circle? How do you deal with the pain of past relationships and the effect that can have on the present one?
Even as it is dealing with very serious questions about the nature of love, the movie is also very funny at times, whether it’s the main characters getting into an argument with a semi-sentient video game character, or Samantha blithely telling her human friends that she has come to like not having a body that will inevitably grow old and die. There is just enough comic relief to balance out the other aspects of the movie.
Of course, the other wonderfully science fictional thing is the way the movie addresses current technology: namely our reliance on computers. We already spend so much time with various electronic devices that, if they could interact with us the way a human does, people falling in love with their computers begins to seem inevitable rather than unusual. The movie does a great job of quietly and insistently making a point of how people in this near future find themselves so caught up in their devices, talking to their sentient smartphones, that they don’t interact with each other anymore. It’s never overly judgemental or preachy, but the point is made.
Normally I try to think of something negative and positive about anything I review, but I’m having a hard time coming up with negatives. I guess I would warn you that there are some very awkward scenes involving Theodore having sex with someone who isn’t in the room (once over the phone, and then some scenes exploring the difficulties of a non-corporeal girlfriend) but the awkwardness is the whole point of those scenes, and they aren’t graphic or anything, so I can’t even really say that they are a drawback. Just, weird.
As I mentioned in a previous review, one of the best indicators that I really enjoyed a piece of fiction is that I can’t stop thinking about it afterward. “Her” definitely passes the test. After the movie, over dinner, my wife and I basically were just laughing and reminding each other of good scenes. A day later, I’m still thinking about it.
Too often, science fiction in the movies is seen as synonymous with over-the-top special effects and summer blockbusters starring square-jawed heroes and buxom heroines in impractically tight costumes, so I love it when a movie makes it to theaters that showcases the more thoughtful and emotional side of science fiction. On top of that, the writing and performances in “Her” make it one of the best movies I’ve seen in a really long time. Do yourself a favor: go see it, and see how meaningful and emotional good science fiction can be.