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Her ••••1/2

Her2013PosterStarring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Spike Jonze
Screenplay: Spike Jonze
Comedy/Drama/Romance, Rated: R
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Date: December 18, 2013


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

So, Greg, looks like we finally got around to seeing Ben-Hur, a 1959 release.

No, Scott. We’re reviewing Her. Spike Jonez’ 2013 Christmas offering about a man who falls in love with his computer. Let’s recap…

We meet Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), who composes loving letters for a living at beautifully handwritten notes dot com. Theodore has been down in the dumps for almost a year, ever since his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) left him. He is a sensitive man who feels deeply, but he seems unable, and maybe even unwilling, to connect with people at an emotional level.

Then one day he gets a new Operating System (OS) for his phone that is voice-controlled and responds via a ‘bud’ he keeps in his ear. This OS is different from previous ones – it is tailored to his personality and is the latest in Artificial Intelligence (AI). This OS will learn and adapt.  Theodore is so taken with his new AI (named Samantha and voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that he begins to fall in love with it.

Greg, Her is a movie that drives home a point that we’ve known for a long time, namely, the idea that our internet gadgets and software separate people from each other more than they bring people together. Her also takes this idea to a new level by introducing an operating system that can develop a human personality which can feel love and return it in kind – an innovation that potentially renders human-to-human relationships unnecessary.

Joaquin Phoenix has an especially demanding role here, as Samantha’s disembodied voice means that Phoenix has very long stretches of screen time by himself. He does a masterful job of expressing the joy and pain of a relationship, even if the relationship is with a highly charming and sophisticated operating system. Scarlett Johansson also deserves great kudos for using only her voice to create a highly memorable character. One might say that Theodore and Samantha are buddy heroes and/or romantic heroes. They each start out with missing qualities and must take risks to grow and to evolve.

I thought that what Her had to offer was that relationships are difficult no matter who they are with. The relationship that Theodore has with Samantha is much like relationships he has had with other women. They start out very easy-going and get more intimate until finally they become complex as the needs and expectations of both parties are stressed.

Her also brings home the point that physical presence is increasingly unnecessary in relationships. I’m sure you’ve heard of people falling in love in Internet chat rooms and getting married without ever having met. Her takes this to the next level by having one of the parties not even have a physical body.

For me, Her is a movie about the plight of modern humans who are overly dependent on technology to meet their social and emotional needs. Sadly, there are many scenes in Her that mimic modern-day reality. Masses of people on the streets are walking alone yet talking to some distant entity – is it a real person or another operating system like Samantha? We’re not sure, and it almost doesn’t matter, because either way they are foregoing any opportunity for real-flesh contact by focusing instead on an electronic connection. The result is pervasive loneliness and isolation on a massive societal level.

The hero journeys of Theodore and Samantha are fascinating to watch. I must admit that I wasn’t sure how these journeys were going to unfold. Yes, people get hurt and in the pain there is growth. You’re right, Greg, that complications arise in a deepening relationship, and this movie is populated by characters who cannot handle those complications. And so shallow relationships are often the norm, and in one hilarious scene a shallow relationship features the creative use of a dead cat.

I’m not sure I agree with you Scott. Theodore had personal relationships with several people in this film. Among them his best friend Amy (Amy Adams) who is in a “real” relationship with a man who doesn’t treat her well. The theme that I get from Her is that even the ideal person is going to be difficult to deal with. There is going to be give and take no matter who you are with.

From the point of view of a Hero’s Journey, we see Theodore go from being a complete loner to actually going out with friends on double dates. The real people he meets are not able to carry on real relationships. Samantha gives him the strength to be “among us.” In the end Theodore grows from his experiences with Samantha and is a better person for them.

Her is a terrific movie that forces us to think about the potentially useful — and harmful — effects of technology on relationships. The film raises many questions: Are we nearing the point where relationships with computers will replace human relationships? How overly dependent and addicted are we to computers to fulfill our emotional needs? Her made me think and it also made me feel – a rare feat for a move these days. I’m happy to award Her 4 Reels out of 5.

The hero journeys of Theodore and Samantha are complicated but satisfying. As you suggest, Greg, these two characters help each other transform in meaningful ways. They do this through love and, ironically, through the betrayal of that love. There is a sweet tenderness to their relationship that is both satisfying and chilling to me. In the end, they grow in meaningful ways that leave us pondering the role of technology in our emotional lives. I give these two characters 4 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-4 Hero: superman-4

We’re in agreement that Her is a terrific movie. Spike Jonez pulled all the stops in the production values. The color schemes and fashion all predict a near-future world where computers are ubiquitous.  I can’t see how this movie could have been made better. I give the movie 5 out of 5 Reels. The hero story here is layered and complex. I enjoyed watching the relationship grow and mature. I didn’t get the “doomsday” ending that is so often the result of computers-meet-humans in the movies. I give Her 4 out of 5 Heroes as well.

Movie: reel-5 Hero: superman-4

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