So, when this movie first came out, I didn’t remember seeing any trailers about it. Suddenly, everyone on my Twitter feed was talking about this amazingly poignant, inspiring, depressing movie that better win an award or something. Other than the fact that it was apparently impressive, and impressively sad, I didn’t know anything about it.
So when I was on a 7-hour plane ride to Dublin a few weeks ago and saw it on the in-flight list, I figured “hey, what better time to catch up on some movies?” I watched a couple, and I’ll want to talk about a few of them, but I’m going to start with Spike Jonze’s Her.
I know the name Spike Jonze, and I’m sure if I looked him up on IMDB, I’d find a long list of movies I’ve either heard a lot about and mean to watch, or movies I’ve seen. (A quick look shows at least a few familiar titles.) And I don’t think I’ve ever seen Joaquin Phoenix in anything, though I’ve certainly heard his name as well. Seeing Scarlett Johansson on the preview page made me hopeful; I am, after all, a child of my generation and have been having great fun watching her as Black Widow in the Avengers movies.
Seeing the basic premise (again, having known nothing about this until I selected it on my screen) made me very intrigued. “A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.” Hey! I’m a writer! I get lonely! …Operating system? So…like…his computer? Is…a…wait now. At this point I’m hooked.
And hooked I was. At its core, my reaction is exactly what the movie is about: what happens when our computers can do everything for us…and learn what we like? What happens when Siri becomes more than just a response, and actually turns into an AI? We’ve seen great advances in this field just the past few decades; it’s not outside the realm of possibility. The world the movie shows us is exceptionally plugged-in; everything is voice activated and linked through phone to computer and beyond. (Maybe it’s like that already; I know my life isn’t.) So we have Theodore, a writer fighting against an inevitable divorce from his long-time sweetheart, who then downloads Samantha, his newest AI.
The characters around him react differently, as is expected: some are understanding, some are appalled, some are confused. Theodore himself spends a good chunk of the film trying to parse out the way his brain works and if this is something he should embrace…or be concerned about. It is a visceral and thought-provoking film which will get you wrapped up in the characters and leave you limp by the end. (In a good way. I cried.)
Chris Pratt, Amy Adams, and Matt Letscher all step in admirably as friends of Theodore’s, each with their own quirks and troubles, showing up along the way the difficulty Theodore faces being an introvert and somewhat anxious, while still wishing for relationships. I particularly liked Amy’s plot line (amusingly, Adams’ character is named Amy as well) as a contrast of sorts to Theodore. Rooney Mara is a stellar foil to Phoenix as Theodore’s estranged wife Catherine, and manages to make herself both hated and sympathetic at the same time. And of course, Johansson is absolutely stunning in a role where we never see her at all. She carries all the weight and emotion and growth just in her voice in a way I have only seen a handful of other times. I was entirely sold into her character, and deeply impressed by the amount of nuance she conveyed.
All in all, I would absolutely recommend this movie, to young and old alike. This is a topic that will (I’d almost say inevitably) come to light if not in my life time, then certainly in my children’s. What makes a person real? What makes a relationship real? And where exactly can we draw the line? Bring a box of tissues and your thinking cap, and enjoy the movie.
Rating: **** (Highly Recommended)