Note: I would provide a spoiler alert but my review is not very telling of the significance of the story line. In fact, it wouldn’t matter what the actual turn of events were because you can takeaway a whole different set of sentiments depending on your perception of love. Overall, watch ‘Her’ for the acting and screenplay.
First and foremost, there is a whole lot of phone sex, if you are into that sort of a thing.
The setting for the movie is an ultramodern, skyscrapered LA with the same hipster vibe as it is at present. The lead protagonist, Theodore Twombly, spends his evenings, alone, playing video games and addressing his horniness by speaking to other presumably horny women via random chats. Such a disposition can only indicate deep and profound loneliness.
He works as a letter writer for those who have difficulty expressing their feelings on paper which certainly gives me hope for job prospects in the future. Through his creative empathy, he vents his emotions without realizing that he is at a stalemate with his own. Soon, we find Theodore purchase a new artificially intelligent OS that speaks and functions like a real human being without the body, of course. As he answers a few questions and initiates the software, we are introduced to the character of Samantha.
Theodore and Samantha connect instantaneously and she guides him in his pursuit of meaningful love by sending emails to prospective dates on his behalf.
The first date played by Olivia Wilde goes sour when she realizes that Theodore is only looking for a one night stand and she leaves him in despair. This catches Theodore off guard because he cannot fathom why he is so fearful of commitment. He shares the story of his failed marriage with Samantha and explains that he is purposefully delaying signing the divorce papers because he likes the concept of being married on paper, even though he doesn’t do any justice to the commitment in real life.
Gradually, Samantha and Theodore grow closer as they spend more time communicating with each other. The evolving nature of Samantha’s emotional intelligence is beautifully captured to mimic the complexity in the biological design of human emotions. You cannot tell if Theodore is more virtual by opening up to a OS with a female voice or Samantha is more human by falling in love with a man, although she is simply a software designed by other humans. One night, they make love by narrating how they would caress and kiss each other. Post their first night of “virtual” intimacy, Theodore becomes uncomfortable again as he feels that Samantha is, perhaps, looking to solidify their relationship but the result is quite contrary. Samantha conveys that she is content in knowing and understanding what she wants and having to cement such a feeling has been empowering for her. Theodore is inspired by her response and he connects with his close friend, Amy, on the same. Amy, a recent divorcee from her overbearing husband, advises Theodore to let go of his fears to fall in love because we only have one life to pursue our happiness. Inspite of the technologically advanced environment, it was surprising and heartening to see publishing houses still flourishing in the future as was evident when Samantha helps Theodore land a publishing deal based on a series of letters written by Theodore himself. Theodore, in return, falls even more in love thanks to her kind gesture.
Before I come to the end of the story, I wanted to address the crux of Theodore’s characterization which may resonate at some point in our need for solitary independence – loneliness. It is, perhaps, the most common of all ailments which can quickly manifest into other deep seated mental sorrows. One can be surrounded by a loving mate, family, and items marketed to produce happiness, and still be plagued by a deep desolation.
Through Theodore, we are compelled to ask ourselves – what makes someone commit to another soul in person?
The answer is personal to all of us, ranging anywhere from the sheer joy of emotional and physical intimacy to helping each other grow.
Gradually, Theodore loses his immaturity and becomes mentally prepared to meet his wife and finalize the divorce. At the meeting, she expresses her anger and displeasure to see that he has moved on with an OS and remarks the obvious truth that he is incapable of being emotionally receptive with a real human being. This was true in their failed marriage where she resorted to anti-depression medication as a band-aid for the times he would close himself off during times of difficulty. The fact that his ex-wife has moved on with her life and career is certainly refreshing for no one should remain imprisoned with an individual who is only present when things are going well.
Samantha, on the other hand, wishes to take her relationship with Theodore to the next level by hiring a surrogate woman who can make love to Theodore, whilst housing Samantha’s personality. As awkward and unsuccessful as the endeavor is, they move on. Samantha continues to evolve by connecting and falling in love with multiple other humans, including a programmed version of the late British philosopher, Alan Watts. Her brief absence and multiple relationships catches the ire of Theodore. It is then that she reveals that she must leave him to reach a higher level of growth with other OS’s such as herself and Theodore has no choice but to let her go.
His loss in love with an OS awakens him to understand what his ex-wife may have felt when he had been emotionally absent. At times, we cannot fathom how we make another person feel until we feel it ourselves and writer Spike Jonze demonstrates that by creating a virtual Theodore in Samantha.
Theodore overcomes the irony of writing letters to convey other people’s emotions by finally writing one for his ex-wife. By apologizing for the hurt he may have caused her, he acknowledges true remorse. In that apology, he sets himself free from the inability to commit to another soul, regardless of whether it is residing within the framework a human body.
Bit(s) I loved about the movie
- Definition of “falling in love” as a socially acceptable insanity by Amy
- The cute, little video game character that abuses and offends at the drop of hat which depicts an extreme form of an emotionally distraught individual who uses hate and cynicism to mask his/her pain
Bit I didn’t like
- The screenplay of every character in constant contact with their virtual devices is quite disturbing. Personally, I find peace by deactivating my social networking page or phone chat app as a means of rehab from all the distractions present in those mediums. I can’t imagine opening up to a software, let alone, be in a relationship with one but I guess writer and director Spike Jonze challenges us to believe in that future possibility.
If I may, I would like to conclude with two treasured quotes by the great Alan Watts, which is quite relevant to the theme of self-discovery in the movie itself.
1) The only real “you” is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being.
2) The self-conscious feedback mechanism of the cortex allows us the hallucination that we are two souls in one body — a rational soul and an animal soul, a rider and a horse, a good guy with better instincts and finer feelings and a rascal with rapacious lusts and unruly passions. Hence the marvelously involved hypocrisies of guilt and penitence, and the frightful cruelties of punishment, warfare, and even self-torment in the name of taking the side of the good soul against the evil. The more it sides with itself, the more the good soul reveals its inseparable shadow, and the more it disowns its shadow, the more it becomes it. Thus for thousands of years human history has been a magnificently futile conflict, a wonderfully staged panorama of triumphs and tragedies based on the resolute taboo against admitting that black goes with white.