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Computer glitch or computer hitch? - A film review

I think I'm falling in love with my operating system: Joaquin Phoenix in Her


Review by Michael Lipiner

"I'll always love you 'cause we grew up together and you helped make me who I am. I just wanted you to know there will be a piece of you in me always, and I'm grateful for that."

These words are spoken tenderly by Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) in a powerful and multidimensional performance in Her - this year's Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay, written and directed by Spike Jonze. Although typically science-fiction, the film's heart speaks volumes about our emotions, relationships and the dangers of addictive technology. In essence, society's habitual dependence on gadgets has taken us further away from human contact and communication.

These truths are revealed in a semi-futuristic Los Angeles, as the past (expressed with nostalgic, quirky fashion and surreal images) blends with the present and into the future by playing with the notions of how we perceive dystopian/utopian elements. Theodore ponders his life and existence in the midst of a painful divorce, and spends most of his time conversing with technology: at work by typing intimate and sometimes erotic letters for clients, and every place else while giving directives through his connected earpiece.

Desperate, lonely and bored, Theodore downloads a new OS (operating system) with highly sophisticated artificial intelligence specifically tailored to his needs and personality. He and the OS, 'Samantha' (skillfully voiced by Scarlett Johansson), develop an unlikely – and yet utterly believable – intimate relationship which, of course, revolves around him. Their conversations and special bond take on an interesting twist of the old expression: "In order to love someone else, you must learn to love yourself first."

In addition, many scenes depict crowds of estranged people walking the city streets while talking to themselves with visible earpieces undoubtedly connected to their OS's. Through flashbacks and clever manipulation of sound and music, Jonze realistically introduces Theodore's complex and melancholy love life without contrivance. Likewise, the protagonist's recently-separated friend, Amy (Amy Adams) also confesses to falling in love with her OS, which conveys just how dire our basic needs are to feel and offer love: in contrast with Samantha's calculated and methodical computer definition of this mortal, deep emotion.

While artificial intelligence has been explored in films before (2001: A Space Odyssey; The Terminator and Star Wars series; The Lawnmower Man; Minority Report, etc.), Her expertly shows us that nothing can equal human and physical interaction. With both the boundless and the limiting qualities of technology, Theodore, Amy and the rest of society become heartbroken, and responsible for finding their own true and meaningful love with real people. In the end, it is precisely our unpredictability, fallibility and basic humanness that make life rewarding, exciting and more complicated than the convenience of relying on technology. 



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