When I first saw Her last year, I had extremely mixed feelings as I left the theater. On the one hand, I felt completely enamored with the depth and reality of the love story that the film presented, astounded at the chemistry Joaquin Phoenix could have with Scarlett Johansson’s disembodied voice. However, upon reflection, I noticed what I perceived to be some thematic flaws in the science fiction aspects of the plot that really bothered me, and I really wanted to watch the movie again to determine whether those flaws were something so strongly emphasized in the film, or whether I was only blowing my nitpicks out of proportion.
Her is the story of Theodore, a lonely man in a not-too-distant future dealing with divorcing his wife of eight years, even after a year of separation. He purchases a new operating system, the first model to ever have true artificial intelligence, who names herself Samantha. Samantha is essentially a body-less person with thoughts and feelings, and the two start becoming great friends and eventually become romantically entwined. The way this movie really shines is in the startlingly realistic way the two develop their relationship as the film progresses. It feels like how a real, healthy relationship develops, and the film even goes out of its way to be critical of relationships that establish a commitment after only first meeting. This film tells a romantic story where the romance feels extremely analogous to real life and deserves accolades for that alone.
But the story is deeper than that, for it not only is about the development of the two’s relationship, but also is a demonstration that people in relationships can develop independently of each other and eventually grow apart. A large portion of the plot is devoted to Theodore getting over the departure of his wife from his life, and Theodore’s character arc revolves around finding his peace with the fact that people can grow apart without either party being at fault. This is an incredibly refreshing theme coming from a film industry that is much too content to conclude that when two people fall in love, their future can be nothing but happiness because love is just enough. That’s not what reality is like, and it’s nice to see a film recognize that.
My original gripes with this movie had to do with the sci-fi aspects of the plot, particularly with those involving Samantha’s essence as an artificial intelligence. The film has an undercurrent of showing that people are becoming more isolated from each other due to the advances in technology, and I originally thought that message undermined Theodore’s relationship with Samantha. However, upon further viewing, I think the film makes an adequate attempt at making Samantha a positive influence on Theodore’s ability to socialize, placing her outside the film’s techno-isolationist commentary. Furthermore, I originally had a problem with my perception that Samantha’s character development was undermined by a need to progress the plot in the third act, but upon a second viewing with the film’s greater themes in mind, I found myself perfectly alright with how Samantha was portrayed.
So, overall, I find that Her benefits greatly from a second viewing, but that isn’t to say that I found the first viewing all that lacking. This is a film with great thematic depth, a fantastic script, and two amazing leads that pull off beautifully heartfelt performances while never even being on-screen together. The nitpicks that I dwelled upon in my first viewing were only so emphasized in my mind because the film is so close to being flawless that I couldn’t help but notice the minor missteps, and even those aren’t so bad upon reflection.
Regardless of how you feel about the film’s flaws, though, Her is well worth seeing. It’s a heartfelt love story that is more realistic than any human-computer romance could ever have been expected to be, so much so that it has raised the bar on romantic tales for years to come. This is easily one of the best films from 2013.
What do you think are the greatest romances of all time? Does Her rank among them? Let me know in the comments below.