I think I can sum up this movie in one non-existent word, invented by comedian Marc Maron and used as the title of his most recent comedy special: thinky-pain.
Her is a very weird, quiet, emotional ride that you take with him, Theodore Twombly. Joaquin Phoenix is his own brand of chameleon, but I’d like to think that here, he’s basically himself, letting it all hang out. Her is also the very real story of something we can’t quite imagine yet, and something that writer/director Spike Jonze has thought long and agonizingly hard about.
Picture yourself talking to your computer, and it talking back. Picture yourself getting to know the computer, so well that you have deep conversations with it, reveal things about yourself, fall for it, it falls for you, you have sex, and you develop a bond as close as with any human. Now picture yourself watching this all happen and picture yourself sort of experiencing it as you’re watching it. It’s pretty transcendental. As I watched this completely bizarre, thoughtful relationship before my eyes, I felt like I was in the relationship with them, kind of like the surrogate that appears briefly in the middle of the movie. I thought about every feeling that Theodore was having, every consideration about when to talk to Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and when to hold back, when to challenge her and when to accept her, when to be businesslike with regards to emails and other things on the computer and when to talk to her about what she did that day. It was actually rather educational. How do you split your time with someone who is built to split your time for you, and who knows what’s best for you according to data you’ve provided yourself?
Theodore is a lonely man. He has very few friends, though he doesn’t seem particularly curmudgeonly. It seems that he’s just over trying, but not over living. In fact, he wants to live more, and he smiles an awful lot, but his ex-wife, played by a very Jennifer Connelly-like Rooney Mara, seems to have a grasp on his fragile heart. His smile is beautiful, but it is also pained. It’s a smile from a person who knows that the happiness is temporary. I mentioned Phoenix’s tendency to transform into each of his roles, and throughout the course of this movie, he sort of does that. While Theodore may be the most basic, sane person he’s ever played, he changes and morphs ever-so slightly. It may be due to the lighting and the angles; one minute, he’s looking hale and healthy; the next, his high-waisted sweat-slacks give him the physique of a pre-pubescent boy. It’s very confusing, but maybe it also says something about how he’s fickled, too.
Her, Samantha, is Scarlett, and it is with her that I have the biggest beef. Not because I am one of those girls who hates her because she’s pretty. I love her because she’s pretty. But her pretty face isn’t in this movie; only her voice. I think her Samantha was nuanced and crackly and completely believable–as a human. And therein lies the problem. Scarlett’s voice is unmistakably Scarlett, plus there was the whole campaign, informally informing everyone that Scarlett had replaced a lesser-known British actress for the role. I think I would have preferred not knowing who Samantha was, not until long after the movie had been out. Knowing it was a human, knowing that Scarlett has a body even though Samantha doesn’t, knowing that Scarlett had those feelings and highs and lows, just took me out of it a little. I couldn’t believe that a computer could ever have those voice modulations or whispers, or anything like that. You can’t program emotion. Or maybe you can, but it won’t sound like that.
It’s scary to think about, isn’t it? Talking to our OS’s someday, walking around waving our arms, arbitrarily having conversations with humans or machines, finding it increasingly difficult to connect with humans, isolating ourselves into a world of interactive video games and awkward dates. Her wasn’t all serious–the first half of the movie, especially, provided so many laughs. Theodore’s bizarre role-playing game, and phone sex with a stranger, left me and the rest of the audience in stitches. The computers are funny, and not because they’re inhuman. They’re more human than we’d like to believe, in this weird quasi-Los Angeles future. It’s the humans that inject the tragedy into this story. They can’t keep up with each other–Theodore’s blind date (Olivia Wilde, who should be in more things) can’t keep up with him, he can’t keep up with Samantha, Samantha can’t keep up with other OS’s, Amy (Adams, who was fine, I guess) can’t keep up with her husband–and so they retreat back into themselves. There is hope, at the end of the movie, that Theodore will rejoin the humans, for lack of a better term, but that over-hanging smoggy pall over the big city feels foreboding. It’s the cloud taking over, in more ways than one.