Every now and then we’re given a film that is both timely and timeless — a difficult feat in the fast-paced world of cinema.
Her achieves that rare status. It’s one you need to see again. It’s weird and accessible, pretty and deep, hipster and haunting. It’s what we need right now in 2014, teetering on the edge of an advanced technological future beyond our wildest dreams. In those dreams, according to Spike Jonze, we’re still pretty clueless about sex and dating — activities people in his near-future love story do digitally — but we’re not lost. Yet.
Jonze tackles our latest cultural hotbed topic, the precarious direction technology and social media are taking, in a rose-tinted future Santa Monica. Everyone walks around talking to their earpieces, clicking through emails, playing video games, and living seamlessly with their phones. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) gets paid to write other people’s letters — from parent to son, husband to wife, lover to lover. These letters demand intense empathy from a guy who goes home alone and plays video games every night. Twombly is the middle man in the tech-filled gap between humans of the future.
Her, led by nuance, resists overt statements or anti-social media rants. People still hang out after work. Coworkers still go out for drinks. People still go on picnics in the future.
Theodore purchases the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system and installs it to his computer. The program clicks on and calls itself “Samantha,” a disembodied robot with the sentience to name itself (herself?) and contemplate the limitations of her existence.
Samantha becomes a sort of social experiment on both Theodore and the audience, as we all connect to her without anything to look at. We assign her sentience with a human-sounding voice. We fall in love. Theodore does too.
For the sake of debate, it’s worth noting that our brains are really complex, organic computers. Just like electronic programming and circuitry, most of what we do is genetic code (call it “data”) passed down from parental engineers to their little creations. We are impulse to stimuli, behavioral circuity conditioned to do what we do. Are we that different from a program coded to be “human” — and learns how?
Samantha operates at the lightning-fast speed of ones and zeroes, but she also gets hurt and confused and scared. The film opens up important talks about what Samantha is, and what relationships of the future could be like, but Her refrains from being a dissertation on the digital era and instead feels very…human.
Other directors have tried to make movies about robotics, but his is the first one we feel. Because Spike Jonze’s latest darling is not about robotics. It’s about us.