Her is clear-cut. It’s a straight romantic drama gilded with a sci-fi element providing it a noticeable platform in creating a sophisticated predicament to tell a story that has been told countless times before and perhaps will share many more such instances if the success and raving reviews of Her are anything to go by. In that sense, Her is a picture perfect movie about relationships in a technological deterministic world, where social relationships degenerate into a bubble of obscurity, when humans seek companionship of machines, artificially intelligent machines, to fill the void glaring in their lives. Such is the melody of Her.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the lonely, depressed Theo coming off a noxious breakup against childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theo finds love through the state-of-the-art computer operating system, OS 1—who calls herself, or itself, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Enter the grace of this OS rich in empathy, clouded by feelings, and a gregariousness of human epitome, Samantha brings love to Theo and in return, she gets the undiluted affection of the same man once lonely and suffering the pangs of separation.
Some movies are an exhibition of the austerity of cinema and symbolize the sheen of movies. Others are perplexing for various reasons. Some may be the perennial offbeat experience, whilst others may be the experience out of expression one gains watching a story unfold. After all, it’s life in motion and cinema is a medium of an expression that is born from words and climaxes with the perception of each unique individual. From an observational standpoint, Her is a paradox. It appears in the spaces between words, as the enigmatic reality called Samantha puts it in the movie, which is quite a right phrase to explain the world of Her in all its relativity.
I would classify Her in two categories. First, as a cinema and second, as a story. Talking about the cinematic composition of Her, the movie is a chef-d’oeuvre of art and expression. When I talk of the cinematic aspect, I’m capturing the essence of Her as an aesthetic enterprise focusing on the gloss that enhances the experience of cinema. We’ve probably seen this movie many times before. We’ve heard this story many more times, as such. But there is something about the lyrical screenplay of Her that catches you—holds on to you and lets you relax, enjoying the steady ride peeving into the life of one man and his interpretations of dreams. The unfolding of a clichéd story that could be interchanged to another setting or another dimension overwhelms the story itself and Spike Jonze gets the screenplay of the movie right, even though the premise is dazzling, yet the story isn’t quite up to the mark. That’s also where the aesthetic overtakes the story…
Almost romantic in its swift, languid visuals, Her creates a world that is both warm and distant. When you observe the world around Theo, his quandary, and those various people around him, Her sets a subtle tone that engrosses your fancy and creates a mood that is euphoric at times, deliberate at others, and plain gloomy many other times, yet Jonze never fails to highlight the giant influence our surrounding, the society, and Nature has on us—no matter how much we evolve as a being and as a technological marvel. That, right there, flies high as the central theme of the movie under the multifarious mask of social relationship, technological singularity, technological determination—the underlying current of evolution and where it leads us—becomes the single-pointed foundation of Her.
Wrapping these complex mechanisms that may be theoretical today, practical tomorrow, Her resembles a painted veil under which we find hidden the core of connection. How ironic, the fabricated connection of networks seems to be sweeping us away from the physical, natural connection that is the foundation of singularity in the world—from human singularity to technological singularity, the evolution of the world stemming from one root dashes into a zone promising to alienate one from the other and as always, the casualties are no one else but us, the morbid, vulnerable, and invincibly weak human beings.
The philosophy of Her, captured in a rhythmic motion; Her is just soothing to watch, even though the silence in that sphere is deafening. The deafening silence through the instinctive musical composition compliments the feel of the movie. While watching the movie, you’re taken back by the touching composition (Arcade Fire) ornamenting the grand experience, whilst giving us a firsthand information of the ailing absurdity presented in this exotic milieu called Her. Perhaps the biggest compliment would be that the background score makes this movie what it is. Despite the story being a glorified rom-com, the soothing, intuitive score facilitates the birth of a spiritual mood. This platonic score meshing with a musical cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema), along with a terrific production design, the aesthetics of Her are hard to match, yet as an experience, it’s absorbing and dynamic—bewitching, for lack of a better word.
Flowering Her with all these adjectives, still, I found the story of Her to be the weakest link. The romantic relationship between a human and a machine may sound promising, but when it comes to the delivery of such a great premise, the story suffers from the same old treatment rom-coms are prone to suffer—great premise and decent progression, then the death of being in a Catch 22 situation. By the end, Her turns into a melodramatic saga, an affair between a man and a machine, with the makers, it would appear, losing vision on whether to sway philosophical, end it as a spiritual revitalization, or ultimately shed the message that each kind is designed for their kind and only such can take this massive ball of consciousness ahead, which if true is a deep thought translated awkwardly onto screen.
Take the instance of Samantha, replace her with your ordinary Jane or Mary, what difference would that provide? Not much… Perhaps instead of a machine with a sultry, sexy voice, we’d find an average looking human with an average voice. The point: the status quo would remain the same. The underlying crisis wouldn’t change and as far as humans go, that’s just the way we are, but for machines, the evolution of machines seems to be way out of the fizz called human understanding. For such a marvel of Nature, fabricated marvel that is, the standpoint stands completely different because they’re looking at the broader picture and we’re mere selfish social animals… Now the major point, isn’t that always the reason for grief in relationships? We’re always looking at the same scenario with different shades… In this entire tussle, I actually found Amy Adams’ character (as Amy) the most interesting and relatable. Amy’s simplicity, expressions, and the pure incorruptibility of her character were far touching and elaborate than Samantha’s fictitious tension, or Theo’s aura of dejection.
Regardless, Her is a complicated translation of relating. I wouldn’t call it relationships because it sounds passive. Relating sounds active and Her tries to cover the active trait of relating. In doing so, it manages to inspire us with the detailed camerawork, soulful music, and of course, the beautiful heavenly, isolated paradise at display in the movie. The way the movie unfolds; that’s perhaps not up to the level one would seek. Essentially, Her is stereotypical, has the same generic approach we see in most romantic comedies, but you’d still enjoy it and what sets it apart from the rest is the concept and the world we experience in the film.
I won’t say I was as enlightened by the movie as many have been, but I’m glad I watched it and you owe it a watch too. Old wine, new bottle seems apt, but underneath the old wine, there’s a disquieting message and a bird’s eye view of our society and the direction we desire to move towards in the name of scientific evolution. Consequently, Her has a piercing downhearted tone to it, which it manages to convey.
Amidst all the techno-craft and post-modernization phenomenon, some aspects of life never change. We never really stop connecting, whether it’s through visible wires, waves, invisible wires, or using the most aboriginal techniques of connection; we always seek that tiny bit of network, our tiny world we call it. Precisely, what Her wants to transport: the world of connections and in a silly, lovely, and flawed manner, Her manages to analyze society and more importantly, human understanding. All of this, in a visual way taking us through one end of the spectrum, the human side, to the other end of the same tube, the inhuman side. It’s always about Her after all, is it not?