The 400-Word Review: Her
By Sean Collier
January 13, 2014
All works of science fiction pose questions for the audience. In simpler efforts, that question is invariably a version of: “How would the world be if this were true?” In more complex forms, layered queries are proffered. In the best pieces of sci-fi, the question is asked without asking; the thought is left to the audience, while the art busies itself with, well, being art.
Her belongs in the last category. Spike Jonze’s beautiful, ghostly film does indeed force its viewer to confront serious and unthinkable questions about our near future. What will happen when artificial intelligence is indistinguishable from human intelligence? Must a person be human? If everything about us can live digitally after our death, what of the soul — and what of the human?
But no one in Her has those conversations. No heavy-handed breakdowns of technology and morality are present; they’ll certainly fill car rides on the way home from the cinema, but they are absent on-screen. Because Her is a very traditional love story, even if one-half of its leading duo is virtual.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, incredibly good) is still sorting out a failed marriage when a faceless (but Google-ish) tech company rolls out its latest innovation: virtual assistants with personalities as fully formed as those of any flesh-and-blood person. After a few moments of analysis and reflection, Theodore’s takes the form of Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), an inquisitive and bubbly sort of program. Theodore’s somewhat introverted nature puts him more at ease with Samantha than those around him, and Samantha’s eagerness to learn — perfectly understandable for an artificial intelligence — makes her desperate to become closer to Theodore, her largest window into the physical world.
The performances — also including memorable turns by Amy Adams and Rooney Mara — are great, and the design of this near-future world is captivating, exhibiting an odd sort of sterile beauty. But it’s the story (also by Jonze) that makes Her a near-perfect film; if it weren’t for Blue is the Warmest Color, Theodore and Samantha would be the most moving on-screen couple of the year.
As they grow close, begin to fight and question the future, there are moments relatable to anyone. More importantly, there are no over-the-top sequences where Theodore questions his emotions as they relate to the voice on the phone. In Her, romance and science-fiction entangle, separate and come back together, unforgettably.
My Rating: 10/10
Overall Rating on CriticsChoice.com: 87/100 (Seal of Approval Recipient)
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark