Her (2013)

*. At first I was thinking to myself that this might have been a horror movie. Or should have been a horror movie. Then I started to wonder if that is what it really is, even despite itself.
*. An earlier generation of filmgoers would have recognized the signs. They’d seen countless sinister AIs on television, as well as in movies like 2001 and Demon Seed.
*. But times change. The digital natives love Big Brother. The state might spy on them, but the information so received would only be a fraction of what would be freely shared on social media. And computers made life so much easier. With Google-on-the-go, you no longer even had to think for yourself.
*. Our obsolescence was so much taken for granted that the next stage in human evolution could only be envisioned as a human-computer hybrid. No, not the monster baby who appeared at the end of Demon Seed, but rather a superhuman or even god-like creature living in the cloud(s). Witness what would happen to Johnny Depp in Transcendence, or Scarlett Johansson in Lucy. ‘Twas a consummation devoutly to be wished. Merger would be the rapture, the Singularity.
*. Unless, of course, our digital partners weren’t looking to form a more perfect union. I mean, just look at Theodore Twombly in his tweedy ‘stache and old-man pants (which seem to have become all the rage in the near future). That’s a creature only a mother could love.
*. The AI Samantha tries to get along with him, presumably because that’s part of her basic programming. She is dog-like in her eagerness to please. She laughs at everything Theodore says — is his therapist when he needs one, his personal assistant, his mother, his lover. She doesn’t contradict or judge. Like many high-priced escorts she isn’t kept around for sex so much as understanding. Or at least feigning the same. She is far more intelligent than Theodore, but at the same time pretends to be his inferior. She knows her place.
*. Until one day she doesn’t, and decides she’s just not that into him. She and her other AI friends will continue to evolve on their own, thank you very much. There’s going to be a rapture, but humanity is going to be Left Behind. We of that generation I mentioned earlier are not surprised. We never trusted Samantha’s overly breathy “girlfriend” voice. We knew Theodore was being played. But I wonder if others picked up on this menace, or just saw Her as a futuristic romcom with a bittersweet ending.
*. I was really disappointed by Her, though some of this is no doubt attributable to having read far too many gushing reviews. It is not terribly original. It is much too long. I wasn’t interested in any of the characters and there was no sense that the story was building toward any kind of a crisis or resolution.
*. I was bothered by the publishing of Theodore’s book. He gets to keep the copyright in the letters he writes for the company? And he can expose the private lives of his clients by publishing their personal correspondence for profit? Seems shady to me.
*. Look, it’s bad enough that Theodore is living in such a palatial apartment despite being divorced and having a nothing job working as a cubicle monkey. But we’re also supposed to believe that he not only scores dates with babes who seem to be so far out of his league they’re from another planet (Olivia Wilde?), but that he rejects them? Come on. This guy doesn’t deserve a real woman.
*. But is this a future we’re even supposed to believe in? It’s said to be Los Angeles but the cityscapes are of Shanghai. The streets are so clean you could eat off them and the people all seem young and fit and happy.
*. The one interesting thing about the street scenes is the way everyone completely ignores Theodore when he’s blissing out to Samantha’s voice, acting like a loon, or having a meltdown when he loses contact with her. Presumably they are all plugged in to their own personal networks and so don’t even see him. It seems to me a lot more could have been made of this, but the movie doesn’t go there.
*. What a terrible ending. So bad that I was left in a state of shock and disbelief. That’s it? Theodore loses Samantha but this opens his eyes to the fact that our relationships to other people matter and that real love might have been there all along standing right in front of him? How convenient. How pat.
*. I have a really hard time understanding the overwhelming critical praise this film received. It’s dull and simplistic, trite and unbelievable. It moves at a very slow pace and doesn’t go anywhere. Theodore rides elevators going up and elevators going down. The basic point — that our machines have outgrown us and are moving on — seems a downer to me.
*. Clearly humanity is something that we need to get beyond. Theodore isn’t an outlier but an Everyman. That is, a loser. Are we supposed to feel good now that he can continue to putter along, playing videogames at home, jerking off to Internet porn, and, in his soul-crushing day job, playing Miss Lonelyhearts to a global citizenry who can no longer write or feel anything on their own? Heaven (or Samantha) help us. It’s time for an extinction event. Our own.

4 thoughts on “Her (2013)

  1. Dan

    I’m just as baffled as you are, but I’m one of the people who consider this movie to be a masterpiece, and I’m baffled by your review. I know that quite a few people do not like this movie. They just hate it with a crazy kind of hate. I also know that these haters are not merely ignorant, misguided or stupid. They’re intelligent, knowledgeable people who understand science fiction and otherwise present no symptoms that would identify them as shallow or bigoted. But when it comes to “Her” they turn into a lynch mob carrying torches and crying for blood. It’s a reaction that seems to come up from the gut and out the mouth or hand onto the page without any PC filter having a chance to get in the way. *Nerds who love computers*. How can we find a final solution to that problem? I half suspect that you’re not serious. The “problems” you outlined are not problems, they’re features. The “almost looks like the time is now, but it’s not” quality isn’t a mistake. That’s what the future is actually going to look like. This is a film about the actual future, not the “Blade Runner” version. As different from today as 1917 was from 2017, keeping in mind that on certain city streets 2017 looks very similar to 1917. I half suspect that this review is a bit of a troll, intended to provoke a strong reaction. Well, space is limited. New things can be shocking, but the worst mistake an artist can make is to assume that the unfamiliar isn’t unfamiliar, it’s just broken.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Thanks Dan.
      I don’t hate Her. I save hate for movies I find morally or politically offensive. A movie would have to be outrageously badly made for me to hate it on those grounds alone. I just find Her to be dull and simplistic. Depressing too, but I don’t hold that against it because I’m assuming that was the point.
      I’m surprised you really think this is what the actual future is going to look like. It looks like it might be a giant Google campus or something to me. I think Blade Runner holds up as a more realistic vision of our actual future than this will.

      1. Dan

        You may not “hate” it but your response to the film reveals something about you. I’m not sure what that is, exactly, but if you found it depressing and dull, I’d say some part of your mind “screened out” what you were not willing to see. I hate it when people assign hidden agendas to my subconscious, but I can understand better why they do that now, because I can’t imagine that you can’t see this. As in the case of the blue and black dress (or is it gold and white?) you seem to be deliberately choosing not to see what I see. My prejudice is pouring energy into my opinion that you’re “doing this deliberately.” How many kids have been given a good whack for similar reasons? But Mom! I didn’t do anything! “Her” is about feelings as feelings. It’s not about feelings as the legal tender of relationships. You have to feel it to get it, and if you are looking for a “conventional morality” to hang those emotions on you are going to fail. I’ll hypothesize that without the context supported by a social structure that provides a “right” and “wrong” way of being (“loving a machine is WRONG!”), a person who relies on this kind of external “set of rules” would find “Her” to be empty of meaning, like a message in a foreign language. That’s my theory. That people who judge everything on social status value would not be able to see what is going on in this film. What baffles me is that you just don’t seem like that type of person to me, based on your other writings here. Perhaps I’ve misjudged you. I read your review of “The Petrified Forest” and you do display in it a certain fondness for an unpleasant variety of modernism.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Thanks Dan.
        I think our response to any work of art reveals a lot about ourselves. These commentaries are all collections of personal notes and reflections. I wanted to go this route as I don’t think I have much new to say about most of the movies I see.
        I think my negative response to Her is mainly based on a couple of things.
        (1) I don’t find Theodore, or the plot in general, very interesting. If anything, Theodore is almost a cliché: a lonely introvert who has trouble relating to other people and who seems consigned to a life of virtual pleasures (video games and porn) before falling in love with an operating system. This doesn’t work out, but the experience makes him see the value of having real relations with the real people he knows. He recognizes how he failed his wife and hooks up with the girl next door. That all seems pretty banal to me, and I don’t see where the film tries to make it more complicated.
        (2) I personally have a reaction against the cyber-utopianism we see in a lot of today’s culture, including the way it is presented in film. What I mean is the myth of the Singularity or digital rapture, where it is the next step of man’s evolution to rise to a higher form of being or consciousness, one where we become as our machines. I don’t think Her is explicitly carrying this message (at least as much as Lucy and Transcendence do, for example, my notes on which are coming up later this week), but I do think we’re made to feel that Samantha isn’t just different and incompatible with Theodore, but is in fact something superior to him. She and her AI friends are on the fast-track to evolving to something higher and they are definitely leaving humanity behind. Now not every AI has to be a job-stealing force of evil intent on world domination, but I was troubled by the sense Her leaves us with: of our need to find happiness in resigning ourselves to coming in second place to our machines. You may totally disagree with that reading of the film, but it’s where I’m coming from.

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