her

Would you blame me if I fell in love with 'her'?
Would you blame me if I fell in love with ‘her’?

Set in the Los Angeles of the slight future, the story follows Theodore Twombly, a complex, soulful man who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people. Heartbroken after the end of a long relationship, he becomes intrigued with a new, advanced operating system, which promises to be an intuitive entity in its own right, individual to each user. Upon initiating it, he is delighted to meet “Samantha,” a bright, female voice, who is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny. As her needs and desires grow, in tandem with his own, their friendship deepens into an eventual love for each other.

(Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes)

her is one of those works where all the little details are so finely thought out that it just absorbs you in that world, where things are so strangely in place that you hardly notice until you actually stop to think about it. There is a timelessness about it — the exact time in the future is not set, but it is an era of interactive video games and men’s clothing that has cycled back to the high-waisted styles of the 1950s. The fact that these aren’t explained helps envelope viewers into the world that we are witnessing: it’s not our world as it is now, but it is a world that ours may possibly become.

All these finely constructed details provide the canvas for a story that should call up many different strands of thought and debate in those who have seen this film. When I first stepped out of the theatre after seeing her, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. The premise, revolving around the idea of a man falling in love with the AI that runs his devices, is by no means a stretch of the imagination given the technology that we have seen spring up over the last ten years or so. In fact, there are people in this world who have already declared relationships with digital persona, although I venture that none of these ‘partners’ are quite as delightful as Samantha is. But the film doesn’t just touch on the question of the social stigmas that are associated with such a relationship; it also moves past it to consider what a relationship between man (or woman) and AI might really entail. There are so many things we take for granted about the way we live and interact with each other, from seeing and touching to breathing in the scene of life, and most of these would indeed be obstacles to a relationship with someone like Samantha.

But her doesn’t stop there: what the AI loses in terms of the senses of the real world, the boundless realm that it might conceivably be able to access is something that, as suggested by the film, is probably beyond our comprehension. It would even be difficult to define in human words and concepts; the vague description that Samantha gives us is thus wholly believable. This is one of the things that stands out about her. Unlike many other stories about AI that I have seen or read, it doesn’t focus on the dystopic implications of such technology, nor solely on the question of whether an AI entity can and should be treated as a human; rather, it also looks at the implications of the gulf between what would be their and our capacities for knowledge, interaction and understanding.

The other thing I will always remember her for is the actress that brought Samantha to life. I never really paid attention to Scarlett Johansson until this year, when I started watching more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but much as I love Black Widow, this is the film that would make me fall in love with her. I’ve never really thought about why most female Japanese voice actors don’t really appeal to me, but listening to Johansson’s work here has made it quite obvious for me. I like women that sound smart and confident, yet feminine — possibly because that’s how I personally would want to come across — and that is just how Samantha comes across. Although it must have been difficult, I think that Spike Jonze made the right call, and am grateful that Samantha Morton was generous enough to accept being replaced in a role that was originally hers.

In short, her is a film I would definitely recommend watching.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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