Her: a love story of the digital age




I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity. -Amy, Spike Jonze’s Her




There are people amongst us who will tell you that love cannot be bound by the physical; that age, race, gender, location, language do not matter. What Spike Jonze does with Her is exactly this; he uses a science fiction romance to knock down preconceptions about what it is to love.

The world’s first artificial intelligence in an operating system enters the life of our protagonist Theodore Twombly, a man who makes his living by writing sentimental letters for others. She calls herself Samantha and becomes a vital touchstone for a man who is emotionally crippled after a marriage breakdown.

Her is an exceptionally well-written film that pulls no punches on what it means to have a relationship where one person does not have a physical body. It addresses the problems, the prejudices that other people will have, and that love doesn’t always work forever and nor is it a one-size-fits-all deal. It speaks to the disconnectedness of the digital age, but the yearning to connect that results in the use of chat rooms and social networks to replace it.

Joaquim Phoenix is well cast as Theodore, a man full of meditations on his own insignificance and failures. His wonderfully expressive face had to carry a large part of the movie and he was superb. Scarlet Johansson managed to convey so much emotion and nuance as a disembodied voice that I have to say, I was impressed. Amy Adams’ is exceptional in the supporting role of Theodore’s friend Amy, a woman going through her own divorce.

Jonze gained my admiration, though, for the sensitive handling of the love affair. He didn’t make Theodore a shut-in, or a person who has problems connecting with others or understanding emotion, though it would have been easier. Theodore’s letters, in fact, were a beautiful plot point, and though they only went to further some minor story and flesh out Theodore’s emotive nature, they were a highlight for me all the same.  Samantha wasn’t a pushover or cruel, and her embracing of the life she had, complete with her insecurities and existential crises, was a gentle reminder to all of us that we get too blasé about the opportunity of our existence. He didn’t make their love a thing to be pitied or to cause concern for Theodore. It wasn’t stigmatised because of their different forms or different origins. This was reinforce by Amy, who doesn’t judge him, and encourages him by describing her own personal journey: “While I’m here, I want to allow myself joy”.

Her boasts a maturity in love, recognising that it is changing, growing and evolving, sometimes beyond the people we used to love. No one’s fault; again, it just is. And that one love doesn’t detract from another. Samantha says, “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love.” This, like the note that Jonze ends the film on is perfect; it’s connected and poignant, without trying to cram another story or moral into the ending.

For me, the only detractions were some minor details in the plot to do with Samantha learning behaviours it takes bitter life experience for most others to learn, as well as behaviour that she considers unacceptable herself earlier in the film. Acceptance of their type of relationship is also more rapid than what I would expect, given today’s fairly rigid societal construct.

I have to recommend this film as an outside-the-box love story with a remarkable cast and life-affirming messages. I can only hope that one day, when AI does have a place in our society, that we can all be as considerate as Spike Jonze.

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