Damage Report: Her was definitely worth a watch. The story is interesting, the acting is fantastic, and it is one of the better examples of science fiction done right in cinema recently (that didn’t need explosions to get the message across). I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone or I doubt I ever watch it ever again, but it didn’t waste my time.
Imagine a world of connections, all wireless and digital. It is similar to our own now, though more akin to a realistic interpretation of our near-future. Despite the immediacy of connection to any and everyone, it is still incredibly easy to feel alone. After all, real connection with other human beings is more than just sharing a few words over the Internet.
Her is a science fiction movie from late 2013 starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson’s voice, directed by Spike Jonze. It follows the life of a recently divorced (kind of) writer named Theodore who is having trouble moving on with his life. Despite a writing job that has him literally writing love letters for others, there is very little love left in his personal life. While the movie likely does have some critiques about our modern era of smartphones and social networks, it works much better as an examination of the deep and profound loneliness that many of us suffer, even when inundated with high tech ways of escaping the confines of our tiny apartments.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of the movie as I watched it. I understand the basic premise of ‘lonely man falls in love with artificially intelligent operating system’, but I was never certain where the movie would go from there. At certain points, I felt like it might slip into a conventional horror movie and reveal the dangers of falling in love with a near infinite intelligence that you’ve entrusted with tracking your every move. Other times, Her felt like a fairly conventional romantic drama with the unconventional twist of being about a man in love with a machine. The solid acting kept it entertaining the entire way, but I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that I’d like to see the same premise used over and over again with a much wider variety of conclusions than the rather tame one the movie ends up giving us.
The biggest success of Her that I’d like to point out was how the movie succeeded in being the kind of science fiction I enjoy reading, but put to film. I get so tired of every science fiction movie being an action-filled romp through time, space, and/or both. Sure, there is a lot of potential for great action, but science fiction is more about examining possibility and using those ideas to re-examine ourselves, our species, and our world. There’s a certain introspective element to the genre that gets lost when you turn it into a series of explosions and one-liners.
Her is science fiction introspection at some of its finest. I hate admitting it so candidly, but lines like “I can’t even prioritize between video games and Internet porn” are easy for me to relate to. Briefly, let me also mention how great it is to see a character say that and not be a virgin living in a basement somewhere. Gamers are moving up in the world when movies can depict our antisocial behavior and porn addiction while still being humane enough to give us ex-wives. I may be extrapolating my own life experiences too widely, but I think most everyone can relate to Joaquin Phoenix’s character in some way or another.
While we are on the topic of gaming, let me point out how Her depicts the future of gaming. The movie’s conception of games was both beautiful in its simplicity/way the gamer interfaces with the game and utterly boring. As far as spectacles go, it was perhaps one of the best examples of fake video games in a major motion picture, but I hope to whatever deities are listen that it never comes to pass. Literally doing the ‘cootchie coo’ motion one might do with a newborn is not the way I envision myself directing my avatar to explore an alien planet. Oh, and the alien who speaks like every troll on Xbox Live was a strange (yet funny) addition.
The power of science fiction to give us an alien version of the present day, similarly enough as to be familiar but just far enough away as to not scare us with its uncanny resemblances, makes the genre a powerful tool in exploring the human condition. Her does just that and manages to be entertaining at the same time. It wasn’t the masterpiece I had hoped, but it was worth the watch without a doubt.
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