For a large number of film fans and critics, the “game changing” science fiction film of 2013 was and always will be Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D spectacle, Gravity. However for my cinematic tastes, no film made more original or creative strides in the science fiction genre than this beautifully quirky little romance story between a lonely writer and his newly acquired A.I. operating system.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a gifted writer who is employed to create beautifully expressive and personal letters for complete strangers. I found this to be an ingeniously subtle and prescient social commentary; our future society, having lost so much of the ability for actual person to person interaction, has to hire someone else to write their love letters for them. Lonely and on the verge of divorce from his estranged wife (Rooney Mara), Theodore purchases the latest computer operating system (OS1) which is touted as “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness.” Here we meet Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) a highly intuitive and interactive artificial intelligence. Through many personal and intimate conversations, Theodore begins to see Samantha as more than an OS; she evolves into a trusted confidant and an intimate relationship develops between the two of them.
When it comes to writing unique and original material, writer/director Spike Jonze is simply on another level. Many fellow movie fans have expressed their adoration for the love story aspect of Her. With it being the overt storyline of the film I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m ignoring or attempting to downplay it’s significance or the questions it raises about what is consciousness and what it means to be human. But for me, what was even more significant was Jonze’s awe inspiring ability to put on film one of the most remarkable and innovative representations of what artificial intelligence may look like for us in the not so distant future. Avoiding many of the cliches about how computers will attempt to take over the world, instead Jonze shows us an A.I. with complex emotions—a Being who is ever evolving and is struggling to come up with answers to its own unexpected and rapidly expanding growth. Listening to Samantha’s voice, I could truly sense the confusion and frustration of not being able to explain to Theodore what was happening to her (a testament to the skill that Johansson brought to her unique performance).
I am very self-conscious about giving too much of a movie’s plot away, but there is an underlying aspect to Her I must explore. I couldn’t help but see similar comparisons to the science fiction film all others are now compared to, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the final act of 2001, Kubrick predicts humans’ next possible evolutionary advance with his depiction of the Starchild, a type of transcendental entity that can traverse into the dark reaches of our universe. Where I saw Jonze’s film differing only slightly from that idea is, instead of humans evolving into a Starchild type life form, perhaps instead it will be one of our most impressive creations, Artificial Intelligence that actually evolves beyond a realm we can comprehend. All laws of probability show that there’s a pretty good chance we won’t survive as a species. But what if we were able to create a type of transcendental Being that was able to live on long after we are gone? In that thought, I found a bit of hope in the ending of the film.
It pains me that such a smart and thought provoking movie like Her probably won’t reach a wider audience before it leaves theaters. Instead, retread films like Ride Along and I, Frankenstein will continue to dumb down the expectations of the average film-goer. But I suspect long after many of those throw-away films will have thankfully been forgotten, we will still be discussing the impact Her had on filmmakers and true fans of cinema.-JL