Movie Review: “Her”, directed by Spike Jonze

I loved Her.

Watching Spike Jonze’s latest (and Academy award nominated) film was in itself almost like meeting a new person not knowing what to expect, then getting to know that person and realizing that you share many things in common, that you understand each other perfectly. That’s also, by the way, more or less the arc that Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly, goes through as the film progresses, except that instead of a person it is an Operating System. You know, like Windows. Or Linux. And the weirdest thing of all was that it wasn’t weird at all.

The film takes place in a non-determined future where Theo works as a writer for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, essentially dictating to a computer letters requested by their clients to be sent to their loved ones, sort of like personalized greeting cards. He is going through a divorce and hasn’t gotten over his wife yet. It is during this time that he buys a new operating system called OS1, that boasts being the first operating system with artificial intelligence so advanced, it’s like a friend that understands your every need. The AI of “Samantha” (how the OS named itself when Theo asked for a name) evolves as time goes on, not only getting to know Theo’s every need better, but starting to really behave like a person, with feelings and sentience. Theo’s recent problems with his life are screwing up his social interactions, leading him ever closer to Samantha, eventually starting a relationship with her.

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Theo Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) in one of his attempts at human interaction with a very hot date (Olivia Wilde).

A relationship that, believe it or not, even turns sexual.

There are several things working for this movie, first one being a very realistic and practical vision of the future. The “look” is essentially the same that we have right now in 2014 (hey, we are kind of in the future, right?), except a little bit more polished, with technology that instead of calling attention to itself is already embedded into daily life so deeply, it is almost invisible. What we have nowadays as smartphones are by the movie’s timeframe nothing short of a personal assistant, and when Theo integrates his own smartphone-ish device to Samantha that personal assistant becomes less robotic and more… human. That is how I envisioned smartphones in the future when I got my first taste of Siri a couple of years ago.

The second major thing working for this movie is the love story. At first glance a romantic relationship between an operating system and a human seems completely insane; but if you stop to think about it (and trust me, as the movie went by I was thinking a lot about it), it makes perfect sense. Right now, we are living through something very similar; remember when the internet exploded back in the late 90’s? The new social interactions via chats, that took physical contact out of the equation, were criticized and branded as the end of civilization as we know it, and to an extent that’s true; the world is both much closer and much farther apart than ever before, and things will never be the same. But the point here is that feelings can very easily spark from a completely computerized relationship (I have experienced them firsthand). In other words, you do not need the physical interactions for a deep relationship to spring. And if Samantha is an AI so complex as to appear human, what is the difference, really?

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In fact, by the end of the movie, Samantha – as well as the other AI’s from the OS1 program – had evolved into something greater, a new species of sentient beings, if you will, a concept that brought to my mind the end of Ghost in the Shell. And that’s the last major thing that the movie had going for it: how it had plausibly, and unassumingly, told a story that started out as a romance and ended with a very SF touch in a very elegant way. Kuddos to Spike Jonze on making the best SF movie of 2013 (sorry, Gravity!), and one of my new favorites.

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