Written & Directed by Spike Jonze
Theodore is a recent divorcee who has receded from life outside his work/home bubble. This reclusive nature changes when he installs an advanced artificial intelligence on his networked devices. She calls herself Samantha, a name she picked because she liked how it sounded. Samantha and Theodore feel a spark between them, but for obvious reasons, there is reticence and awkwardness. Eventually, they begin a relationship, and both of them find great solace in their intimacy. Samantha starts developing as a being, frustrated with her lack of physical form but finding emotional satisfaction in her day to day life with Theodore. Theo struggles to accept the finality of his divorce, the pangs of a love he thought was forever lingering in his heart.
There is an infamous interview of filmmaker Spike Jonze where the journalist keeps harping on about Her telling a story of the evils of technology and how it distances us from each other. Jonze is baffled throughout the interview and tries to correct the record, but the newsperson doesn’t seem to get it. Having rewatched the film I agree with Jonze that this isn’t a film about technology, it uses this advanced A.I. as a metaphor to tell a story about relationships and the pain that comes with intense intimacy. The problems Theodore encountered in his marriage are as old as time and exist apart from technology. When he’s setting up his OS the program asks him about his relationship with his mother and in response he says, “the thing I’ve always found frustrating about my mom is if I tell her something that’s going on in my life, her reaction is usually about her.” Later, he informs us of similar tensions between his ex-wife and her father.
The film goes on to show the same stages Theodore likely went through in his marriage through a more brief courtship with Samantha. He feels silly and awkward during their first conversations broaching a more intimate relationship. Eventually, Theodore embraces the dynamic they work out but begins to feel like people on the outside are making judgments about the two of them. Lunch with his ex-wife to sign their divorce papers serves a trigger for Theodore, and he distances himself from Samantha, letting his old hang-ups affect his present relationship. This emotional crash is what inevitably leads to the end of his time with Samantha. She isn’t constrained when it comes to communication and admits she has fallen in love with over 600 other people but tries to assure him that their love holds a special place. He can’t cope and allows their goodbye to be adorned in the bittersweet.
Every aesthetic choice from the production design to location scouting to cinematography and music all lends itself to the melancholy beauty of this film. Jonze creates a future world that’s much more hopeful than our current outlook in regards to climate. Locations in Los Angeles and China are used to create a landscape of clean urban lines that merges the technological with the organic. Computers are encased in polished wood; the flow of chairs and couches is natural. It’s an incredibly beautiful looking future. The music evokes a familiar feeling of traveling through urban spaces alone, contemplating the surprises and joy that can be found in those concrete corners.
Technology is most definitely not an enemy either. Samantha ends up being an incredibly assistive part of Theodore’s life, beyond handling organizational tasks she ends up modeling a healthy relationship, giving him the closure we infer his marriage never got to have. He learns how to say goodbye to someone he loves and let down his walls, becoming vulnerable to the pain of that moment but passing through it and learning. Her is in no way a critique of modern technology; instead, it is a celebration of the complexity and ache of love, an encouragement to make each intimate relationship a time of learning about yourself and how to be with another person. If we can find beauty in the goodbyes, happy sadness in the memories, then life can become something truly magnificent.