Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2390

Her is a gripping film, but in the end it’s really about him

This article is over 7 years, 11 months old
A good plot can’t rescue Spike Jonze’s new science fiction romance Her from its dismal view of humanity—and especially of women, says Sadie Robinson
Issue 2390
Talking to himself? Joaquim Phoenix as Theodore Twombly in Her
Talking to himself? Joaquim Phoenix as Theodore Twombly in Her

Watching Her can be irritating. The caricatured people. The cliches. The idea that any engagement with a real woman is unpleasant.

Her is about a man, Theodore (Joaquim Phoenix), who becomes obsessed with his computer operating system (OS). He feels he is “in love” with Samantha, his OS, and is in a relationship with it.

Theodore spends much of his life in a pretend world. His job consists of writing fake letters for other people to send to people they claim they care about.

He spends his spare time playing a computer game that takes over his flat.

We are told via flashbacks that he has recently split up with a woman who he genuinely seemed to be happy with. But his experiences with women are generally bad.

He very quickly becomes used to conversing with his computer. Its voice—that of SodaStream publicist Scarlett Johansson—is infuriating. 

It is a giggly awful thing that brings to mind the worst stereotypes of women trying to ingratiate themselves with men.

“Samantha” is happy, friendly, witty and fun and is always there at the click of a button.

For all the fuss about a man having sex with a machine, this only happens once.

Samantha is aroused within seconds and has an orgasm within the next few seconds.

Annoying

This contrasts with Theodore’s experiences with real women, who ask annoying questions about how he will treat them.

This is just one of the stereotypes the film rolls out—that women always seek security while men always seek escape. But the lesson remains that real women are problematic.

At one point Samantha introduces a woman to be a “surrogate” body for her to have sex with Theodore.

She’s just a body to be used for other people’s pleasure—and like every sexual experience Theodore has with an actual woman, it ends in tears. 

Personality seems to be a problem for Theodore. Samantha begins as a caricature. When she changes, problems follow.

It would be wrong to give the impression this is a rubbish film. It has enough plot to make you keep watching, a great twist and convincing characters.

The fact that much of it consists of a man talking to himself is testament to how impressive it is. As is the fact that it gets you empathising with a computer.

But ultimately it is negative not only about women but about humans in general. 

Theodore says he likes Samantha because it’s so good to be with someone who is “excited about life”. It’s a sad state of affairs where people need computers to make their lives interesting.

And it’s a bit of an indictment when an irritating computer comes across as having more character than a person.

Her is in cinemas now

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