Her is a terrific movie, not because of how it makes viewers feel, but because of how many different ways it can make viewers feel. But many will find it boring, and they’re right to.
In a subtly high-tech future, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a professional letter writer who spends his days feeling and expressing other people’s emotions. Naturally a very lonely man, Twombly begins to see the light when he downloads an artificially intelligent operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). She and Twombly quickly fall in love, despite Samantha being a huge creeper. Twombly’s ex-wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara) is the only one in the entire movie who thinks this is just a little awkward.
A brief list of things this movie could be about-
- What is love, really? All animal owners will tell you it doesn’t have to be between two humans — does it have even be between two living creatures?
- Online dating
- The artificial nature of rebound relationships
- The ultimate result of a generation that interacts through screens more often than each other. Twombly cuts out the other person and falls in love with the middle man.
- The soul-crushing indifference of Father Time
- In-person dating
The movie is going to change completely depending on what (or who) a viewer is thinking about, how old he is, how long ago her last breakup was, what he thinks about phone-sex and long-distance relationships and whether or not she loves her mother. Her could be an existential masterpiece of love and loss. Or it could just not be for you.
There are problems with this movie no matter how you spin it. It’s ostentatious and Oscar bait-y. It’s long and sometimes boring. Nothing about this movie really grabs and holds a viewer, making it easy to walk away from if not actively invested.
The primary characteristic, and this could be the movie’s biggest success or deepest flaw, is conceptual. This alternate world is very poorly fleshed out. For the first half, the audience is left wondering if Phoenix is the only one in the world with this operating system, and if not, is he going through something extremely common? Just how far in the future is this set, and how much time is passing? Nothing is made clear.
The real world in this movie doesn’t seem like a real place, even within the confines of the story. It all adds to the theme’s variability, but a frame of reference would be nice.
This is a haunting movie, and one worth owning if the viewer enjoys it at all. Watched once every few years, it will feel fresh and completely different. It’s a wise elder, here to show viewers what they need to see for years to come. Or it could be a boring waste of time.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. Over the summer, the U.S. neutered Martin Luther King Jr.’s flagship legislative achievement, and it feels really bad to celebrate his birthday now. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back here for a review of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.