“Her” (2013) – Film Review

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Photo: Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures

In our common pursuit of love and connection, humans have created a fascinating range of technology-based products from online dating websites like OkCupid, popular mobile dating apps such as Tinder and Happn, to the newest product named “Invisible Boyfriend” which allows you to interact with a virtual boyfriend whom you “build” from scratch according to your preferences. With the stigma of meeting “online strangers” long gone, it seems like there is literally nothing barring us from meeting or developing relationships with others in every possible dimension.

Members of the LSESU Film Society voted to screen “Her” (2013) as part of the society’s Week 9 screenings. Directed by Spike Jonze, this distinctive film explores human relationships in a technologically advanced future. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a sweet but occasionally awkward and quirky man who is recently separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), forms a romantic relationship with his operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Despite her lack of a physical body, Samantha tries to integrate into his life through going on a double date with his colleagues and helping him to publish a book. The couple even have ‘cyber sex’ and Samantha asks a sexual surrogate to imitate her in order to have greater physical intimacy with Theodore. Constantly evolving and growing with her artificial hyper-intelligence, Samantha finally leaves the human world with other OS-es for a greater intellectual pursuit, leaving Theodore devastated.

Photo: Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures

Joaquin Phoenix gives an extremely convincing performance of a man who struggles to cope with life and relationships after his separation with Catherine, his ex-wife who has a strong influence on him as they have grown up together. This enables the audience to greatly sympathise with him. However, Scarlett Johansson definitely plays a centre role in the film as she lends her voice to Samantha, infusing her with humanness and dimensions. With her lively and omnipresent voice, it is almost too difficult to remember she is a robotic operating system who has never truly experienced the human world in a physical form.

Besides being the winner of Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, “Her” is also visually striking with its breathtaking cinematography. Throughout the film, the director and the cinematographer use heavy-handed colour correction. A warm, yellowish tint dominates most scenes, allowing the screen to radiate a warm feeling. Yet, it is, perhaps, somewhat ironic considering the distant and cold relationships depicted in the film, as well as the loneliness found in Theodore. The colour blue is often cancelled out, which separates “Her” from the usual futuristic and dystopian sci-fi films. Instead of using stereotypical colours and designs which look overly clinical and sterile, “Her” is a film with a certain degree of familiarity and retro-ness.

Photo: Annapurna Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures

Interestingly, colour is further utilised throughout the film to depict the characters’ feelings and their attitudes towards love and life. Theodore mainly wears orange or red clothes, which gain an increasingly warm tone as he further develops his intimate relationship with Samantha. However, when he is uncomfortable, he wears yellow clothes to show his anxiety, such as when system error shows up during an unexpected software update. On the other hand, when he gets into an argument with Samantha over sexual surrogacy, as well as after Samantha leaves with other OS-es, Theodore is wearing white and blue shirts which symbolise his sadness and hollowness.

“Her” examines the changes in our lives and relationships as technology gradually develops at a quickening pace. With a myriad of methods to bridge connections between people, computers, phones and applications seem to give people a sense of closeness by offering innovate ways to make new friends and develop connections. Samantha’s identity as an OS with a lack of body also challenges the idea of relationships and love. “Her” is a thought-provoking piece which encourages the audience to rethink modern relationships and our distance with other people. Does love always have to involve physical closeness or intimacy? Or, is love equally valid without such an element, such as in online relationships in which both parties have never met each other in real life (as they term it, “IRL”), or in long distance relationships in which there is a prolonged period of separation?

Sarah Ku

Sarah is a second year Law student. As the President of LSESU Film Society, she is very passionate about film. She is also interested in gender issues, as seen in her involvement in the committee of the LSESU Entrepreneurs Society.