Movie Review: ‘Her’ exposes the truth of virtual reality


By Wilson Criscione, News Writer

If you’re going to see Spike Jonze’s “Her” in theaters, the experience really begins the moment you arrive in your seat, take off your coat and, if you’re like me, rush through your Twitter feed before a polite commercial tells you to put your phone away. It’s sometimes hard saying goodbye to your little friend for two hours, but once “Her” takes off, you may question your relationship with technology for some time afterwards.

In “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a kind, introverted man who is struggling to finalize a divorce in near-future Los Angeles. Theodore writes personal letters to others for a living, a surrogate for those who cannot find the right words to express their feelings for loved ones.

Theodore is able to portray deep emotion in these letters, but he has a harder time with his own feelings. After going on his first date since his failed marriage, he realizes he can’t commit to another person yet, and discovers all he needs in a relationship with his artificially intelligent operating system, Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

What makes “Her” so eerie is not just the thought of a man falling in love with his operating system, but the similarities between Theodore’s external world and our reality. As he walks down the street, flirting with Samantha through his earpiece and passing countless strangers looking just as insane as he does while ostensibly talking to themselves, it’s hard not to wonder if this is simply a step up from the crowds of people in today’s world staring at their 4-inch devices as they avoid each other on the street.

When Theodore gets home, the lights automatically turn on and he dives into a virtual video game, a screenless projection in an empty room, as he isolates himself from the world through technological innovations. Theodore may be a loner by our standards, but, in his world, this behavior seems normal.

Unlike other futuristic movies, technology is not out to kill us. The people do not act, or dress, like robots, and humanity is not at stake. Instead, the men wear high-waisted pants that look like they are from the 1800s, and the mustaches today’s hipsters regretfully like to sport have made a full comeback in Jonze’s future society.

Theodore’s best friend and neighbor, Amy, played by Amy Adams, along with her deliberately chaotic nest of hair, is working on a documentary which is nothing more than footage of her mom sleeping. The characters seem to have made a conscious effort to distinguish themselves, through art and fashion, from the growing technology surrounding them.

Yet the same technology gives the film’s characters something they can’t find in their isolated lifestyle. For Theodore, to paraphrase the words of his ex-wife, it’s a relationship without the responsibilities of a real relationship.

This is where the movie hits. Amy, seemingly his one anchor in society and the physical world, asks the question the audience grapples with throughout the entire film: Is it not a real relationship?

For someone fabricating feelings for other people while writing letters all day, Theodore finds genuine comfort and joy in his relationship with Samantha. And this raises deeper questions both for Theodore and the audience. To what extent are abstract feelings based in reality? What defines a strong relationship?

If you’re looking for a love story, you might be disappointed. “Her” didn’t affect me emotionally like other movies might. Some of the lines seem less original and thought-provoking as Jonze might have imagined, and I found it hard to sympathize with Theodore or feel anything other than discomfort during the auditory sex scenes and uninspired romantic dialogue that Samantha guides us through. But maybe that’s the point.

Whether or not you can identify with Theodore, it’s impossible to ignore the issues “Her” so skillfully raises. Jonze doesn’t so much create a different world for the audience, but rather an exaggeration of our own reality while hinting at how it might shape an individual’s personal life. You might not leave the theater crying, but it might cause you to pause for some self-reflection the next morning when you wake up and reach for your phone out of habit.