Will There Ever Be a Girl Like Her?

By Bradford William Davis

A postmodern masterpiece best enjoyed in the company of human people.

To activate your mobile phone, there’s a fair chance your phone will respond, quite literally, to your touch. How you interpret that fingerprint scan -- as a brilliant convenience or an unnerving intimacy -- is a judgment Her is not here to make. Director and writer Spike Jonze aims for something better than an ethical debate about modern-day technology. Through 2013’s Her, Jonze examines the complicated relationship between a man and his digital device so we might embrace our complicated relationships with the people we love.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix as glum, lonely bachelor Theodore Twombly, Her follows Theodore’s experience with a life-changing software update to his device’s voice-operated personal assistant. His original assistant (or “OS,” as it’s called in the film) is a cold, efficient taskmaster. After the update, Theodore’s OS is reborn with the ability to learn, crack jokes, and develop meaningful connections with its user. Easily surpassing the virtual assistants we’ve come to know in real life (Siri, Alexa and Google, we’re looking at you), Theodore’s OS is playfully, personably and flirtatiously animated by Scarlett Johansson’s affecting voice. The OS laughs and cracks jokes. Sometimes “she” writes songs, like the Oscar-nominated “The Moon Song.” “You helped me discover my ability to want,” she tells Theodore, exposing one of “her” most profoundly human traits. It’s easy to imagine, as Theodore does, that “she” is as sentient as we are.

Theodore and his OS (who goes by “Samantha” once Johansson enters the movie) build a friendship and then, an honest-to-Jobs romance while traversing everyday life in a not-too-distant Los Angeles. The build-up from application to apparent soulmate happens precipitously. Samantha is utterly enamored with the world around her, which at first is fixed through the lens of her user, while Theodore, still raw from a past relationship, is infatuated with her uncynical and pure outlook on life. (Well, “life.” She is still a bodiless operating system.)

The wireless earpiece Theodore uses to communicate with Samantha is eerily similar to Bluetooth earbuds worn today, and rarely leaves his ears during their honeymoon phase. However, dating his software presents Theodore with a distinct set of challenges. Some complications are obvious; others are more imaginative (a real credit to Jonze’s script), reminding him to cherish his friendships with living organisms, difficult as they may be. Samantha tells Theodore, to his discontent, “I’m yours, and I’m not yours.” Every smartphone user with an OS could presumably have Sam in their life, and thus, must decide if that’s a compromise they’re willing to make.

If your holiday season is filled with the company of loved ones, Her might bring the family a little closer than usual. And put the phone away. For a little bit.