Her: A Film Take on Apple’s Siri, Integrates Criticisms of Modern Living

By Gabriella Shriner / Editor

Writer and director Spike Jonze’s latest film, "Her", debuted in theaters December last year, and stars Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlet Johansson.

During the 2014 Academy Awards, it won an Oscar for best writing and original screenplay, and was nominated for several others. But despite an apparent success on the big screen, "Her" left many bigger questions unanswered, preventing viewers from finding out several major plot points of the movie. If revealed, such information would have greatly strengthened the film. That being said, it had appeal as a creative rendition of the long and short term effects of technology on our personal and social lives.

The main character is a lonely letter writer named Theodore who is getting divorced (we never learn much about the marriage beyond this tidbit), played by Phoenix, whose job it is to write other people’s letters, instead of people writing to one another. This is one among many metaphors in the movie; his job reflects the way we text and call each other as substitutes for first-hand communication.

Set in future Los Angeles, many scenes are minimalist. Featuring a great deal of silence and a serene soundtrack, the set up itself echoes the main theme: that of loneliness and social isolation, resulting from the single ear phone (like a wireless ear bud) the cast and extras wear constantly. While going through their day, they talk into the earpiece, regardless of being alone or with others, rather than interacting with the world directly. Theodore is no exception, and whenever he is not working, he plays holographic videogames and (rarely) socializes with a modest group of friends besides talking with his ex-wife.

Operating systems are marketed to serve as companions for people—like today, with Apple’s Siri and Android’s S Voice. Theodore buys into the idea and purchases one of the OSs. After the manufacturer asks several questions about his personal life, an OS named “Samantha,” voiced by Scarlet Johansson, introduces herself and they begin a very interesting relationship.

At first their interactions are not unusual, and commonplace for frequent users of cellphone voice programs. Samantha sorts his e-mails and organizes work-related information, keeps track of phone calls and events, and other mundane tasks. In the beginning, she is practically his maid, and at other times a voice to talk with, staving off loneliness in the future world.

But as with any purchase (like a cell-phone or computer) or the beginning of a new relationship, what is at first awkward and curious quickly becomes habitual and engaging. He is enthralled by Samantha, and news emerges that other people are also developing interestingly personal relationships with the OSs. We learn that Theodore’s case is common. The OSs replace socially what was once normal human interaction.

The trailer emphasizes the love story told between a man and his computer, who together go on the journey of the “unconventional” relationship. We see this as Theodore’s mental over-stimulation from Samantha’s seemingly infinite knowledge, while it is devoid of the physical and emotional satisfaction that a real person could bring. The nature of their relationship may ring true with people who find themselves resorting to Internet dating.

A friend of Theodore’s, named Amy (played by Amy Adams), said, “We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.” The OSs humble humans by simply being able to offer instant gratification. People are indulgent and self-absorbed, concerned more with building and maintaining virtual relationships and being able to acquire information to better themselves than experiencing life as it is.

The trailer projects this idea of a love story, yet the film is also thought-provoking and insightful. "Her" has its share of lonely moments (both for the audience and Theodore) especially when referring to the many positive and negative ways technology can impact our social lives. It certainly proves a good watch to gain a better idea of the stranglehold modern gadgets have on all of us, and gives a peek into what technology may have in store for the future.

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The Record is Raritan Valley Community College's independent online student newspaper. The Record provides a medium for information on all things related to the college community as well as an outlet for students to practice writing skills. The mission of The Record is to encourage student involvement in campus activities and publicize matters of concern to the college community.
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