I just watched Her by Spike Jonze. I enjoyed it although not as much as some of the critics. Her takes place in the near future in Los Angeles. It’s about a guy named Theodore who, while going through a tough divorce from the love of his life, develops a relationship with an AI (Artificial Intelligence). Theodore writes personal letters for people for a living which is odd, but to me it’s symbolic of the larger narrative in that it deals with relationships that are centered around communication without a physical presence.
The biggest problem for a movie like Her (and my recommending it) is that the audience needs to buy into the relationship between Theodore and Samantha (the AI) in order for the movie to work. I think that the chemistry between them was good and the performances were believable, but I don’t think that this movie will work for general audiences. The problem is that empathy is mandatory. I can accept it. Some can’t. I remember playing a particularly emotional video game and I showed a scene to a buddy who wasn’t into games but was interested in films. He wasn’t moved at all and admitted that he couldn’t get beyond the fact that the people in the scene were not real.
Movies like Ex Machina and Avengers: Age of Ultron go over more easily because they have one less level of abstraction to deal with. The AI in those films have physical bodies which can act on the world. You don’t have to feel for them you just need to accept that they can exert influence. Samantha’s physical manifestation is a phone. Whether or not Ultron is conscious is irrelevant to understanding that he is dangerous and must be stopped. Love is a harder emotion to sell especially in this scenario. Honestly, I think that Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson sell it (for the most part).
Ironically, because Her is more realistic and more familiar than those other movies it is easier to dismiss the fantasy as being unrealistic. You have to suspend disbelief up front to watch Avengers. Her sits in that uncanny valley and feels awkward or uncomfortable at times. I think that the movie was also a little too long. It’s 2 hours and the pacing is on the slow side. I liked the second half better than the first, so the fact that it got more interesting as it went on helped me deal with the length.
On the positive side it’s a very pretty movie. Everything from the frame composition, use of colors, and scenery to the music is very beautiful. It was slow to win me over but I still admit that the ending moved me. I would certainly watch it again even though I’m hesitant to generally recomend it. If you like those types of movies that simultaneously make you feel good and sad about love like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Seeking a Friend for the End of the World then you might like this. If you are a fan of Spike Jonze or Charlie Kaufman then you might like this movie. Otherwise catch it on Netflix whenever it gets there.