I’ve gotten used to indie movies getting hyped up by critics and awards buzz, even when they’re not that impressive. But the mounting support for Her is getting out of hand. I don’t care if it wins awards or if every critic under the sun wants to give it five stars. Be my guest. My concern is with what they’re referring to it as: a modern day love story. Excuse me?
Her is the story of a man who falls in love with his Siri-like operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). He talks with her more than anyone else, goes on dates with her, has cyber sex with her, and even argues with her. It’s a gloomy look at our potential future if human beings continue to physically disconnect from society only to emotionally connect to it through computers. It’s highly respected for this inspired perspective. Fine, I’ll give it that. It noticed what we’ve been noticing for a decade now. But I would hardly call it a love story. And it’s a little alarming that everyone’s agreeing that it is.
Perhaps, if you saw it through my eyes, you’ll see what I mean. Allow me to tear away the rose-colored glasses that rom-coms tend to fasten to their devoted audiences. The relationship in this film is not mutual. It’s one-sided. Samantha referred to herself as a self-taught, independent, artificial intelligence. But what she learned was how to please her master. Her sole purpose was to keep him happy. In fact, her job was to keep any individual who purchased her version of the OS happy. She learned what they liked and gave it to them. She provided this service to thousands, and even claimed to have fallen in love with not just Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), but hundreds of men. If she were human, she would be the equivalent of an escort, and her service, The Girlfriend Experience. I’m sincerely miffed as to how anyone can watch this film and think there’s something romantic about a guy manufacturing his idea of the perfect woman and being satisfied with a completely one-sided relationship. A majority of their conversations were focused on him, and the one time she asked something of him, a physical connection through a surrogate, he refused.
This type of relationship reminded me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon. In it, a "Jersey Shore"-clone falls for the hottest girl he’s ever seen, coincidentally played by the same actress who voices Samantha. When given the ultimatum to either give up his porn addiction or lose her, he finds himself growing bored of their sex life. The film likens porn to romantic comedies. Both give people false expectations about what real relationships are like, forcing them to ultimately be disappointed with real life. Guys expect acrobatic, dirty sexy, and women expect lifelong romantic overtures. What the guys love most about porn and its storylines, besides how it arouses them, is that once they’ve gotten what they want out of the interaction, they no longer have to participate in the relationship. Porn is one-sided. They can turn it on and off whenever they want. Maybe there isn’t excessive nudity in Her, but it’s basically the same setup. Theodore wasn’t experiencing an advanced emotional connection with a bodiless female personality. He was deluding himself into thinking he didn’t need a real girlfriend, because he could get everything he wanted from the computer he bought.
As I said before, feel free to applaud it for its examination of the modern, emotionally-stunted mind. But, please, please stop calling it a romance. Don’t let men think this situation qualifies as romantic. Otherwise, you’re just apart of the problem the film is trying to highlight.