Movie Review: Her (2013)

Herby Brad Nelson   6/4/14
This is going to be a somewhat unusual case wherein I tell you to go ahead and watch this movie but don’t blame me if you don’t like it. In fact, there would be something wrong with you unless you engendered some distaste for it.

First, I should mention that my older brother recommended this movie and we sat and watched it together the other day. It was a blast. Even if parts of this movie suck, it’s a fun one to watch with a friend, if only to comment on the many digital insanities of contemporary culture. And if you like science fiction, if you like movies such as Surrogates (with Bruce Willis, which I highly recommend), you’ll get a kick out of Her.

Joaquin Phoenix (the bad-guy Emperor Commodus from Gladiator) plays Theodore, a man whose day job is bizarre and smarmy enough for a movie of its own (very much in tune with a film such as The Final Cut with Robin Williams). Theodore’s day job is writing letters for hire (including and especially love letters) for other people. In line with the movie, Surrogates, and aspects of The Final Cut, nothing is real. It’s all presentation. It’s all a veneer.

But for this movie, this surrogate-letter-writing is just a prop, not the main act. The main act is regarding Theodore, who is a bit lonely and emotionally needy at present. He’s near the finalization of the divorce with his wife and is heartbroken and confused. So what’s a person to do? Be consoled by friend? Drink yourself into oblivion? Maybe go out on a couple of dates with a hot blond? No. The answer is to install OS1, an artificial-personality operating system that talks to you (and learns) like a real person — and then proceed to spend your days (and often nights) talking to it as if it was your closest confidante.

And anyone who has seen the digital monkeys (often all in a row) hammering away mindlessly and obsessively on the virtual keyboards of their phones, ignoring the immediate world around them in order to talk to their somewhat surrogate world, will have absolutely no problem swallowing the premise of this movie. This is exactly where we are headed.

And thus my objections to this movie could also be said to be its main premise. But at some point, if you are anything like me, you will be yelling at the screen for Theodore to just “Shut off the damn computer!” But instead you have to watch this emotionally effeminate wreck of a postmodern girly-man indulge in every stupid emotion that comes to him. It’s not so much that he’s addicted to the computer. He’s addicted to his own desires (internal demands, really) that every bad thought be stricken from his head and every good thought and feeling be nurtured.

This is the 21st Century Wuss-Man in the making. And it’s not like there isn’t a time and place for a man to be “sensitive” and to “get in touch with his emotions.” But must he buy an operating system that practically demands that he do so all day long? At some point (again, if you are anything like me) you will be yelling at the screen “Just shut the damn computer off and go play baseball or something. For criminy’s sake, at least try to act like a man.”

So you might see that my main objection to this movie is perhaps the movie’s main point. And yet, even so, it gets a bit tiring watcing Theodore go completely girly-man always turning over his emotions, inside and out. And if he were doing so in order to get inside the pants of a real, live, warm, breathing woman, you could perhaps forgive him. But let us remember, HE IS INTERACTING WITH A FRIGGIN’ OPERATING SYSTEM!!! (Sorry for the all-caps. I lost myself for a moment there.)

And whether this OS1 operating system is just simulating a real person or it becomes a real person is beside the point of this movie. And I won’t give that away one way or another. But I will say that the resolution of this point has nothing at all to do with the movie.

So in many ways, this is indeed a strange, somewhat unfinished, film for you have those wonderful elements of the smarmy surrogate letter-writing and the question as to whether or not OS1 is (or develops into) a real person (and if so, how, and what this would mean for mankind). Instead, it’s as if for the entire duration of this movie you are put inside an isolation chamber with the most stupid, girlish, wussified man that you can think of, all while watching him fall in love with his OS.

As I told my brother, there is little danger of that happening to me, even as much as I like my computer and its OS (Apple/Mac OS X). But the truth is, you are much more likely to hear me scream, “Just print the god damn document you stupid piece of s***.” The truth is, it will be a long time coming until I fall in love with an operating system. Mostly they are just objects for scorn.

But I know full well that the premise of this movie is spot-on. If you designed an operating system that could basically cater to your every emotional need and fantasy, you’d soon see this world that is portrayed in Her in which everyone is walking around with an earbud stuck in their ear talking to air while the real world barely gets a notice….not that far from what is occurring today.


Brad is editor and publisher of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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7 Responses to Movie Review: Her (2013)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Wouldn’t the preference for a machine intelligence over a human one be a very liberal act ultimately? After all, they certainly have little use for individual people (aside from their fellow elites, admittedly).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Oh, there’s absolutely no question, Timothy, that this fellow would be more at home in Brokeback Mountain than in The Cowboys. One of the problems with reviewing a movie such as this is that you don’t know if the filmmakers are in on the joke. Is this movie a send-up of such behavior or do they think it is a “thoughtful” exposition of it (even if sometimes it leads to painful events)? That is, are we to laugh or to cry? (I laughed.)

      It is certainly true (such as with this web site) that remote relationships can be developed and maintained to some extent due to modern technology. And anyone who has spent a fair amount of time online likely understands some of the pitfalls. Online tends to be worse than the bar seen where it is already known that everyone is (or might be) on the prowl, that everyone is (at least in the short term) putting on their “best face” (very possibly a false face) in order to develop the possibilities for at least a short-term relationship.

      Even so, inside a bar there is at least a physical person there who can be engaged with and evaluated via other means. But with online, it is very very easy to don a persona, to get lost in one’s projections — projections that, due to the levels of anonymity online — need never be lost to the pressures and smoothing-over aspects of face-to-face communication.

      In fact, I’ve somewhat learned to take everyone I meet online with a grain of salt. It’s not that I don’t trust them or like them. It’s that I realize that the nature of online means…well…that’s why I mentioned the movies “Surrogates” and “The Final Cut.” Not only is our mass-marketed, pop-oriented culture becoming superficial by nature, but the digital revolution is like throwing gasoline on this fire.

      I find myself even now tending not to share my innermost thoughts online even though I would like to do more creative writing and poetry. But online just tends to be this monstrous beast that consumes our humanity. So instinctively I find myself shying away a little (although you’d never know it by my normal word count, but all things are relative).

      In some ways, one could say that the precursor of socialism is not just people’s inability to deal with reality but their desire not to. So, yeah, this Theodore guy is not likely the John Wayne (or Bruce Willis) type.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Another interesting example of the “parody or schlock” (it’s possible to be both, of course) is Ice Pirates. We here were inclined to think it was deliberate (and thus a parody), partly because so many scenes were so over-the-top. But in Hollywood, who knows? (This sort of question also comes up in whether the movie Total Recall is supposed to be an actual dream — in other words, he got what he paid for — or reality. It was hideously unrealistic scientifically, which would be an argument in favor of the former if people in Hollywood actually knew any science. But it makes no sense for a business to make itself the enemy of the realistic dream, which would be an argument in favor of the latter if Hollywood weren’t so reflexively hostile to business.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I like “Ice Pirates.” I think it’s definitely a self-conscious comedy/action-adventure movie that is an homage to old-style swashbuckling films. But although there are some self-conscious comedy or parody elements, I think its intent is much more to be in character rather than, like “A Mighty Wind,” merely being a parody, although a loving parody in that case. I think this is so regarding “Ice Pirates” because the central figure, Robert Urich, is every bit a manly-man, full of daring and adventure (and more than a little healthy machoism).

          If perhaps a movie such as this is seen as parody (and I don’t mean by you), it fits another theory I have about our current politically correct “sensitive” culture (and I say “sensitive” in the context of some boy who cries because his box of Crayons doesn’t include the shade of blue that he likes). And that theory is that it is no longer “safe” to have a manly-man swashbuckling movie, so you sort of have to come at it from the back door and say that such a movie is “really” just a joke, a parody. I think you can understand some films in this regard. My guess is the filmmakers often have the instinct and desire to do something more along the lines of John Wayne. But they find themselves bending to PC culture and wrapping Wayne in a veneer of parody or wuss.

          “Ice Pirates” also shows its smartness by some of the hilarious, almost Python-like, humor regarding those damn robots. I think this shows that the filmmakers knew when they were trying to be funny and when (like in the love scene between Urich and Mary Crosby) they were trying to be romantic. And this movie also works because (as all such movies must have) it has a good villain.

          I see that this movie is rated only at 5.6 at IMDB.com which, in my mind, has become the official repository (in terms of public taste) for thin and vacuous pop culture and ingrained and unreflective Cultural Marxism (remember: everything the Left touches — including movies and movie reviewers — it makes worse). Humor requires intelligence, and I’m quite sure that is why a movie such as “Last Action Hero,” for example, was generally panned (and is, of course, low-rated at IMDB.com). It’s because it requires the sophistication of taste and intelligence to be in on the joke. That movie is a parody. No, it’s not always a rolling-on-the-floor laughing-out-loud parody. But it has some very good moments in it and is worth watching at least once.

          I think in “Total Recall,” there was no hidden aspect. It could be taken at face value as stated in the movie. But if there is a book, and someone knows different…

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    As you know, I pretty much speak my mind here. You may or may not agree with me, but know that I don’t filter first through what is necessarily “proper,” and certainly have little regard for what is popular.

    From reading a few of the comments about this movie at IMDB.com, you can see the culture dividing between the mass-mind and those few who are still brave enough to own the thoughts inside their own heads. Agree or disagree, but I think this IMBD.com commenter was right on when he said about this movie:

    I’m a guy and don’t use that word too often since I’ve been called that before, lol, however, the guy in the movie was so hilariously pathetic and creepy maybe unintentionally, it’s like a cliché of a deranged paranoid schizophrenic who is about to commit his first in a series of serial attacks. It would’ve been great as the introduction to a psycho story.

    That’s a fair enough statement, to my mind. There is something decidedly creepy about watching Theodore interact (and even masturbate) with his computer. If you’re not a little creeped out, there’s something wrong with you.

    Or maybe you’re simply on the other side of the fence. Read through all rather lame posts refuting and shaming this guy. Whatever you think about the movie, you should probably realize that this one guy said what he thought was the truth….and the peanut gallery (almost surely indoctrinated with the collectivist/Progressive mentality whereby you don’t dare say what’s on your mind….you filter first according to the hive) simply regurgitated the political thoughts of others. And that indeed is pathetic and creepy.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Sounds like the real theme of this movie is adolescent self-indulgence. This is something which large swaths of this country practice. It is, after all, easier than accepting responsibility for one’s actions and trying to correct or at least ameliorate personal faults.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, this guy is self-indulgent. As my other brother noted, a bit of comic relief or something would have helped. Maybe a friend or neighbor who could say, “Hey, dude. It’s a computer you’re pining over.”

      Also, it was a huge distraction having Scarlett Johansson be the voice of the computer. It didn’t lend itself to believability. You just picture Johansson offscreen talking into a microphone.

      I’d love another opinion on this movie because I’m still not quite sure if the filmmakers meant this guy to be sympathetic or if he was a case history in dumbness. But the hoopleheads over at IMDB.com seem to confirm that this was meant to be more of a sympathetic portrayal. I guess when you’re in the midst of this really stupid nonsense yourself, it looks normal.

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