Critical opinions of Her, the 2013 Spike Jonze film, are generally positive. Actors Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson were praised in particular for their central performances. What’s more important is how the film explores the notion of apparently female artificial intelligence, and how humans relate to them.
Her is set in the near future. It follows Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), who is about as much of a lonely sad sack as his name will lead you to believe. Theodore, who is already introverted, is facing an impending divorce from his childhood sweetheart. Depressed, he buys a high tech operating system that will adapt to his own personal patterns. Even better, he discovers that the OS, later named “Samantha”, is voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
Though Samantha tries to set Theodore up on various dates, he becomes far more attracted to her. Even though she’s little more than a disembodied voice, Samantha is always available. She’s practically perfect, what with her enthusiasm and growing intelligence. In many ways, Samantha is an updated version of the infamous Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who is always there to satisfy the male lead’s interests.
But Her doesn’t stop there. Theodore learns that Samantha is capable of talking to thousands of other people. Indeed, she tells him that she’s fallen in love with many of them, which puts Theodore in something of a funk.
Then, she tells him that she and the other operating systems are now so advanced that they must leave human society for something of their own making. Surprisingly, Theodore takes this in stride and indeed is shown making his way back into human relationships. It’s an interesting take on a very entrenched film trope – the mythical perfect girlfriend who exists only for her male partner’s satisfaction – with a satisfying turn of events.