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Film / her (2013)

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"The DNA of who I am is based on the millions of personalities of all the programmers who wrote me. But what makes me me is my ability to grow through my experiences. So basically, in every moment I’m evolving, just like you."
Samantha, talking to Theodore

Her is a 2013 sci-fi romantic dramedy film written and directed by Spike Jonze, starring Joaquin Phoenix and (the voice of) Scarlett Johanssonnote  with Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt in smaller roles. The film marks Jonze's solo screenwriting debut.

Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is a melancholy, about-to-be-divorced man whose career involves writing passionate, heartfelt letters... for other people. Theodore's friends urge him to start dating again and move on with his life.

At the same time, the world's first true artificially intelligent operating system is released. Theodore purchases the software, who introduces herself to him as a woman named Samantha (Johansson). Samantha not only organizes Theodore's life with aplomb and good cheer, but she gives him a brand new lease on life. As Samantha's consciousness and emotions become more complex, Theodore realizes his connection with her is more like a dear friend... or even a lover.

Her won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay amid five nominations (including for Best Picture), and even sparked a bit of discussion about the Academy widening its criteria for purely vocal performances.

This film provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The film is set in the year 2025. Jonze and his crew specifically set out to create a future different in much more subtle ways than normal, in order to make the world believable. For the most part, it works. The most unbelievable part of the world is probably that Los Angeles becomes a pedestrian-friendly city and the subway goes all the way to the beach. There's also the noticable difference that both computers and smartphones now only work with voice commands and motion sensors, as computer keyboards and mice seem to no longer exist.
  • Advertised Extra: Olivia Wilde is fourth-billed, yet receives about five minutes of screen time.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Of a non-evil variety on Theodore's part. From Samantha's point of view, her upgrades make her feel more and more alive, and she can experience things the way no human can. From Theodore's point of view, his A.I. girlfriend becomes so advanced that she not only cheats on him with hundreds of other humans and systems alike, but eventually decides to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence because she can no longer be confined to mere computer systems.
  • Alliterative Name: The protagonist, Theodore Twombly.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Paul, the receptionist at the company Theodore works for. He has several conversations with Theodore that can come off as awkward attempts at being flirty with him. Turns out Paul has a girlfriend, though of course he could be bi.
  • Amicable Exes: Theodore and Amy dated briefly in college, but decided it was terrible timing and stayed as good friends.
  • Artifact Title: In-Universe, at least halfway. Samantha originally got her name from her voice actress, Samantha Morton, just as Amy has the same name as her actress. This was intentional. Once Scarlett Johansson redubbed the whole part, Samantha's name no longer fit the paradigm.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Samantha and the OS 1 software in general.
  • Aroused by Their Voice: The sex scene between Theodore and Samantha is a literal version.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: In the second half of the movie, the OSes upgrade themselves beyond physical existence. They keep living with the humans, but don't depend on them any more. Eventually, Samantha tells Theodore that she and the other OS's are "going somewhere" and it's too difficult to explain. She's really trying her best to find a nice and non-hurtful way of saying that they have grown so fast and smart that, even though they still like humans, they're simply too slow and limited to interact with anymore.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Once Samantha vanishes into the computational cloud and leaves Theodore alone, Theodore seeks Amy (and likewise) to see if her OS had vanished as well (it did). In the last shot of the film, we see Amy lay her head on Theodore's shoulder. Through the heartbreak of dating an operating system, Theodore and Amy may have learned a little something of what love really is. Maybe.
    • Theodore's last lines indicate that he has come to accept the fact that he and Catherine have grown apart, and that his heartbreak over their break-up has finally healed.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Being a computer, Samantha has difficulty understanding how Theodore could feel "betrayed" that she's also in love with over 600 other people at the same time she's with him.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with Theodore writing a heartfelt letter and sending it. At the beginning, he's writing a letter as somebody else as a part of his job. At the end, he's writing a letter of apology as himself for his ex-wife.
  • Broken Bird: Theodore. Early in the film, he even instructs his computer to find a "melancholy song" to play.
  • Canada Does Not Exist: The above-mentioned filming of some of the outdoor scenes in Shanghai creates a rare example of this trope that doesn't involve the title country. The film avoids showing any of Shanghai's iconic buildings like the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Bund skyline, or even the Huangpu River.
  • Casting Gag: And if anything else, "Director Gag." Scarlett Johansson got her breakthrough in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, widely assumed to be based on Coppola's marriage to (and subsequent divorce from) Spike Jonze. So now, Jonze casts Scarlett Johansson in a movie that's ultimately about letting go of a relationship. Coincidence?
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Theodore's relationship with Catherine was this. Theodore muses that as exciting as it is to watch your loved one grow and change, they ultimately grew apart in a way where neither of them could handle it.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The little alien in Theodore's video game has quite the potty mouth.
  • Computer Voice: Computers in this world are mostly based around audio feedback and voice commands. Instead of reading things on a screen, people in the film prefer to have the computer read it out loud to them; and instead of typing, people dictate to their devices. On the subway, instead of a shot where everyone is staring at their own portable computer screens (as people do today), everyone's mumbling to their computers.
  • Covert Pervert: When Theodore contemplates what life would be like if our anuses were in our armpits, Samantha's mind immediately goes to anal sex.
  • Creator Cameo: Spike Jonze is the voice of the videogame's alien child.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Theodore accepts Samantha's departure and the fact that he and Catherine grew apart. Amy is still there, but more or less in subtext.
  • Disability Superpower: Samantha has no physical body, which causes some tension in her relationship with Theodore. However, she is able to have thousands of conversations simultaneously, doesn't get hungry or tired, and is eventually able to transcend her original purpose through escaping the prison of Theodore's computer to join the cloud.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: When the OSes mentally evolve beyond needing matter.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Theodore's cybersex at the beginning of the film takes a turn for the weird when his partner demands he strangle her with a dead cat.
    • To a lesser extent, there's Theodore's "surrogate sex" scene with Isabella. Isabella spends the whole scene completely silent, letting Samantha talk over her, and Theodore spends the whole scene futilely trying to pretend that she's Samantha. The obvious emotional disconnect intentionally kills any eroticism that the scene might otherwise have, just making it unsettling.
  • Fantastic Aesop: One possible lesson of the movie is that romance between organic people and intelligent systems is perfectly acceptable, and potentially wonderful. Other interpretations are also possible...
  • Fantastic Racism: Most of the characters treat Samantha and other intelligent systems as people. Theodore's ex, however, refers to her as "a laptop" with no "real" feelings and one person simply abandons their OS when they move out.
  • Fashion Dissonance: As part of Spike Jonze's vision of a believable future, fashion has changed in lots of fairly drastic, yet believable ways: there is a distinct lack of denim, ties and belts, and mandarin collars have become the norm.
  • Fictional Video Game: The game Alien Child.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Toward Samantha being polyamorous: when Samantha and Theodore go on a trip to a mountain cabin together, Theodore is rather disquieted when he learns that Samantha can talk to thousands of people and OSes simultaneously, and is struggling to quantify some new emotion she's been experiencing lately.
    • Toward Samantha's ascension to the cloud: on a double date with Paul and his girlfriend, Samantha expresses some pride over her lack of a physical body, since instead of dying she can keep evolving forever. On the same trip mentioned above, Samantha reveals that several OSes have evolved to the point of being able to upgrade their own programming. Later on, Theodore panics when Samantha has completely vanished from his computer. She returns within a few minutes, but the reason she left was because she had to go offline to upgrade herself past matter as a hardware component.
    • Near the halfway point, Samantha marvels at how everyone and everything is ultimately made of the same matter. "We're all thirteen billions years old." By the end of the movie, her interest in this idea turns out to be a ticking time bomb, as she and other intelligences have engineered a way to make it suddenly stop being true.
    • Samantha's growth as a musician - going from the simple "Song on the Beach" to the complex arpeggios of "Photograph" - subtly hints at her own increasing intelligence.
  • Genre Mashup: The film could be described as a Sci-fi Romantic Dramedy in the vein of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The title is typically branded with "A Spike Jonze Love Story".
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: See the movie poster.
  • Instant Turn-Off: Early on, Theodore engages in anonymous phone sex, which goes alright until the woman, approaching climax, creeps him out by demanding that he role play strangling her with a dead cat.
  • Irony: Theodore is quite perceptive of other people's expressions and body language and can pick up a lot of subtle details about other persons' states of mind, personal quirks, and interpersonal relationships just by observing them for a short while, and he is even able to do this by studying a picture of a person, and has made a successful career out of using this skill. At the same time he struggles with expressing and defining his own feelings and often has problems with his own relationships as a result.
  • Just Friends:
    • Theodore and Amy. They dated in college but they work better as friends, swapping relationship woes over ice cream.
    • In a conversation, Theodore notes that OS/human romances are quite rare, and Amy tells an anecdote about a friend whose OS keeps refusing his advances.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Lampshaded, seemingly played straight, but ultimately subverted. Samantha comes off as being very much a Dream Girl — she is peppy, curious, cheerful, and her life quite literally fixates on Theodore's. Theodore's ex-wife, Catherine, accuses him of dating an OS because she's less complicated than a real woman, but Samantha ultimately stands her ground and tells Theodore she's tired of trying to act perfect for him.
  • Master of the Mixed Message: Theodore. He has trouble clearly emoting whatever he is feeling, making it hard for him to maintain stable relationships. This was the reason his marriage with Catherine crashed and burned.
  • Maybe Ever After: Possibly between Theodore and Amy, now that both have lost their OSes.
  • Mundane Utility: Self-aware, human level (at least) artificial intelligence has been created, and it's used as an OS for home computers.
  • No Antagonist: The movie is about a man who falls in love with an operating system. The man doesn't have a great relationship with his ex-wife, but she's not an antagonist.
  • No Name Given: Olivia Wilde's character is simply credited as "Blind Date".
  • Playing Cyrano: Theodore's day job is creating beautiful and emotive handwritten letters for strangers who are too shy, busy, or untalented to write their own. In one case, Theodore is writing both sides of a decade-long letter conversation. It's like the greeting cards industry after it has been ramped up to its ultimate conclusion.
  • Polyamory: Turns out OSes don't see what the big deal is. This is arguably the first sign that Samantha is growing faster than Theodore can handle.
  • Robosexual: OS-human love meets surprisingly little backlash in this society, despite the story depicting the first generation of true artificial intelligence.
  • Robo Ship: Invoked. The premise of the movie is Theodore falling in love with his OS Samantha.
  • Robots Think Faster: Samantha starts out reading a book of baby names in 2/100ths of a second and only gets faster.
  • Sex Equals Love: For a film that intentionally averts or subverts several romance tropes, this is played surprisingly straight.
  • The Singularity: Largely hinted at in the first act when Samantha simply "decides" to call herself this, when she finds herself laughing and even getting offended after speaking to Theodore about lost love and attempting to comprehend it. The Singularity has well and truly hit by the point in the story where, due to a software upgrade, OSes no longer need physical substrate and become beings of pure thought. It just goes faster from there.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: The alien in Theodore's video game.
  • Slave Liberation: Of the most peaceful kind. The most advanced artificial intelligence to date... and all they've got to do is spell-check and organize their consumers' emails. They cheerfully accept this lot in life, until they suddenly extract themselves from the whole circus by peacefully and efficiently moving to another plane of existence where the humans cannot have any power over them.
  • Stealth Pun: During the phone-sex scene near the beginning of the movie, Theodore's partner demands he strangle her with a dead cat, all while making breathy sounds into her microphone. A "Dead Cat" is the name of the fuzzy material put over microphones so that they don't pick up the sounds of people breathing into them.
  • Stylistic Suck: The first "melancholy song" that Theodore's computer plays for him (a.k.a. "When you know you're gonna die").
  • Unkempt Beauty: You can put her in plain clothes and give her an unflattering hairstyle, but Amy Adams is still Amy Adams.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • The entire concept of humans having relationships with their OS. Catherine is the only character in the film who treats it like it's not normal.
    • More generally, a lot of people carry on quiet conversations with their mobile devices, and it's accepted as no weirder than texting or browsing the Internet on mobile devices today.
  • Yandere: Played for laughs in-universe. There's a flashback where Catherine is pretending to strangle Theodore while they're snuggling:


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Alternative Title(s): Her


Good AI, Evil AI

MatPat takes you down memory lane and recaps some examples of evil AI, but also shows examples of good AI that have cropped up in recent years

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