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Movie Review: Her

herFrom writer/director Spike Jonez’, Her is a rather extraordinary film. It’s really a science fiction/love story about A.I. (artificial intelligence). Set in what looks like the near future, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix doing his best work to date and visually carrying the entire film) works for a company called “Beautiful Handwritten Letters” that composes letters for people. Not business letters or formal letters, but love letters and letters between family members.

Why can’t people write their own? Who knows? But this futuristic world is scarily bland, literal and unnuanced. Everyone and everything feels incredibly dumbed down into simplistic niceness. It seems that advanced technology and the seamless omni-insertion of technology into people’s lives has turned humans into androids, while the androids are more “alive” than humans and want to become more human.

Humans walk around (something like today, but much worse) talking to themselves, communicating only with their multifunctional earbuds.

“Samantha” is a Siri-like voice performed by Scarlett Johansson with such craft that there was a question whether her voice acting could be nominated for an Oscar (it couldn’t). Theodore, lonely and undergoing a divorce, begins to fall in love with her, and Samantha begins to evolve rapidly — having “experiences” and learning about the world through Theodore. Samantha is always there for him and seemingly deeply understands him (she reads all his email) and even fights with him like a real girlfriend would. Dating one’s OS (operating system) becomes an accepted “thing” in Theodore’s society.

But all shall not be well. I won’t spoil the ending–one of the gentlest, tenderest, humanest sci-fi endings since Blade Runner–but it gives rise to the question whether humans and A.I. could ever truly interact on a purely and fully human level. Can Samantha ever truly “be” human and understand humans, especially when it comes to love?

Humans, it seems, are unlimited by their limits, and A.I. are crippled by their boundlessness. Haven’t we ultimately created them as their own inorganic “species” to do their own thing, which may even be outside of our control?

Now. A word about the PORN ELEMENTS. Yes. There are fleeting, quite perverse and quite unnecessary porn images in the beginning of the film (involving a very naked and very pregnant supermodel), followed by three different scenes of full-blown phone sex (mostly verbal). As I tried to “not watch” (very difficult when it flashes on unexpectedly), I wondered what Jonze was thinking. I wondered if he’s a porn kinda guy himself. I wondered if he thought (like millions and like the heartily-laughing audience in my cinema) that porn is “no big deal” today. It’s “mainstream.” Get over it. Ah, well, Mr. Jonze, here’s a letter for you.

Dear Mr. Jonze,

Porn is a big deal, and I will not get over it, but what we can both agree on is that it is mainstream. Not just on our five-year-old’s Nintendo 3DS and our eight-year-old’s iPod and our 12-year-old’s Xbox One or PS4, but in our one extant unifying storytelling carrier: “The Movies.”

Boogie Nights was about the porn industry, Magic Mike was about male strippers, and Don Jon was about internet porn addiction, but Her was about A.I. There are plenty of porn references on primetime TV, but you, Mr. Jonze, showed us some porn on the big, big screen.

I know you’re not alone, and I know we’re just going to see more and more of this, but you know what? It’s NOT okay. You are RESPONSIBLE for your art. And if you are not aware of the scientific facts about the effects of the scourge of porn on children, teens, families, WOMEN, husbands, wives, workers, um, everyone? You need to get yourself educated. Fast.

The rest of your movie is beyond fabulous and creative. You ruined it. I will not jump on the “Emperor’s New Clothes” bandwagon and “praise you” for this film because the Emperor has no clothes. We do not treat the human body this way. We do not treat the human person this way.

The shocking, prolonged, full-frontal, hazy female nudity crotch shots at the beginning of Flight (a most disappointing plane wreck of a story and film) was sad. But it was just a naked woman walking around. You showed porn QUA porn (“qua” is Latin for “as”). And we were supposed to laugh? Sex can be funny. Porn is never funny.

I so wished I could like this film.

It doesn’t matter how many awards you get for this. You blew it.

So sorry for your loss,

Sr. Helena

So, am I recommending you see this film? I usually don’t give my opinion on this either way, but given the above circumstances: www.commonsensemedia.com rates this film “iffy” for 15+. I rate it “iffy” for 50+ unless those scenes are excised. Perhaps www.clearplay.com will make it available. (“Clear Play” sanitizes films with the blessing of the studios. I’m normally not in agreement with such measures–except for family viewing–but it’s getting bad, folks.)


Sister Helena Burns, fsp belongs to the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of religious women dedicated to spreading God's Word through the media: www.pauline.org. She gives workshops to teens and adults on media, philosophy, and Theology of the Body and is the movie reviewer for The Catholic New World, Chicago's Catholic newspaper. You can follow her excellent blog, HellBurns at hellburns.blogspot.com.
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  • guest

    Thank you for this review. It sounded like a really fascinating movie, and since I’m reading on a Catholic site, I thought, ‘Hey, maybe a film I’ll actually make the effort to go out to the cinema to see!’ I was even thinking of a few friends who are in the IT business and have created computer games and websites who might like to go along with their wives… But no. Another apparently intelligent film we’ll all just have to miss.