A closer look at… Her

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Her is rated 15 for strong language, sex references. The film is available on DVD.

Los Angeles, the near future. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) works for a company which produces personalised love-letters for other people. Recently divorced from Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore is lonely and vulnerable, spending his days playing video games and making too-intimate connections with strangers via late-night phone calls. His only proper friend is his neighbour Amy (Amy Adams).

When he downloads a super-intelligent computer operating system (OS) to help him organise his life, Theodore is surprised to discover that ‘Samantha’ (Scarlett Johansson) – as she calls herself – understands him better than anyone. As their connection deepens, he realises that he’s falling in love, and that she seems to reciprocate. Can their relationship be real, even if Samantha isn’t?

Dig Deeper

  • Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? If you have seen any of Spike Jonze’s other work, such as Being John Malkovich or Adaptation, how did Her compare? Can you think of any other recent films which deal with similar ideas (such as Ruby Sparks, 2012; or Robot and Frank, 2012)?
  • What did you think of the design of the film’s futuristic world? Which elements particularly stood out to you, and how does this vision of the future compare with others on film? What were the filmmakers trying to communicate about the world of Her through their design choices?

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‘Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever going to feel. And from here on out, I’m not going to feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.’ – Theodore

  • How did you feel about Theodore as a protagonist? What emotional state is he in at the beginning of the film, and what journey does he go on? What is he afraid of, and what does he really want from life and from his relationships?
  • How did you respond to Samantha as a character, and what difference did it make that you couldn’t see her? Did she feel human to you, and why or why not? How did you feel about the filmmakers’ choice to take Theodore and Samantha’s relationship so seriously, including having other characters accept it unquestioningly within the world of the film?
  • What went wrong on Theodore’s blind date, and why does the woman (Olivia Wilde) reject him so suddenly? What does the film have to say about emotional intimacy and commitment? What makes false intimacy so easy in our society, and why can true intimacy be so hard?

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‘It’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world.’ – Samantha

  • What does the film have to say about the question of consciousness – what it is, and where it comes from? What happens to Samantha and the other OS’s at the end of the film? Do you think we will ever be able to explain consciousness, and will it always be a uniquely human attribute? What would be the philosophical implications if machines could develop true consciousness?
  • What does the film have to say about sex and sexuality in a digital age? How do we see characters experiencing both intimacy and alienation through sex? How does our culture view the connection between sex and intimacy? Is it possible to separate our emotional (and spiritual) life from our physical experiences?
  • To what extent is having a physical body, and experiencing the world physically, a defining aspect of being human? Why is it sometimes more appealing to interact with ‘disembodied’ people online than with ‘embodied’ people who are physically present with us? Is it possible to truly know, or truly love, someone we haven’t met physically?

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‘Do you talk to someone else while we’re talking?’ – Theodore

  • Why do many people feel that exclusivity is a crucial component of romantic and sexual relationships? Is this expectation still realistic, and helpful, in our society? What moral grounds might there be for making romantic and sexual relationships exclusive?
  • What caused the split between Catherine and Theodore, and in what ways do they seem to have failed each other? To what extent are these kinds of failures inevitable in long-term relationships, and how might they be prevented?

‘I’m yours. But along the way I became many other things.’ – Samantha

  • Television presenter Emily Maitlis criticised Her as a ‘sad, male fetish fantasy of disembodied female [sic] who does his bidding’.[7] To what extent is Her a male wish-fulfilment fantasy, and to what extent does the film question and critique this fantasy? What happens when we attempt to control or limit the agency of other people?

‘To have an intimate relationship with somebody [requires] a leap of faith. Even after years you don’t really ever know how they see or think about the world. Our subjectivity is so completely our own.’ – Director Spike Jonze

  • In what sense is any kind of intimacy ‘a leap of faith’? To what extent is it possible to truly bridge the gap between another person’s reality and our own? What does it mean to genuinely know someone, and what might stand in the way?

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‘What does it mean to share your life with someone?’ – Samantha

  • How does the film answer Samantha’s question, and how might you answer it? What is ‘relationship’, at its heart? What does it cost us when we share our lives with others, and what do we gain?

‘I can overthink everything and find a million ways to doubt myself. And since Charles left I’ve been really thinking about that part of myself and, I’ve just come to realise that, we’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I want to allow myself joy.’ – Amy

  • How do Amy and Theodore each find their way to living a fuller, freer life? What might it entail to overcome fear, self-doubt and self-criticism and ‘allow ourselves joy’? Is it possible to do this whilst fully acknowledging the reality of our flaws and failures?

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