In 2003, dour magician David Blaine sat in a plexiglass box high over a London street for 44 days. Blaine was suspended alone above crowds of curious onlookers. It must have been exciting at first, but eventually he became a part of the scenery. People must have stopped noticing and returned to their own lonely bubbles. His impermeable, yet visible singularity is only a clumsy metaphor for the contemporary condition anyway, isn’t it? By now, we’re used to the paradoxes of public and private, the infringement of commentary into quiet spaces. Our minds are not our own, and we’re pretty okay with that.
Her is a science-fiction story without wars or inter-planetary travel or aliens of unknown origin. It’s a clumsy attempt at articulating something about the particular shapes and textures of technology-saturated life, and for that it is unique among the endless period pieces and ‘real-world’ dramas. Her is the opposite of escapism. It’s turning around into a mirror and looking too long at a reflection. You start to hate what you see about neediness and overly-tender couch talks. You start to wonder why the pants of the future are so strangely high-waisted and smooth. You’re used to people talking to someone all the time, and still being alone. You’re probably used to the discomfort that you feel when you’re alone.
It’s not unfeasible that someone would be solipsistic enough to fall in love with their sentient operating system. The desperation of trying to get out of your own head isn’t new. It’s simply transferred onto a receptive agent, as writer Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) does with his artificial assistant Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). She could be anything. A pug, another girl. This the film’s main problem. Theodore and Samantha don’t have an epic love story for the ages. This isn’t a movie about a man loving something or someone beyond himself. It’s a man in love with himself. Sometimes it feels like director Spike Jonze forgets this.
The best moments in Her are the ones where Theodore is truly alone, and feels the blinking quiet of his disconnection. It’s time spent looking out of windows into the lights of the city from a dark room. No matter how much this man tries, he’s always one step out from feeling something.