The Woman Who Wasn’t There

I watched the movie “Her” last weekend
and it unnerved me.

It is one of the most touching movies I’ve seen in my 67 years and it examines relationships like nothing else I’ve ever read or experienced. I know that’s a pretty broad statement, but that’s how it affected me. Written and directed by Spike Jonze, “Her” won an Academy Award for best original screenplay.

Brilliant actor, Joaquin Phoenix, plays Theodore, an introverted, soon-to-be-divorced young man living in L.A. (slightly in the future), who composes (long hand) love letters for those who can’t do it themselves. Although his letters are emotional and romantic, Theodore is himself incapable of properly relating to the emotional needs of a woman.

Instead of pursuing a new relationship following his devastating breakup, he buys a piece of state-of-the-art software and signs up to meet an artificially intelligent OS (operating system). “Her” name is Samantha and she’s been designed to be Theodore’s companion. Scarlett Johansson delivers a powerful vocal performance as the sweet, but body-less, Samantha.

It’s a clever premise: Invent a woman for Theodore who can talk to him, soothe him, humor him, stimulate him (in more ways than one), and “watch” him while he sleeps. Samantha and Theo even double date with Theo’s friends. So what if she “lives” inside his computer and hasn’t an actual body. Those flesh-and-blood women always make life too complicated for Theodore, anyway, as we see flashbacks of his interactions with his wife. Samantha also happens to be a thinking gal, and if Theodore yearns for companionship, she is on a quest for consciousness. But when she thinks out loud with tragic realizations, we’re never certain whether her thoughts are actually coming from “Her” or from a computer program.

If the story seems far fetched and sci-fi like on paper, it surely isn’t on the screen. Theodore falls in love with Samantha (“I wish I could put my arms around you. I wish I could touch you,” he tells her), and I deeply felt his emotional turmoil when he was unable to reach her and frantically hits the keyboard to try and reconnect. Even if “Her” seems to draw a direct connection to our pervasive love affair with technology, Spike Jonze appears to be a strong advocate of real flesh-and-blood relationships and love.

“Her” reminds me a bit of the movie “Ghost.” Is Patrick Swayze really any different than Samantha? Does it matter that he’s a ghost, as long as Demi Moore feels him?

If actions speak louder than words, do feelings speak louder than physical presence? Sure, we want it all, but how often is “all” really possible?

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