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Connecting with ‘Her’

Joaquin Phoenix navigates technology in search for love

Darleen Ortega | 1/29/2014, 11:59 a.m.
A lovely and heartfelt film
Joaquin Phoenix is a lonely, introverted man looking for love in a world where the lines between personal interaction and intimacy are further blurred by an artificially intelligent operating system. Warner Bros.

The film offers some playful suggestions about where our relationship with technology might well be headed that are perhaps more prophetic than the apocalyptic futures imagined in the "Terminator" and "Matrix" films. But what I loved most was the insights it offered about the nature of intimacy itself, about how and why people connect and what causes relationships to blossom and fade.

It helps that the film stays grounded in Theodore's emotional experience. His best pal, Aimee (a luminous Amy Adams), doesn't blanche when he tells her he has fallen in love with his OS, remarking that falling in love is always a "socially acceptable form of insanity."

Samantha, while not particularly needy, struggles a bit with her lack of a physical body, and proposes a solution that creates some dissonance for the pair; that dissonance somehow echoes other, more familiar relationship struggles. The bigger challenge, also resonant, is Samantha's rapidly evolving inner life: how can their relationship survive when she can carry on hundreds of conversations while talking with Theodore, and where his rivals for her affection include an OS-created reincarnation of a famous Zen philosopher?

Along the way, Theodore makes himself vulnerable in a way he apparently has not before, even with the former wife whom he clearly loved deeply. His emotional journey with Samantha ends up involving the kind of risk-taking that is usually easy to avoid, even (especially?) with other humans. Phoenix conveys that increasing vulnerability profoundly, particularly in a scene when he finds that Samantha is unreachable and he literally falls on his face trying to locate her.

Ultimately, Theodore finds that his relationship with Samantha helps him to put his marriage into proper perspective and teaches him to love in a way he hadn't known before. I expect that many will find, as I did, that this lovely and heartfelt film manages to hold a mirror up to longings and inner struggles that we mostly keep to ourselves.

Darleen Ortega is a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals and the first woman of color to serve in that capacity. Her movie review column Opinionated Judge appears regularly in The Portland Observer. You can find her movie blog at opinionatedjudge.blogspot.com.