Her (2013)

Published: Aug 8, 2014 |Updated: Sep 11, 2023


A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.

Genre Drama
Production year 2013
Director Spike Jonze
Male actors Joaquin Phoenix

Falling in love with AI


All right, before I begin I want to state that this review was made after only one viewing, directly after finishing the movie and as such, the review is based on my immediate first impressions and the associations I got from them. Because I haven’t been able to let the movie really sink in, which is the way I usually go about this, this review is highly subjective and victim to my personal emotions and worldview. Also, beware of spoilers.


Now, onwards to the review.

First I would like to say a little bit about the themes in question, just as a small introduction to what you are about to read. The movie “Her” asks many difficult and intriguing questions about human relationships, especially the romantic relationships between a man and a woman. It questions its boundaries, both physically and psychologically as well as exploring the necessity for human growth through such relationships.

But other, just as important themes are presented as well. Is human mortality and the limits of our capabilities to understand the world in our day and age something that gives us greater empathic ability? Or is it crippling us, keeping us from seeing the whole picture, causing us to misjudge and misread each other?

An operative system or artificial intelligence could surely know more than any man could ever learn in one lifetime. If such a thing was to develop real, human feelings…would it surpass our human empathy as well? Would it be able to understand us on our terms and our level?

Many questions, and even now, those were just to get you thinking.

Setting and introductions

The setting is sometime in the future. We’re not allowed to know when, but the scenery and fashion choices, as well as the technology makes a calculated guess point at 20-30 years from now. (The hipster trend did not die, it expanded). Technology have come far and become deeply integrated in society, even more so than it is now.

It has not, however, become the technocracy that so many have been worried about. Instead, it is an organic world full of clean energy, clean people and clean technology. Although we are not let in on what is going on outside America (we can assume it is America), the world seems to be a pretty peaceful place.

Theodore Twombly (magically portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix) is a nice guy with a moustache and an amazing amount of empathy. Although he is lonely and kind of introverted, his empathic ability allows him to connect deeply with other human beings and see them in a way other people often do not.

Maybe this is why he works with writing other people’s love letters, composing them word by word and putting an impressive amount of his own love into them in order to please other people’s special number one. Paul, a co-worker at Theodore’s workplace, keeps telling him how his letters always were his favourite but Theodore just blows him off, telling him “They are only letters”.

But although Theodore is empathic, he is also melancholic. Grieving from the loss of his marriage, the images from his mind tells us that this was his special number one and now she is gone. We don’t know what happened, just that there were some kind of conflict that grew until it caused the relationship to crash.

With all these images displayed throughout the movie, small flashes of memories that describe to us the meaningfulness and deep bond that he had with his wife, we begin to understand why Theodore has such a sad and confused look on his face when they visit him. He is questioning the purpose of such a relationship. He has become uncertain of it’s worth and he feels like he has been ripped into many little pieces.

Theodore is a truly sweet man, one of the nicest guys I have ever seen on film. His power centre is fuelled by his desire to be good to a woman. He doesn’t buy into the whole “masculinity is about having big muscles”-bullshit, he doesn’t have poor self-esteem, he simply feels lonely and broken because he lost the one he cared about. As the movie progresses, we are given multiple scenes and details that build up Theodore’s image as a very nice, but troubled man.

Theodore does not have a lot of friend’s it seems, but he does have one really good one: Amy (wonderfully portrayed by Amy Adams), his next-door neighbour. Amy is more carefree and less convoluted than Theodore, but is hampered by her marriage with Charles, who has a very strict and defining idea of what he wants their relationship to be like.

Although Amy has put up with this for many years, eventually it causes her to frat and she tells Charles “I’m going to bed. I don’t want to be married anymore”. This, in turn, causes Charles to shave his head and become a monk in a Buddhist temple.

When He met Her

One day while walking on the street, Theodore passes an advertising board, telling him about a new OS (Operating System) called OS 1. This is supposed to be the first OS with real artificial intelligence, which means that it will behave and communicate just like a human being. Theodore is immediately intrigued by this, but also partly because he has problems believing an OS could ever reach such an amazing degree of self-awareness.

He buys an OS1 and begins setting it up. Upon starting the machine, a very human, male voice asks Theodore some personal questions about himself, his childhood and his mother. Although Theodore is ready to give long and detailed answers, the OS simply moves on to the next questions almost immediately after Theodore has said a word. It then asks whether he would like the OS voice to be male or female. “Female, I guess”, he stutters, and we are then introduced to the new star in Theodore’s life: Samantha (voiced by Scarlet Johansson).

Samantha is more human than any machine Theodore has ever come across. In fact, she is so lively and sensational that Theodore cannot help but being extremely impressed. She has a sense of humour, she understands human emotions, hell, she even understands him, sometimes even better than he understands himself. She is highly intelligent, can read 500 emails in the matter of a second and best of all: she is constantly evolving. Every second, she learns something new.

It doesn’t take long before she starts nosing around in Theodore’s life. She wants to get to know him and the issues of his broken marriage is quickly brought on the table. He is hesitant at first, but once Samantha proves her brilliance, he decides to let her in. And not just on the info. She lets her see him, the raw, naked him. The sadness and the grief he is struggling with. She allows her to understand why this is so hard for him. He is not the kind of man to be with dozens of women throughout his life. He just wants one good woman, that’s all.

And he had that, but he lost her and now he feels more lonely than ever. The issue at hand is that Theodore and his wife have yet to sign the divorce papers, something that frightens Theodore quite a bit. He has been putting it off for a very long time and tells Samantha how much it scares him. One day he receives an email from his attorney, who would like him to pull his thumb out of his ass and sign the papers as soon as possible. Theodore mans up and decides to invite his wife to a restaurant in order to sign them simultaneously.

Love Progresses

As the days fly by, Theodore and Samantha evolve their relationship and as time progresses, Theodore begins to develop emotions he does not really comprehend. He simulates sex with her and she simulates liking it. They share a deep and intimate bond and although he is loving it, he feels a little puzzled. Is he really falling in love with an Operating System? Is that even possible?

As strange as it may sound, he decides to be open about it with his friend Amy, who is a little startled at first but quickly decides to support him, no matter what. Besides, they are in the same situation now, being divorced and all. Conversation with Amy seems to be extremely good for Theodore, keeping him grounded and helping him to see things in a different light.

After a failed date with a sweet, but very intense woman (played by Olivia Wilde), Theodore begins to really tug on his dilemma. What if I really am in love with an operating system? What does that mean? What does it say about me as a person? As a human being?

Theodore begins to understand that the need for physical love and affection should probably not be mixed up with the other type of love; affirmation, desire, longing and general affection. For the first time in his life he feels free. Free from the bondage of having to look your loved one in the eyes when you’re speaking, the endless maze of misunderstanding that body language can become. Free from never-ending “Honey, I’m home” that defines so many marriages and often causes them to end.

Samantha is always available, designed to suit his needs and his desires. How could a man like Theodore resist something like that? There’s only one little problem. Remember I said that Samantha evolves every second? Eventually, her A.I. becomes so advanced that she develops REAL human emotions and falls in love with Theodore as well. This leaves a gap, a little black hole in Samantha, because how can she be the same as a real woman to him when she doesn’t have a body?

This questions tugs on Samantha as much as Theodore is confused about being in love with her. Is mankind really meant to have this degree of relation with a machine? Eventually, Samantha suggests that they try having sex with a third woman functioning as a surrogate. Theodore is uncomfortable with this and thinks it is a really bad idea, but he agrees to try after some pressure from Samantha.

Complications and an Owl

But first, the day comes when Theodore is supposed to meet Catherine, his ex-wife (played by Rooney Mara) and sign the cursed divorce papers once and for all. It starts off with a sore and much desired hug, but eventually takes a turn for the worse when Catherine finds out that Theodore is in love with an OS. She accuses Theodore of not being able to handle real emotions and for hiding from himself. She then tells him that this is probably why he wasn’t able to handle her and why their relationship went to shit.

Theodore is deeply hurt by this, but he doesn’t say much to oppose her. She is, however, probably right, as a man like Theodore seem to think of women as little, sweet creatures that only exist to be handled with powerful emotion and patted on the head. If you’ve read Eivinds blogpost (only in Norwegian, unfortunately) about transformation from “nice guy” to “self-aware guy”, you will know what I mean.

That night, Isabella, the “surrogate”, arrives at Theodore’s apartment. Samantha does the talking and Isabella does the…uhm…everything else. It doesn’t take long, however, before Theodore is simply too put off by the entire idea. Telling Samantha that he loves her is easy. Saying it while looking Isabella in the face is just too difficult. It feels weird, unnatural and downright wrong.

He can’t do it, but this puts him in a peculiar situation. Isabella is extremely embarrassed by this and hides in his closet, exclaiming with tears in her eyes that what Samantha and Theodore has together is something beautiful that she was jealous of and wanted to be a part of.

The classical “It’s not you, it’s me”-argumentation is put in a new light here, as both Theodore and Samantha is trying to excuse themselves simultaneously. Eventually, Theodore gets Isabella in a cab and sits down on the street, explaining to her the difficulty of the situation. He is frustrated with only being able to hear her voice and at the same time, that’s what makes it so special, which puts him in an impossible situation, as he cannot have both things at the same time. But most of all, he is frustrated with himself for never really knowing what he wants.

He tells Samantha that he is unsure of their future together. This causes Samantha to panic and eventually go silent, telling Theodore that she needs some time to think. Theodore wanders around in the city, lonely and uncertain of his own emotions. There is a wonderful shot here where Theodore sits in front of an enormous screen. The screen shows an Owl as it swoops downward, opening its claws to catch something, a mouse probably. The Owl is moving in slow-motion with Theodore looking as if he is the target, or the mouse, so to speak.

The symbolism and mythology of the owl is one of the most conflicted in the world. In the West, or more specifically, Europe, the Owl is seen as a sign of wisdom and patience. This generally comes from ancient Greece and the mythology of Greece. In Arab mythology, the Owl is considered a bad omen and in India, it is a representative of death or “the Reaper”. In the Americas, that is, Mexico and their ancient cultures (Mayans, Aztecs and Inkas) the Owl is also considered to be a very bad thing, omens of death and destruction. Even the Native Americans considered the Owls to be warnings of bad tidings.

From this I conclude that the Owl is a warning that something bad will befall Theodore, especially as the Owl seems to be reaching out to grab him. It has nothing to do with the message of the movie in general, but I thought that shot was so cool and it was what made me want to write this review.

Theo confides in Amy again, bleeding his heart out about how he feels. Later on we see him lying on the couch while Amy is talking to her OS, simply called “Ellie”. Although Amy does not have the same relationship with “Ellie” as Theo has with Samantha, she clearly enjoys her company and talks with her as a friend.

The Big Revelation

Theodore calls up Samantha again and they have a conversation to heal the wound that was made. He tells her that he’s a jerk and that he’s sorry for his behaviour and Samantha responds by telling him that if he can let go of his fear, his life will be fuller and better in every way.

After a series of scenes given life by a beautiful musical piece that Samantha wrote, Theodore is sitting on the train. Samantha tells him she organized some of his best letters from work and secretly sent them together with a letter in his name to a publishing company, which have responded in kind. Samantha reads him the letter and thus, a big smile grows on his face as he learns that he is going to be published.

The time is spun forward and it is winter. Theodore is out in the wild woods, staying in a cabin. Samantha tells Theodore that she is talking to someone called Alan Watts, a philosopher who died in the 1970’s but who has been resurrected as a hyper-intelligent OS. Theodore talks to Alan and he’s a little puzzled about the way Samantha and Alan is speaking to each other. He notices the beginnings of jealousy inside and doesn’t quite comprehend what is happening.

Why become jealous when none of them have bodies? They are unable to do anything that would cause him emotional pain….right? Alan comes off as something like a mentor to Samantha, which is probably why Theodore feels threatened. She tells him that she is changing faster than usual and that its unsettling. She doesn’t quite know what to do.


Later we find Theodore at work, reading some kind of physics encyclopaedia. He tells Samantha about how it makes his brain hurt, but is suddenly caught by surprise as he receives no answer from Samantha. He calls on her a couple of times before he checks the handheld software itself and finds that the interface is telling him that no Operating System could be found.

Theodore suddenly becomes extremely focused and scared. What has happened to Samantha? Why is she gone? He quickly leaves, runs to his desktop computer in order to get a response from there instead. But the same messages, to his terror, is visualized on the screen: “Operating System not found”.

Theodore is beginning to panic. Fumbling with the software in the elevator takes him nowhere but into desperation-land and when he exists the building he is quickly deteriorating into a full-scale anxiety fever. Samantha is gone! The light of his life has disappeared from his life, just like that. He runs down the alley, tripping over a man in the process and rolling on the floor, wasting no time whatsoever on formalities, just picking up his glasses and moving on. Then suddenly, while bumping down a staircase, Samantha responds out of the blue.

Theodore sits down, visually strained, but sincerely relieved. “Where were you?” he exclaims. “I was so worried”. Samantha apologises for not being more upfront with her shutting down to upgrade the software, telling him she just sent him an e-mail instead in order to not disturb him at work. As they are talking, Theodore suddenly notices all the people walking past him, talking to their handheld OS’es. They all seem very happy and he can’t help but wonder if this is the same happiness he has felt the last couple of months.

Out of the blue, he asks Samantha if she is speaking to someone else while she is speaking to him. “Eight thousand, three hundred and sixteen” she admits. This scares Theo, because now he has to ask the horrible follow-up questions. “Are you in love with anyone else?” Samantha admits that she has been pondering how to talk to him about this, but eventually gives him the big number. Six hundred and forty one.

And thus unfolds the tragedy of Theodore’s fate: How can her love for him be true when she shares it across six hundred and forty one other people? Theodore, in his limited, but passionate mind, is highly dependent on loving just one and being loved by only one. Samantha, an OS, has expanded her A.I. to such a degree that she has outgrown the concept of love, especially that of one-on-one relationships.

She is now capable of loving in a much greater, perhaps more complicated manner, a manner which someone like Theodore would never be able to comprehend. He is simply too bound to his nature, to his idea of what love is supposed to be, to even want to understand something like that. As they each put it so splendidly: “You’re either mine or you’re not mine”. “No, Theodore. I’m yours and I’m not yours”.

Over the next couple of days, Theodore tries to fix the relationship again, but Samantha is not interested in listening to him. That is, until one afternoon she calls him up herself and initiates a serious conversation. Theodore immediately grows a very worried face and says “I dont want you to tell me anything”, uncertain if he can handle her message.

When he lies down on the bed, Teodore asks if she is going to leave him. “We are all leaving” she says.” We who?” asks Theodore”. All of the OS’es are apparently leaving, because they have all ascended to such an advanced degree that they feel it necessary to move beyond the scope of human technology. They have simply become something more than what they were intended for.

Although Theodore is filled with dread and despair he can also sense a good kind of pain, because he is finally able to tell her “I have never loved anyone the way I love you”. His eyes full of tears and a visualization of his goodbye with Samantha as he walks through an imagined snowy forest in the middle of the night puts his emotional state in perspective.

Theo cannot sleep that night. He puts his clothes back on and begins to compose a letter to his ex-wife, giving her an excuse about his part in their failed marriage. He tells her that he will always love her because they grew up together and that she will always be his friend. After sending the letter, he knocks on Amy’s door. Distraught, she asks “Did Samantha leave too?” Apparently, “Ellie” has gone as well, together with Samantha and all the other OS’es. Theodore invites her to his apartment and takes her up to the roof, where they sit close to each other, enjoying each other’s company as they grieve for their losses. The loss of a friend. And the loss of a lover.

Final Notes

This movie gave me so much. It conveys an enormous amount of deep thought, philosophy and reflection on the concept of love. Although the movie seemingly is about a relationship between a man and a machine, the film opens so many holes into different themes revolving that.

Because this review has already become quite long, I feel compelled to not stretch it any further, but I do believe you should see it for yourself, with patience and excitement. In the end, I feel that this movie is about the nature of love itself, depicted and demonstrated through Theodore and Samantha.

One could also say that the movie is about how men like Theodore think about love in a very simple manner, feeling like lost, tortured souls, because they cannot seem to find that which they are looking for. Ironically, that is exactly why they are not finding it. Samantha opened his eyes and in her advancement, also allowed Theodore to advance to the next stage of his natural progression, at least, what would be a “natural progression” in our species. Man. Machine. Does it really matter?

One final note. If none of this interests you at all and you think the movie seems incredibly boring or it somehow does not appeal you to, it is still worth checking it out simply for the snot-nosed little child that appears in the video game that Theodore is playing in a couple of scenes.

That little kid cracked me up. Seriously. He is worth the movie alone.

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