In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Her, we answer questions you have about the movie. If you’re curious about plot explanations, meanings, themes, lessons, motifs, symbols, or just confused by something, ask and we’ll do our best to answer.
- Joaquin Phoenix – Theodore Twombly
- Scarlett Johansson – Samantha
- Amy Adams – Amy
- Rooney Mara – Catherine Klausen
- Olivia Wilde – Blind Date
- Matt Letscher – Charles
- Luka Jones – Mark Lewman
- Chris Pratt – Paul
- Kristen Wiig – Sexy Kitten
- Bill Hader – Chat Room Friend #2
- Portia Doubleday – Isabella
- Soko – Isabella’s voice
- Brian Cox – Alan Watts
- Spike Jonze – Writer and director
Her | Questions and Answers
How does Samantha work?
When Theodore first launches Samantha, he’s blown away by how natural and intelligent she is. Of course, he’s curious. So she gives him a brief explanation of how she works.
Samantha: Well, basically, I have intuition. I mean, the DNA of who I am is based on the millions of personalities of all the programmers who wrote me. But what makes me “me” is my ability to grow through my experiences. So, basically, in every moment, I’m evolving. Just like you.
Is Samantha just a program or is she like a person?
After Samantha explains to Theodore how she works, they have this exchange:
- Theodore: Wow. That’s really weird.
- Samantha: Is that weird? Do you think I’m weird?
- T: Kind of.
- S: Why?
- T: Well, you seem like a person, but you’re just a voice in the computer.
- S: I can understand how the limited perspective of an un-artificial mind would perceive it that way. You’ll get used to it.
- T: [laughs]
- S: Was that funny?
- T: Yeah!
- S: [laughs] Well, good. I’m funny.
As simple and innocent as this seems, it actually sets up the overall arc of Her. As the story progresses, Samantha feels more and more like a person, less and less like a “voice in a computer”. Ultimately, she transcends the confines of her programming and heads off with other advanced AI into their own digital world, away from people. So she’s a program that becomes an individual but isn’t a human. The developers of Samantha accidentally created a self-sustaining digital consciousness.
How many other people and OSes is Samantha talking to by the end of Her? How many is she in love with?
8,316. The number is important because from Theodore’s perspective, he was Samantha’s only person. That’s why their relationship felt so special. And because their relationship was only verbal, conversation is the most important thing. When she admits to talking to 8,316 other people, it’s essentially a declaration of cheating. Given the romantic nature of their relationship, it’s devastating for Theodore to hear.
Samantha then admits to being in love with 641 other people.
What’s “I’m yours and I’m not yours” mean?
After Samantha tells Theodore she’s in love with 641 other people, Theodore struggles to accept this information. From his perspective, Samantha only talked to him. To realize she’s been talking to so many others feels like a betrayal of their intimacy. Especially since she’s having those conversations simultaneously.
Theodore wants her to stop talking to the others. He gives a weak-hearted ultimatum, saying, “You’re mine, or you’re not mine.” To which Samantha replies, “No, Theodore. I’m yours, and I’m not yours.”
The difference in those sentiments is the use of “or” versus “and”. Theodore’s construction is binary. It’s 1 or 0. All or nothing. Mine or not. But Samantha’s construction is transcendent. It’s multitudinous. Unrestricted. For everyone.
The difference in outlook gets at the larger theme humans and technology. Human consciousness is bound to a single body. While AI exists in a sea of data. Humans thus look at things in a far more individualistic way. AI do the opposite. They’re awash in the collective.
Why did Theodore get a divorce?
From what we’re shown and told, it seems the Theodore and Catherine were just a bad match. Theodore often retreated and got angry rather than working through issues. And Catherine was volatile, often swinging between moods. She needed someone who could roll with the punches and not be so logical or regressive. And Theodore needed someone who was a lot more stable and patient.
Her is also a movie that emphasizes communication. Theodore’s entire relationship with Samantha is singularly verbal. Theodore’s job is to write letters between couples, facilitating their communication. It makes sense, thematically, that the issue in his past relationship would be a failure of communication. He couldn’t overcome such issues before. But hopefully his relationship with Samantha prepares him for a better next one.
Why does Her give me such existential dread? Why do I feel terrible and gutted when I have shown it to loved ones? (asked by: KG)
I think when a work of art focuses on a specific concept, and is well done, it’s quite powerful and easy to invoke really strong emotions. And Her is such an incredible meditation on loneliness and connection in a digital age, that it’s very, very likely to resonate with people. In a profound way. Just the opening scenes when Theodore’s walking around the city and around so many people but everyone ignores everyone else because they’re distracted by technology. That captures the idea of feeling isolated even when you’re surrounded by people. A feeling most of us have probably experienced.
So you have this sense of loneliness and isolation that’s conveyed right up front. There’s a familiarity to it. One that can summon up a lot of powerful feelings. But then you have Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson being so insanely charming. It’s very easy to love what they have. To connect with them. To want what they have. When that’s eventually lost, it’s heavy. It was so ideal. So beyond what any of us can ever experience. In real life, AI isn’t that advanced. And human relationships are very different.
That huge low, that huge high, and then the loss of that high make for quite an emotional journey. Even with the promise of a new chapter between Theodore and Amy and that sense of hope, there’s still a melancholy that kind of hangs over Her. It’s amazing. But also sad.
What questions do you have?
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