I want to start this post by very clearly stating that I like Scarlett Johansson. A lot. I appreciate her immensely as an actor, and she has hardly ever been in a movie that I didn’t like (Match Point and Ghost World are favorites, though).
I saw Spike Jonze’s new movie “Her” last week, and there is no doubt that the movie has stuck with me. It isn’t often that you see a movie that is essentially a love story, where the attention to scenographic detail is so large you feel like you could watch the sets and the outfits by themselves just for the sheer inventiveness. The something or other post 2020 setting is impeccable, and it brings an incredible amount of depth to the movie, because it makes us realize that since this isn’t exactly contemporary, it can also be slightly different in other way, for example the way people relate to each other.
Unless you’ve been living under a cultural rock, you know what this movie is about, and this post won’t contain massive spoilers. A guy falls in love with his new operating system (OS). What sets this new system apart is that it is able to learn very quickly from experience things like what is funny, what is socially acceptable etc. This is an extremely interesting idea with enormous subversive potential. Can you imagine that? Falling in love with a voice. It is then, a “person” that exists in your mind and has no physical manifestation meaning no gender identifiers, no race, no clothing to signal wealth or poverty, no body that is fat or skinny.
Johansson has a very characteristic voice, and it has definitely been no secret to audiences that she was voicing the OS. Thus I knew that she would be the voice when I went to the theatre, but my somewhat non-internet savvy friend did not, but still recognized it immediately (which, if you knew her, you would know was a testament to how memorable it is). It is somewhat raspy, definitely very sexy and intimate.
All these things are fine except for the fact that it made a great-ish movie out of something that could have been fantastic (yet probably more difficult).
Let me explain: Scarlett Johansson has a body. Maybe you can go so far as to say that she has one of the most famous bodies in the world. This lessened my experience, seeing as I did not fully understand what was actually going on in the protagonist’s mind, how staggering it must be, how groundbreaking, to actually fall in love with something that cannot be grasped. Because to me, the OS was just Scarlett Johansson inside a box. I would never “spend” imagination on imagining her as looking different than I already know she does, so I didn’t get to join Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix) in using his imagination to create this person in his mind. A task which to me is the most revolutionizing in the movie. People have phonesex, skypesex, sexting etc, but it is all rounded out by the fact that they know that somewhere, out there, there is a flesh and blood body. Actually, a person having online sex with a stranger somehow knows less than we did; they have to imagine a vision of the person themselves. I didn’t have to do that in Her. Every time I heard her voice, I saw Johansson in front of me, vividly. Theodore didn’t.
It took away from the movie for me. It made it less different, less imaginatively demanding from the audience. It made what could have been a female protagonist that stepped outside borders of normative beauty ideals as, well, just another movie where a guy falls in love with Scarlett Johansson (I’m being harsh now, it retains its edge but why so much sugar on the spoon with the medicine?)