“I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) gets an operating system for his life. Paving the way in technology the OS, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), becomes the literal voice in Theodore’s head. As Theodore copes with a messy divorce from his ex-wife (Rooney Mara), Samantha reminds him of all the great, terrible, and profound elements of falling in love.
This is a man with social opportunities at his fingertips all day long. He interacts with coworkers; social media offers ways to connect to others; and dating can be achieved with a few choice clicks through the gateway of the Internet.
So why is Theodore so lonely?
One lesser-known diagnosis is called objectophilia. This is when people fall in love with – sometimes even commit to or engage sexually with – everyday objects. These can be couches, walls, and even roller coasters. Some speculate that this is a type of paraphilia – meaning it is an illness. Some believe that sexual objectophilia is based in childhood trauma or has roots in abuse. Though bizarre, unusual often just translates to a lack of understanding. This is a disorder, or preference, that calls for more investigation.
Theodore may be so devastated from his pending divorce that falling in love with a computer system is a method of coping. This allows him to “act out” the mechanism of falling in love, but in a way that is safe. The lack of tactility may mean a more complicated (though not incomplete) sex life, but it also means a lack of some social cues that can trigger anxiety, such as eye rolls, frowns, or even the sight of someone crying. What is the most safe about this relationship is that Theodore perceives that he must be the only one in control, and therefore he does not have to expect the unexpected.
And Then There’s the Rest of Us
Her is pushing six years old now, and with each passing year, the message of the film reaches more of us at home. We have endless connections to make, yet we are all so lonely. It would be easy to pass on this notion as the product of instant gratification, but it might be more than that. Screens deceive us; they trick us into thinking we are connecting, but we miss the parts of connecting that remind us of our humanity. A sigh in a quiet room, the smell of someone’s body lotion (or their coffee breath), or the way a person bites their nails or shuffles their feet are the imperfect details of human connection that a screen fails to capture. The problem we have in a society crippled by anxiety and depression is that we are too afraid or worried about when these connections get messy (^watch that video). An Internet connection may buffer or glitch, but these connections are designed to be seamless.
This is the heart of the problem. Humans are disheveled beings; we say the wrong things; act strangely; laugh at jokes that are not objectively funny. But without human connection, an individual also loses a crucial part of themselves. Her furnishes the notion that we can be surrounded by other people and still be fighting to connect with them, locked inside ourselves and our virtual worlds, yet screaming for someone to notice us. In a way, the message is sad; have we lost our ability to connect?
No, of course not. We’re afraid because human connection is risky; we might get angry, feel ashamed, or feel pain. The wisdom that comes with loneliness is that we understand that the risk is worth taking if it means we might not have to stay lonely forever. Making a friend or falling in love does not happen every time, but when it does happen, those messy, imperfect interactions are worth the emotional investment.
The message of Her is really a hopeful one. This loneliness we all have is 100% curable, if we only risk an opportunity to say hi.