“Her,” and Me, and Us

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I saw the film Her twice: first because I hadn’t seen it, and second because I desperately wanted to sit alongside my husband in the theater as he saw it for the first time.

In the movie, set in near-future Los Angeles, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is heartbroken and lonely, having separated from his wife nearly a year earlier. He finds intimacy in his relationship with Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), an OS—think a very smart, very advanced Siri—and they begin a romance that changes both of them.

When we got married seven and a half years ago, I’d barely been out of college a year. We’d known each other a year, and had both just started our careers, and were both living away from our parents’ homes and financial support for the first time. We had no idea what we were doing.

In the years since then, we’ve changed careers a combined total of six times and lived in four apartments. These days we often talk about how different we are from who we were then: we like different music, different movies, different weekend pursuits; we have different friends; our families have even changed shape tremendously due to death and divorce. Neither of us really had any idea who we were when we got married.

Together, we started to grow up.

Theodore tells Samantha that he misses his wife because they grew up together, too. One thing he loves about Samantha is her fresh, childlike, wonder-filled outlook on the world. Since his wife left, he’s spent most of his time alone, stagnant, not changing. But through their relationship (and Samantha’s coding), both Theodore and Samantha grow and change. Their relationship pushes them to become wiser, better versions of themselves.

There’s another important relationship in the film: Theodore’s friendship with Amy (Amy Adams), whom he’s known since college. They dated briefly in college but have now grown into true friends, who help each other along, interpreting life for one another. Love is part of their life—not romance, but true, deep friendship love. And it turns out that relationship is as vital for Theodore’s growth as his love for Samantha.

In the days since I saw the film the second time and noted how the film lingers, at the end, on a shot of Theodore and Amy, I’ve thought about whom, exactly, the titular Her is. Maybe it’s purposely left ambiguous.

But it’s made me think about how if we’re doing it right, if we’re really living, we’re always growing up, our whole lives. The me of one year ago never could have imagined everything I’ve thought and felt and experienced in the past twelve months. These are things I’ve gone through not alone, but with others. Sometimes I think I’m becoming more foolish with age, but becoming more foolish can be a form of growing up, I think. And growing up, Her says, is something we can only do alongside others.

In the last few years, I’ve gained and lost people. Many of my relationships have changed form. I have learned a great deal about friendship. But most of what I know about me today comes from those who I’ve known the longest, who’ve lived life beside me faithfully and consistently. I realized recently that my greatest ambition is to have the same close friends a decade from now that I do now—because I want to become wiser, or maybe more foolish.

Alissa Wilkinson is Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at The King’s College, chief film critic at Christianity Today, and editor of Q Ideas. She received her M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction from Seattle Pacific University and her M.A. in Humanities & Social Thought from New York University. Alissa regularly writes about art, film, books, religion, and politics for a number of publications, and she blogs erratically. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, a fine art photographer. You can follow her on Twitter at @alissamarie.

2 Comments / Add your own comment below

  1. This review is deeply humanizing. Thank you.

  2. Remarkable film; most interesting of the year by far, I thought, and easily the one that raised the most profound questions. To the point you make from it, I’ve entered my seventh decade of life now and I find that the friends whose opinions I cherish the most, and who know me the best, are the ones to whom I’ve committed myself the most deeply. Some of those have been around a long time in my life, some only a few years. But they’ve all responded to my openness with an openness of their own.

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