Fairly Decent Reasons Why ‘Her’ Isn’t Sexist

Winner of Best Original Screenplay at this year’s Academy Awards, Spike Jonze’s Her is a winningly unique ROM-com boasting achingly human joy and melancholy, as Steve so eloquently put it in his five star review. But for a movie about a man who, essentially, buys and falls in love with an ‘artificial’ female companion, it’s bound to raise a few feminist questions.

Alex Casey and Liam Maguren have a spoilery chat about the film and provide some fairly decent reasons why Her isn’t sexist. You’ll want to see the film before reading on – luckily, Her is currently playing nationwide (check for session times).

Liam: As a white, introverted male who constantly snuggles in his own misery, I was ready to embrace ‘Her’ with open arms. And I loved it. But I suppose I’m the target audience.

Alex: As an angry white female, I was all ready to snap Joaquin’s horn-rimmed glasses and smash my computer screen with a hammer. That’s what happens when you read too many think pieces before watching something yourself. But I didn’t do any of those things. I bloody loved it. But I also think, I am probably a part of the target audience right?

Given that you’re a film-lover or a love-lover?

Both. Also a Joaquin-lover and a high-pants-lover. And that’s why I think I have sort of lost objectivity here because I literally fell in love with that stupid movie.

Is that where masculinity is heading in 20 years time? With Joaquin’s mo’ and a grandad wedgie?

It really seems like it huh. It seems by the time the future arrives we will be very cool and androgynous and wear many loafers in the style of Amy Adams. Or, we won’t. And be all dressed up and very ‘now’ like Olivia Wilde. Or, different again and be cool and corporate like Rooney Mara. Options, ladies! Basically, although what I described there was superficial, I thought they did a fine job of representing different kinds of women.

You’re also going to need to find 4000 synonyms for cool, by the way.

And we’ll look back and laugh at the absurdity of prior gender roles with the videogame ‘Perfect Mum’.

Exactly. I thought that was genius work. All those little nods made me realise just how considered the film is and how limiting it is to instantly accuse it of being sexist. I also felt the videogames were quite the hotbed for the nods. Also when the little sweary demon goes “girls just cry all the time.”

A good slam at the still very unfortunately sexist gaming culture.

Yeah, that little freak marshmallow guy spitting truths. But also the truth is, the girls in the movie do cry all the time. But you know who else does? Joaquin. The future is crying. Maybe that’s why the pants are so high, so all these sensitive men can easily mop up their tears with satchels full of tissues.

That also explains why mop moustaches are so popular – they soak up the sorrow.

The forecast is tears.

With a chance of whimpering.

Do you think there are any alpha-males in the movie? Is it the receptionist?

Chris Pratt’s character? At first I thought so, but then he commented so deeply about how he wanted to be loved by Theodore. But by a chick. Written by him. Perhaps the future phases out alpha status.

It really seems like it. Even the fact that he is a receptionist is rare, progressive, interesting, cutting edge.

A receptionist at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, which is a bloody overt mouthful of a URL.

Charles definitely isn’t; he had the highest pants in the game. Maybe that’s why he went to be a monk so he could wear muslin underpants and give his crotch a break for five seconds.

There was even a shot where the frame was struggling to reach his belt-line.

He was the most unlikable character on planet earth. I mean, it was very, very sad that they broke up, but oh man…

It was interesting, however, that the little things he tried to do to control Amy were the things that gave her the agency to finally leave him.

We’ve somehow managed to talk about every key character in the film except for the titular ‘Her’ – Scar-Jo’s Samantha.

I think a lot of the varying criticisms of Samantha differ based on how willing you are to accept that she is a separate independent entity. And to be honest, I haven’t really decided myself.

It’s an interesting split – some are invested to Sam as a viable relationship partner while others laugh it off as a dude dating his phone. It’s telling when one part of the audience accept an off-hand comment about Sam and Theo having sex while another part chuckle about it.

Exactly. It’s where it goes once the relationship starts. There’s no denying the fact that Sam is bought and serves Theo as a female possession are the giant red flags for feminist critique. And I agree that they exist. But it get harder and harder to argue that Theo owns Sam in any way. And towards the end when she disappears briefly and he does this massive prat-fall, it was pretty clear that she had 100% owned him.

It even played against his own understanding of the relationship when he said “But you’re mine!” Which should make it clear to everyone that love isn’t about possession.

Yeah, I think that crazy possessive and really confused spiral that he goes down eliminates some of that male dominance/ownership even more. I read a critique that was mad that Sam did all this “unpaid labour” e.g. sorting through his emails and stuff. I found that was quite weird, almost like people had forgotten that she does start out as a functional and useful operating tool.

She even transcends her original ‘functionality’ through her desire to learn about the world and herself.

“If this movie was called ‘Him’ and the roles were reversed, do you feel it would alter the story significantly? For one, phones have a vibrating function.”

Other critiques slam this ‘exuberant fascination of the world’ as the typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl persona, except it’s not typical. In other films like ‘Garden State’ and ‘500 Days of Summer’, that persona is associated to a human whom we are introduced to, making that persona seem disingenuous and more of a convenience to the story. But with ‘Her’, we witness the growth of Samantha from her initial conception, making her version of that persona feel organic.

Exactly. Samantha kind of embodied, to me anyway, the ascendency of female progress from the past into the future.

Or doesn’t embody. No body. Represents should we say.

She starts in a place of subordination and servitude, and as she learns and expands, she’s like “See ya, fool. Forward all my mail to the space between words (e.g. some cosmic place you cant even imagine).”

So that’s why I agree she isn’t a manic pixie thing. You can’t make an Operating System wear a vintage dress or grow a front fringe.

Or give your OS a sex surrogate. Unless you’re into hilariously awkward sexual confrontations.

Oh, how terrible what that whole thing? Very dire indeed. Isn’t it interesting that the one visual “sex scene” onscreen is so clumsy and just does not work out at all? I think if it had, that would strengthen the argument of the female and the female body existing only for male pleasure yada yada. But the whole thing is just so sad and tense and very, very aware of the territory it’s in.

You nailed it. I felt more comfortable listening to the dead-cat-ophile. However, if this movie was called ‘Him’ and the roles were reversed, do you feel it would alter the story significantly? For one, phones have a vibrating function.

It’s also quite a phallic shape. Sick.

This is something I thought a lot about, switching it around. I really don’t think the audience would buy into the male in that subservient OS role as quickly. And that’s sad, but true. Did you notice there were no male OSs in the movie? One is alluded to, and that revived philosopher doesnt count.

A lot of people don’t even realise that you can change Siri’s voice to a Sir.

Yeah it’s weird, like we all bought into Bicentennial Man. Or was that just me. I have a very big crush on Robin Williams as Bicentennial Man.

Oh my god, I’m Theo.

There are heaps of examples of helpful “male” technologies/systems. Jeeves from Ask Jeeves. Microsoft Sam. The Word paperclip. Definitely male.

I also feel that if the OS was male, they’d play up his robotic side more to further segregate the subservient “fake” male to the real human male. But I’m just pondering.

Yeah. He couldn’t just be this normal guy who is like,

Also, if there was a phone sex scene, it would seem unbelievably predatory and aggressive, I think. And would the blogosphere would probably swallow itself whole in a tornado of rage. Also important to note that all that surrogate malarchy, the phone sex and that weird diagram of the armpit anal sex, that was all Samantha’s instigation.

The internet would have erupted had it been Theo who instigated. That would have entered into blurred lines territory.

Sick. Imagine a male OS voiced by Robin Thicke.

That would be the most annoying phone in the world. You put it on silent during a movie, it doesn’t comply. You tell it not to send that embarrassing selfie to your mother, it doesn’t comply. It does whatever the hell it want, because it believes you want it to.

You tell it to not twerk on a young person, it doesn’t comply.

It does whatever the hell it wants because it vaguely believes it wants you to.

Samantha is a voyeur a lot of the time. She likes to watch him sleep. She likes to watch him dance. She likes to draw perverted arm butthole formations.

Just like Edward Cullen.

It’s an interesting switcheroo. We only get Theo as a voyeur at the start when he is being a massive perve at those pregnancy pictures. Which is a pretty funny and light-hearted scene that gets uncomfortable and weird later when he reimagines it.

That’s because it travels to the undignified place of the male sexual mind – the same, lonely imagination corner he needs to go to in order to be aroused.

And then later, he doesn’t need anything at all. Having one of the sexiest female voices on the planet might help a bit. Imagine if Samantha was Fran Drescher

There’s actually a parody trailer that replaces Sam’s voice with Philip Seymour Hoffman (re: ‘The Master’) – a week or so before he died. Pretty shitty timing.

It’s okay because PSH is alive in the future as the voice of the OS advertising campaign. The future also has wooden computers. Which is very steampunk, very retro, very pastiche.

Complements the moustaches and shirt colours louder than the voices of the hipsters who wear them. The best/saddest part of it all is how believable these future trends are. It’s almost offensive.

It’s all about coloured shirts, coloured panels. Feel like Spike put so much time into his coloured windowpanes he forgot about making sure there were different coloured people in his movie. Everyone is white apart from “co-worker smiling at desk” and “concerned Asian on street.” I hope that isn’t a believable trend.

And the groovy black busker movin’ and jivin’ during Theo’s moment of contemplation. Theo didn’t give him any chance, by the way.

True, forgot about him. And temporarily dressing Amy Adams up weirdly as a mexican gangster does not count, Spike.

At least it’s comforting for me to know that being white in the future means I can own a sweet-as apartment on the freelance writer’s salary.

I thought that was quite sweet as well, the reverting back to “old” mediums like letters via new mediums. I was alarmed that he managed to get a physical book printed though.

I’m going to work on opening a printing press asap. Just let me crunch the numbers on my abacus.

“The big difference is that the OS isn’t “looking” like Theo is. It comes down to that idea of consent.”

It’s interesting how Theo has this debate about whether his relationship with Sam is “real” or not, and yet, he fakes sincerity all the time within the relationships of paying customers via those beautiful letters.

Exactly. And that he can only write his “real” letter at the very end, after having his “real” relationship with Sam. That blurring of real and fake relationships also takes into consideration the evolution of online relationships and the like.

Online dating sites are designed to find a partner tailor-fitted to your desires, and when Theo first starts up his OS, the system is doing just that. To fall in love with a “program” so perfectly slotted into your personality may seem “crazy”, but as Amy points out, love is a socially-acceptable form of insanity. So what’s the difference?

I never felt like the love itself was different, but I guess the big difference is that the OS isn’t “looking” like Theo is. It comes down to that idea of consent. But the film knew this, and acknowledge it through that little aside about someone in the office hitting on their OS and constantly getting turned away.

That’s the thing about this movie, it’s like it has pre-empted all the problems that could arise. So, if someone yells “But the OS can’t consent to sex!” the movie yells back “Yes it can! Here’s one here that just wants to play sudoku and cuddle!”

Totally. You can criticize the fact that it’s told from a male perspective like so many other romance films of its ilk, and it’s not wrong to be weary of that. However, that’s a criticism of Hollywood itself – the fact that so few women have their say in the grand cinematic universe – rather than a criticism of ‘Her’.

Yeah, there’s no denying that it still plays into these longstanding confines, but it is so hyper-aware that it falls somewhere else on the scale. I mean, it’s not S1M0NE for crying out loud.

The ending to ‘Her’ confused me initially but I think I understand it now.

After conversing with her “think group” of OSes, Sam alludes to having a far deeper understanding of love than Theodore does. He’s simply the words, but she’s in the space between words. When Theo opened up to Sam, he mentioned his fear of never being able to feel beyond the extent of love he felt for his former wife – he felt like he had hit the humanly limit. But Sam said that this was not true, and by example, Sam had ascended past Theo in his understanding of love.

So when he enters that rooftop and looks around the city, it suggest a further exploration into our own humanly affection – one that we often take for granted.

True. At its core, it is all just about human emotion. And it also got me thinking, for all the gadgets and the earpieces and things, is all this technology, rather than isolating, actually giving us a deeper understanding of ourselves and therefore everyone and all of humanity?

Maybe. Maybe not.

‘Her’ is still playing nationwide and you should do yourself a solid and watch it. Twice.