This week Andrew, Kyle, and Ryan will be discussing the one scene from each of the films that they feel clenched their nomination for the Best Picture Oscar. *Some spoilers to follow*
Her is a movie that reveals a lot of the most surprising things about the future society it presents in sly, understated moments. One of my favorite of these is when Theodore Twombly (the Phoenix character) tells his friend (Amy Adams) about his relationship with Samantha—instead of a reaction confirming how unconventional or uncomfortable this is, she says she's happy for him and starts to talk about other people she knows who are “in a relationship with an OS.”
I mention this scene not because it's the one I think clenched Her's Best Picture nomination, but because it's the first instance I remember of the film beginning to teach viewers how to experience it in this way. The society we're seeing onscreen is in fact only a small step removed from our own in most ways—which lures us into a susceptible, unsuspecting state for later revelations—but in their acceptance of and relationship to new AI technology like Samantha, the characters of Her have made a very explicit leap contemporary viewers may be uncomfortable admitting to. This sets the groundwork for the scene I think got the movie its nomination: the one in which Samantha reveals to Twombly that she is simultaneously interacting with, and even maintaining relationships with hundreds (it may be thousands) of other people.
The scene functions to forcibly collide a number of the film's overlapping themes into one revelatory and complicated moment. On a basic emotional level, we get to experience the feeling of betrayal that Twombly feels after finally, following a hard breakup, beginning to feel secure in a new relationship again. Does this new knowledge invalidate or cheapen what has come before? Does the relationship suddenly mean less to Theodore knowing he has been “sharing” Samantha? But then there is also the hard reminder here that Samantha is, after all, not a human being, a fact that we tend to forget along with the other characters. Twombly's shock (and by proxy our own shock) that Samantha would be “unfaithful”—that she would violate an implicit understanding of a conventional human relationship—serves to push back in our face the willingness with which we accepted her as anything other than technology.
This scene works so well because it not only pushes the narrative forward and sets events in motion that can lead to an emotional resolution at the end of the film, but because it establishes the stakes for the story. Samantha doesn't exist simply to illustrate the (potentially) problematic nature of our assimilation of technology into the way we live our lives—she exists to actually transcend the way we live. The most disturbing thing about Her is that in the end humanity is left behind. The journey experienced over the course of the narrative isn't really Twombly's cliched “learning to love again” story, but that of Samantha's (and the other OSes) evolution into something more advanced—and the above scene allows Jonze to frame that end-point in a way that, at least on the surface, is sentimental and sweet rather than terrifying.