There's something important here for Christians to note: whereas Samantha is pure knowledge, pure data, pure word, Christ is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). God could have chosen to reveal himself to us solely through cerebral means, offering concepts and knowledge to help us along (perhaps through an OS?). But instead he took on flesh to dwell with us relationally and incarnationally, breathing and eating and dying like we do. Immanuel. God-with-us. Does that make a difference?
It makes all the difference.
Samantha is with Theodore in a relational sense, to be sure. In whatever sense she is "real," she is really relational (Johansson's performance is remarkable). And yet her inability to be real in the flesh is finally too significant a barrier. We are incarnational beings, physical bodies within a physical world. By the end of Her, Theodore knows it and Jonze hammers it home: We were made for bodily, not digital, presence.
Her cautions against the Gnostic trajectory of humanity's digitization, but the film isn't a clarion critique or Jeremiad against technology. Her recognizes, as does this recent Apple Christmas commercial, that our relationship to technology is complex. The Her vision of artificial intelligence is less ominous than Kubrick's "Hal" and less tragic than Spielberg's A.I., but perhaps more instructive. Though Her hints at the ominous singularity (as in The Terminator's SkyNet), it is less about why we should fear thinking machines as it is what we can learn from observing them think.
Samantha's posture toward the world, awestruck and amazed by all that there is to take in and learn—is ultimately the greatest gift she gives Theodore. In a world where thinking and exploring are increasingly dispensable (computers do it for you!) and everyone seems satisfied to play video games and move, zombielike, from one "Asian fusion" restaurant to the next, the wide-eyed OS re-enchants Theodore to the tangible beauty around him.
In the film's powerful final scene, Theodore is present for the first time to the sherbet-tinted, gorgeously futuristic landscape of Los Angeles—shot with a soft glow by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema). Instead of walking through its elevated walkways distracted by his earpiece OS, he's unplugged, still, aware. Most importantly, he's alert to a transcendent reality outside of his iWorld. He's come alive to the miracle of un-mediated life and love.
Her is rated R primarily for sex and brief nudity. Three sex scenes depict various nontraditional sexual encounters, none of which are two actual bodies having intercourse. The most intense sex scene is actually only heard, not seen (the screen goes black, to reinforce that the sexual encounter is wholly imaginary and taking place inside Theodore's head). The sex in the film is explicit almost entirely on an auditory level. The film is also heavy on profanity, with prolific usage of the f-word and the rest.
Brett McCracken is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist, and author of the books Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker, 2010) and Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty (Baker, 2013). You can follow him @brettmccracken.