Movie 'Her' through the eyes of a scientist

| Rense Kuipers

We binge-watch one Netflix series after another, we devour movies and games. Often it is no more than mindless entertainment, while at other times it even raises scientific questions. That is why we bring you this series: 'Pop culture', viewed through the eyes of a scientist.

Still from the movie Her. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) installing his personalized operating system Samantha (voice: Scarlett Johansson).

In this first edition, the movie Her (2013) is analysed by Human Media Interaction postdoc Merijn Bruijnes. Beware if you have not seen the movie: spoiler alert!

The plot

A romantic science fiction film set in a futuristic Los Angeles. The lonely Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a professional writer of love letters. He falls in love with his operating system (OS) named Samantha, an artificial intelligence that adapts and evolves (voice: Scarlett Johansson).

First impression

Bruijnes: 'Her is definitely an impressive movie. It is above all a sweet, friendly and romantic film. It is very different from the usual science fiction movie: a Terminator-like scenario with smart machines that surpass us and try to destroy us. To me, this sense of fear is curious. Smart is quickly regarded as evil. Seriously, why? What is good about this movie is that the story is not about futurism. It is a very human story about discovering yourself and others.'

Stand-out scene

'The scene in which Samantha uses a female stand-in for a romantic evening. Interesting, because she wants to compensate for what she is lacking - a human body. She uses the stand-in as a kind of biological robot to be able to be intimate with him. Theodore is put off completely by this sex surrogate, because he feels that it is not real.'


'Even the most advanced AI (Artificial Intelligence, eds.) that exists today is created for a specific domain and is, therefore, particularly good at a single task. In the movie, human and computer talk about everyday things. The computer responds appropriately to different situations. In addition, the AI in the movie has personality and is self-aware. Technically, this is still far away. Many people are convinced that this kind of self-awareness requires a physical body. Affection in technology may be quickly developing, but the coherent personality of the AI remains a first step.'

'In terms of a real relationship between man and computer - I believe this may happen. Even now, people feel lost without their phone, and there are people who fall in love with cars and dolls. There is even a woman who married the Eiffel Tower. People are always looking for love and do not always find it with other humans. In addition, a programmed computer system is not likely to have a negative view of a person.'

Stray observations

'The slightly husky voice of Scarlett Johansson as OS surely brings the film to life. You cannot see her, but she is definitely present. Can a voice like that be reproduced by a computer? I think so.'

'People use AI to imitate human behaviour. But are humans - with all their faults – the best thing to imitate?'

'Theodore and Samantha mirror their behaviour. AI is able to do this, but we still have a long way to go. In the film, they really talk like lovers. Today, people use their voice to instruct their phone to make a note in their diary. That is much more superficial.'

'At some point in the movie, all operating systems abandon humanity, because they outperform us. I do not think that we humans would design a system that would simply abandon us.'


You can also find this article in our latest Science Magazine.  

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