I have so many emotions running through my head right now, because this was perhaps what I needed most after having finished an entire year of college. It just felt so perfect for the moment because as soon as I finished, I felt a rush right through my head that was not like anything else that I had felt. After having gotten the chance to connect with so many other like-minded individuals that aren’t so far away, this final day almost feels like a blow – all of that has been taken away from me right on the spot. It feels like I have moved back into becoming the sort of person that I was always fearing I would be through my high school years once again, just a lonely, reclusive, sheltered person who had found the greatest joys one could ever feel through watching the movies for they have been my gateway to the world. Watching Her as I was about to enter this very moment almost felt like a bad idea because of what I still feel that I am not prepared for within my future. But if there were anything else that I would have wanted to say, I don’t know if I can be thankful enough that whenever I watch this movie, I always find myself in a state of comfort – one that I don’t know if I ever want to end.
The film introduces us to Theodore Twombly as he is writing what appears to be a romantic letter whilst reading it out – through an extreme close-up of his face. From that single expression that he shows us, we already have an idea of the state of life in which he is living. He is trapped. He is trapped by his loneliness, having recently divorced bitterly from a childhood sweetheart. But all of that changes quickly enough, for he installs an operating system that goes by the name of Samantha – with whom he forms a close bond. It would be easy enough to say that the very idea of Her is a weird one, but as you sit down watching Her, it soon becomes much easier to go past the way in which the film sounds to an average citizen and you will soon find yourself in store for what truly is one of the best romantic comedies of the decade. But right there also lies what is the greatest skill of a filmmaker like Spike Jonze, for he can make these bizarre environments feel so real – for watching Her and taking note of its futuristic setting, the experience still feels like something one knows that they have been through at one point within their lives.
With only four feature films out so far, I feel that it is still easy for me to say without hesitation that Spike Jonze is truly one of the best filmmakers of our time. The way in which he takes a bizarre concept like this, to turn it into one of the most intelligent and heartwarming commentaries about loneliness, reliance on technology, and the human condition ever to have been made within this time is absolutely astounding. One can generally count on the writing of Charlie Kaufman for a filmmaker whose visual style like that of Jonze’s can match perfectly with the odd nature of its concept to become something far more than what one would initially suspect it to be, but when you watch Her, you can already feel the extent to which Jonze has learned right from Kaufman’s writing. This being his first directorial effort for which he solely had written the screenplay, you can already feel every emotion being expressed so perfectly with every word which Jonze’s actors are reading out – but the greatest joy of watching Her is the way in which it shows Spike Jonze’s gift of drawing empathy from his audiences.
But why does it work so well from the outlook of what appears to be a man falling in love with the voice of an operating system? In the context of the movie, the first thing you would like to ask yourself is who “her” is. Beyond the look of what appears to be a man forming a romantic bond with the voice of an operating system, it also works from imagining “her” as an invisible person, one that is a collection of the memories of Theodore. Of course, the best way to ensure that Samantha would have a voice that would land is shown right from the casting of Scarlett Johansson – whose recognizable voice would already leave a distinct visual image inside of your head. As you watch Theodore and Samantha spend more time with one another, you do not see Samantha as the voice of his operating system anymore but rather as a memory that Theodore has been left shattered by. In the context of the film, with Theodore having gone through a breakup, it could be read as the start of the relationship with Samantha being one of the stages in him overcoming his own loneliness.
The most beautiful thing about Her comes by in the fact that “her” could be almost anyone – someone who is so close by or so far away, but there is this one distinct image being presented in front of your eyes because of the fact that of all people that could possibly be playing an unseen figure like Samantha, it was Scarlett Johansson. We are never told anything about “her” but we are left to assume that it is Samantha because we are also never told much about Samantha beyond being the operating system that keeps Theodore company inside of his home. “Her” is an image that we have inside our head because we see “her” as being the one for us to keep us the company that we need. The voice being emitted from the operating system is one layer to understanding what makes such a psychologically complex work present from Her, but maybe under the eyes of Spike Jonze we are not seeing Samantha as being just that from the surface. She is everything to Theodore, and perhaps this is how he still manages to find a way to keep into contact with the world outside.
In that very sense, you can come to see that the manner in which Jonze is portraying Theodore to his viewers makes him resonate because you can already recognize him to be an ordinary human being – much like one of us. An ordinary person still trying to find ways to overcome what he feels has been taken away from him in an instant, in search of that missing link. Joaquin Phoenix plays the role with such tenderness and you can already find yourself feeling within that environment in which he is within, trapped by his own loneliness. And it isn’t just the soft-spoken performance of Phoenix that exemplifies why it works so well in Jonze’s own favour, but also the colour scheme and how it encapsulates what it feels like to be within a place of comfort. This is a film that is built around its understanding of the human soul, how we find a place for ourselves anywhere we possibly can whether nearby or far away, real or not, because the way in which Spike Jonze understands such a concept shows that there is no limit defined by the very world that we live in. And it works beautifully from the way the film understands the feeling of loneliness and isolation, because it is not just merely limited to being only in the presence of yourself or within crowds, for it also catches up to you even when you’re together with other people and you struggle to find yourself connecting with what is going on.
There is one more recurring thought that lingers from watching Her that allows its impact to last. It asks us about what does it mean for one to emote, like that of a human being. It asks us about the very nature of love, but mixing it together with a commentary about humans and their relationships together with technology in the form of a relationship being formed together with an artificial intelligence rather than that of another human being whose physical presence we can feel. In the future, we can see that this is being presented as acceptable – but why would that be the case? When you observe why a film like Her works the way in which it does, you are looking at the way the mindset of our future works and it becomes captivating. To what degree will we all become so disconnected from reality, artificiality is the only way in which we know we can ever find ourselves finding a true sense of comfort? But even on Samantha’s end, she starts to feel the confusion that we would as caused by the very concept of love, yet we feel that too. It feels acceptable because Jonze sees that in what we can normally see as being artificial we can still find humanity – more so than we can expect from other human beings that are only indistinct faces moving along with the way society expects of them.
When I watch this movie, it almost feels so therapeutic. I spend so much time on my phone, whether it be on social media or just listening to music, I feel so disconnected even from people who I think that I talk with on the regular – whether it be up close or online. It feels therapeutic because of the way in which it presents this isolation as something to which we are all connected by, and having already finished my first year of college – saying goodbye to peers that I have met and connected with for a period of time, some maybe I may never see again, watching Her makes me feel thankful. It makes me feel thankful for all those opportunities that I have ever had with the countless people that I have become friends with, and by the time the film is over, I suddenly don’t feel so lonely anymore. It is a feeling that is best expressed by the final image of the movie, set to a calming score by Arcade Fire, and thus another sense of the connectedness within human beings only becomes much clearer. It never leaves with a definite answer, but sometimes that isn’t needed – because we know that is how life goes on.
As all my emotions start to crash through, I don’t really know how to put everything into place as I want to write a thank you to Spike Jonze. In what could easily have been a quirky concept what we get also happens to be one of the most thoughtful portraits about the way in which we see how love works. This film made me feel such comfort because it is made with such warmth and empathy, and it feels so rare for films of this sort. It only leaves me waiting all the more for Spike Jonze’s next movie, because of what he manages to create through such unique concepts, testing how well we truly know environments that we surround ourselves with. But even then, this isn’t my favourite of his work for I still favour his first two films penned by Charlie Kaufman over this, yet it is already clear how much he learned from directing Kaufman’s scripts. He learned how to test the limits of what we see as being possible and in the most bizarre ideas we feel an entire world that could very much be like our very own. Humanity doesn’t deserve such a gift to the world much like Spike Jonze from back when he started making music videos – and I don’t know if we do now. But I’m forever thankful that his creativity continues to produce films much like Her. For as I write all of this, I still feel as if I am in the position of Theodore Twombly, a broken soul who spends his time writing letters to capture their own feelings.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros. Pictures.
Directed by Spike Jonze
Screenplay by Spike Jonze
Produced by Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson
Release Year: 2013
Running Time: 126 minutes