Seeing Him through Her perspective
Starring Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore Twombly), Scarlett Johansson (Samantha), and Amy Adams (Amy), Spike Jonze explores the possibilities (and functionalities/benefits/limitations) of a romantic relationship evolving between a man and an operating system on his computer/cellular device: better known as Samantha. It is “Samantha” because in a list of hundreds of female names, that is the one the OS 1 liked best. I say evolving because the relationship is dynamic and changes throughout the course of the film as Samantha eventually becomes a multi-platform software and stretches her services to more than 600 users.
Where I see the brilliance of Her is in several key points.
The aesthetic is minimalist, trend setting, and believably futuristic – only in that little has changed in Spike Jonze’s world compared to the world as we know it presently. The film is simple. There is a man who has a job writing letters for people at an office and returns to his condo at night where he hangs out with his friend Amy or plays video games. The only technology that we see is the computer, the future of video games (projectors and motion sensors), and his cell phone – which resembles a classy leather-bound-silver-lined cigarette case. City dwellers connect to his character because he walks everywhere, takes public transit (city life), and his wardrobe circulates throughout the film. Simple, yet effective.
It is trend setting in that the world is clean, modern, and very uncharacteristic for a film set in L.A. – which is explained by the fact that the film was partially shot in Shanghai. There is a return to the 1940s fashion scene with high-cut tweed pants, solid bright colours and thick but groomed moustaches – slightly hipster? For a film with high production value, it strangely functions like our social media APPs today: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat. These APPS are designed for people to reach out to the world – to find some sort of “universal connectiveness” to other people. With the intellectual capabilities of OS 1, we only need to be connected to our software and we are satisfied. Theodore uses Samantha to connect to his surroundings. However, does this not make us even more isolated islands in our virtual worlds? Is he not even more removed from reality when he must consult his device for restaurant choices, dating advice, and career choices?
We know where he is and what he is doing and when he is doing things throughout the entire film. This is old news, but the way in which Jonze achieves this effect is new.
I want to say “film’s like this” rely on characters like Theodore who are perceptive to human emotions – though flawed in their own personal emotional lives – to progress the narrative forward. The main film that comes to my mind where I find this is also achieved is Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster 2006). When we think hard about the narrative perspective in Stranger Than Fiction, it belongs primarily to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), the novelist, and not Harold Crick (Will Ferrell). But the third person omniscient perspective allows us to see into Harold’s life, and see his actions before Karen is aware of them. In this sense, we can understand Jonze’s film through the eyes of Samantha. Theodore carries his cell phone in his breast pocket throughout the entire film – camera facing the world. We see Theodore through the lens of Jonze’s camera – calling attention to the fact that media is THE way we experience and see the world and how others see the world through our eyes. We instagram photos to show the world what WE are doing. Therefore, Theodore becomes a montage of videos/images that Samantha sees/experiences the world through. It is how she is able to develop into such a perfect companion for him.
“I thought this song could be a photograph that captures us in this moment of our lives” – Samantha (Johansson)
“I can see you in it” – Theodore (Phoenix)
“I am” – Samantha (Johansson
If you think this is farfetched, then ask yourself – why did Jonze cut to a black screen during Theodore’s and Samantha’s first cellular sexual experience together? Was he being tasteful or is it because we are limited to Samantha’s perspective? How do we experience Samantha’s climax, then? What is she seeing and feeling? How does this translate into our physical human world and our capabilities? This is where I found Jonze’s film so compelling – I felt my own limitations more than I saw Samantha’s limitations as a software program.
Where we warm up to Samantha as a character - as if she had a physical being and essence - the name remains highly cold and uninviting. Does it describe her as in "the woman from the past who got away?" Is it like Sherlock Holmes' "The Woman," a phrase used to describe Irene Adler? It has to be her because in reality Samantha only exists in Theodore's mind/life. Until she stretches across 600 other devices, she is solely HIS OS 1 software companion. Her is also describing a person without a physical presence. Samantha only exists in the clouds - something we as humans have a hard time picturing or even understanding. This is why the "song pictures" are so important in creating Samantha's identity and character in the film. It is the one thing we as humans and Samantha as a program can experience collectively - and even possibly experience in the same way.
There is a certain awkwardness and quirkiness that exists between humans and technology. Spike Jonze is good at cutting from Joaquin’s soliloquies and Samantha conversations to other people who are obsessively connected to their earpiece. Samantha’s organic ability to adapt to Theodore and eventually intellectually surpass his own character makes her seem more human. Theodore becomes a limited equation – a book to be read and understood through Samantha’s eyes. If human emotion is predictable, Jonze hyper-emphasizes this depressing thought by constantly calling attention to Theodore’s physical body and Samantha’s spiritual presence. Though unable to touch in a conventional sense, we are touched by Samantha’s character even if we can’t see her.
We feel something through her voice – through our hearing capabilities. Experience, then, moves past the form of visual media and enters into the world of sounds, music, and verbal dialogues. This is the brilliance of Her.
Your film enthusiast