Further thoughts on ‘Her’ by Spike Jonze

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the new Spike Jonze film, Her. The basis of the post was the different thoughts that occurred to me whilst watching the film, spanning from thoughts about technology to relationships and communication. Upon reflection I have thought about the film more and have realised one element that I liked about it the most: talking.

It’s an unconventional love story, taking place between a man and an operating system on a computer, but if you remove the idea of Samantha being a computer then the way she and Theodore fell in love seems more normal; they just started talking. That’s all they did, they had time to kill together and so just made conversation, talking about the smallest things. I think for a modern film to focus on this is very admirable.

Too many romantic films focus heavily upon physical appearance being the basis of characters falling in love. I’m red up of seeing boring and unimaginative films that are filled with comments like “oh my god he’s gorgeous!” or “hey dude she’s hot”. I found Her rather refreshing because it removes this element entirely, it wasn’t about physical appearance at all. In fact when Samantha sets up a scenario in which physical appearance comes in to the equation it doesn’t work, Theodore isn’t able to go through with it. There’s a real focus on the talking and it’s quite beautiful.

The film makes sense to me because of what happened between me and my girlfriend, Micaela, before we got together. We both attended a Halloween party last year, and this was the point in which I clearly liked her and people know about it. I had my friends constantly saying “kiss her! kiss her!”. I didn’t want to rush in to it in case she didn’t want to, so I decided to take my time. Now by this point I already thought she was beautiful, she had these I just kept drifting off in to, all I had to do was not embarrass myself  by being an idiot in conversation. We had spoken before many times but this was the stage in which I was thinking of making a move and so I had to choose my words carefully. And basically what ended up happening was that for the next three hours we were stood in the kitchen talking. It was really nice just to talk to someone without any distractions, and I fell in love. I fell absolutely head over heels. Granted it took another two weeks for me to pluck up the courage and kiss her, but I’m glad we shared the night of Halloween together, talking. It was one of those nights I look back on with great fondness, and I know I always will.

So, the point of raising that anecdote was to show that talking helped me not only find a girlfriend, but a best friend too, and that’s exactly what happens to Theodore in Her. I really liked how Jonze’s script was very dialogue heavy because it makes the relationship more believable, thus allowing you to build a connection with the characters. They’re three dimensional, so a sense of pathos is built at the right moments and then a lack of sympathy is even better placed.

Again like I said in the original post I like how the film doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, because it’s more realistic. I like the cyclical nature of the narrative; it was talking that started the relationship and then it’s talking that inevitably breaks it back down. It’s strong willed because it doesn’t try to explain the relationship in terms of fate; it clearly places the success and the failure of the film on human behaviour (and computer behaviour if you’re going to be picky and go down that route). It’s a rather Roman styled ending. It reminded me somewhat of Virgil’s Aeneid which is famous for having an abrupt ending because it displays the brutal reality of human behaviour. That’s what Her presents, it’s not an ending where scores are settled and people are happy, it’s more realistic than that. It’s aimed at a more mature audience who can handle what the real world is like without needing to dress it up and make you believe people are always happy.

Thinking about it the film reminds me very much of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in which Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke spend the entire film talking and building this relationship that’s somewhere between love and friendship. The two films have common ground because they’re based upon two people falling in love because they took and they talked. It’s like I said in my last blog post about film series in which I talked about Before Sunrise: sometimes the best weapon in a film maker’s arsenal is well written screenplay, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in Her as well.

The film also reminds me of Calvin from the film Ruby Sparks because much like he writes Ruby to be his ideal partner, Theodore has Samantha who is programmed to fulfil his every need. And in both cases the relationship doesn’t last, but I like that about the films. It shows how love isn’t about a checklist or criteria or even about controlling your partner; love is more uncertain than that. The two films deliver the same message about how falling in love is exciting because it’s unexpected. It’s like going to an airport and booking the first flight you see without knowing what you’ll do when you land. It’s about going out there without expectations, and finding something genuinely special. The problems faced by Theodore and Calvin arose because they expected too much of their partners and tried to mould them in to whatever they wanted them to be. If you look at films like the previously mentioned Before Sunrise it’s clear that the relationship worked because it was about loving someone for who they are, rather than for something they could be. And that’s a message I think we can all take away from the film.

I still maintain that I really like Her, it’s delicate and thought provoking and so proved to be a rather unique film experience. I’ve completed two blog posts on the film now and I still have more things to discuss so expect a third installment to follow in due course. The original blog post can be found on the link below:

https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/thoughts-and-analysis-of-her-by-spike-jonze/

But enough about me, I want to know what you think. I’m curious to know what other people have made of the film, so please feel free to leave a comment. If you leave a comment I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, either with a straight forward reply or with a blog post dedicated to you.

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Thoughts and analysis of “Her” by Spike Jonze

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This post was originally going to be a review of the film, sticking to my usual structure of going through cast, directing, writing and so on. But then I decided against that, because this film was different. It was a film that had me thinking constantly whilst watching it. The issues that were raised were very profound, and thought provoking, making difficult for me to actually give it a rating because I liked and disliked it on different levels.

It’s hard to describe the film to someone in basic terms without using the sentence “a man falls in love with his operating system”, because that it’s too basic, there is so much more to the film than just that. It’s not just about a lonely man who falls in love with a piece of technology, it’s about the human condition and what it actually means to be a human. I’ve never really been a fan of Spike Jonze so I did approach the film with caution, but I’m overjoyed to say that it completely raised my opinion of him as a writer. It is fantastically written, with a strong premiss and an even stronger screenplay the film is held together very nicely. I did have some concern because I have disagreed with the Academy’s choice for Best Screenplay in the past, but as someone who takes a great interest in script writing I would argue that this year’s choice was very well deserving and it’s the option I would have picked.

Firstly I would say to anyone who is thinking of watching the film it is very delicate. It’s set in the future with a glimpse in to the scenery you would expect to see in a science fiction film so visually it is very pleasing, particularly the use of colour and the prominent red throughout. However the film relies very heavily on the screenplay. There’s a lot of sequences where people just talk, but for me that is never a problem if it’s done well. In the case of “Her” I would argue that it is done very well. The characters are three dimensional and you develop a genuine connection with them, so when the character of Theodore, played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix, gets hurt then you feel sympathy for him. Jonze has added depth to the script so you develop this sense of pathos for both Theodore and his operating system, Samantha.

As I said before the film did raise some interesting points, and I actually started to keep a note of them as they occurred, for the purpose of going through them in detail. They’re linked to them film so if you have seen it you may understand a little bit more about it, if not then I promise there are no spoilers to follow.

Do we actually feel genuine emotion? – as Samantha points out her emotions are just pieces of programming that she has been designed with, so that could mean that humans are the same. If you think about it we are taught about different emotions as we grow and what their meanings are as a way of explaining how we’re feeling. So without being taught what they mean would we even experience feelings like love or hatred? And that’s what worries Samantha, the idea that she’s not actually feeling anything and it is all just down to design, it just made me think that maybe as humans we’re like this too.

Will technology actually get to be like this? Will machines talk to us in such an in depth manner like Samantha did to Theodore? – it was actually quite surprising just how fluently the operating system could talk, as if it were in a conversation. In turn this had me thinking, we’ve already got technology that speaks to us; Siri talks to us on our iPhones, escalators tell us to stand still and hold the edge, self service machines tell us to scan the next item, so will this go further in the future? I actually imagined being in a grocery shop and hearing a self service machine talking to a customer about the items they were buying, and it did give me a bit of a chuckle but again made me worried that this could happen. Some technology is designed to remove human contact, but we could take a step back again maybe.

People look worried when they see a man in love with his operating system, but we already have relationships like that today so it’s not all that bizarre – I was talking to people about the film before watching it and they all said the same thing “he falls in love with his computer? That’s a bit weird isn’t it?” If I’m being totally honest I don’t think it is weird. We live in a world where men and women have actual platonic relationships with a life sized dummy or doll and they can’t actually speak, so why can’t a man fall in love with something that can speak? In the film Theodore falls in love because his computer can speak. Surely that’s more normal than people who get married to their cars? But on the other hand, who’s to say what normal actually is?

Why do people get jealous when their partners talk to other people? – as the film develops we see it turn in a rather “Ruby Sparks” styled manner to the focus of the people in the relationship wanting to talk to others. As with most films that explore this topic it ends with either person being jealous, and it just had me thinking about why people get jealous in that scenario. We live on a planet with over seven billion other people who inhabit the surface, it’s an almost certainty that the person you love will have to interact with them at some point. For Samantha in the film it is different because she can listen to what her partner is saying and who he’s saying it to so paranoia can manifest somewhat, but with every day couples I can’t understand people who want their partners to talk to them and them alone.

“How can he be in love if he can’t see her?” – this is a question several people have asked me since watching the film and the answer is simple; it’s because they talk. I really liked how the film draws upon the point that physical appearance isn’t the most important factor in a relationship. I admire the character of Theodore because he is able to fall completely in love and maintain a relationship just by talking, which I think shows the true reality of what love is. I’m not understating the influence of physical attractiveness but Theodore clearly shows how language is key to falling in love. It’s not just about fancying someone, it’s about someone making you feel safe, making you smile, making you laugh, making you feel like you can be yourself around them and be accepted for who you are. I admit the scenes of phone sex are a misuse of the English Language, but aside from that he is a very clever man, with an impressive vocabulary and even more impressive ability to articulate.

The ending to a love film doesn’t always have to be happy – now for those who know me well enough you’ll know that if a romance film is done well then I will love it, I will absolutely love it, and one of the key factors that made me like “Her” so much was the ending. Now it’s not a spoiler to say that it has an unhappy ending because that’s just my own interpretation, but I rather liked the lack of poetic justice. I think it’s more realistic to show an ending that’s unhappy because too many romance films have happy endings that don’t represent life realistically. For me, I felt that “Her” presented the harsh reality and cold truth about love and relationships, but that only made the film more special.

What does it mean to be human? – I know it’s a bit heavy for a Tuesday morning, but the film does address the issue of the human condition and what it actually means to be human. It is an interesting topic and one that is explored in great depth within the film, to the point of Theodore and Samantha discussing the functions of a sigh. During conversation Samantha sighs quite heavily, which Theodore questions because he discusses how humans breath because they need oxygen, Samantha is a computer so why would she need to breath? It just makes you realise how tiny little things, like a sigh, can show just how human we all are. It reminded me very much of “Prometheus” in which the robot character of David fails to comprehend fear, excitement and most importantly the concept of faith. He even wears an oxygen unit when on the surface of the planet because he feels that it would make him appear more human, which again makes me wonder what it means to actually be human. All of the factors on the outside like smiling, laughing, crying they’re all just packaging. It’s more about how you feel.

What is our purpose? – it’s difficult to think about for us humans, whereas Samantha has a full understanding of who made her, why they made her and where she comes from. It makes me feel quite lost as a human because we don’t know why we’re here or how we even got here. It’s a chilling thought, but as Amy Adam’s character says in the film “I’ve come to realise we’re only here briefly, and while I’m here I want to allow myself joy, so f*** it”.

As I mentioned previously I did like the film and I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked it because I would say that it is a good film. It’s the first film in a very long time that made me think so much about different issues so it was quite a special experience for me, It’s delicate and well thought out with a terrific script, but I wouldn’t say it’s perfect. I know a lot of people didn’t like it and I can admit that it has got problems, which is why I want to view it for a second time to see if I feel the same way.

For the time being my opinion of Spike Jonze has improved and my opinion of the film is standing very tall indeed. I would recommend it to anybody who is looking for a good film. Regardless of whether you are interested in love films or not I would suggest watching it either way, you won’t be disappointed.

It was just refreshing to see a film that had a really good script as the most important element, and there are lines within the film that redeem it in my opinion. In fact I will leave you with the line from the film that I liked the most:

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt” her poster