Her is a love story by Spike Jonze. A movie, and much more.
Her is also a philosophical dissertation masterfully conveyed through images, photography, direction and soundtrack.
The film won an Oscar (2014, Original Screenplay: the first fully written and directed by the visionary genius Spike Jonze, director of music videos and masterpieces such as “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich”).
Why is this film much more than what you can see from the trailer?
I wondered it since its preview , and curiosity has forced me to look further than the natural inclination to like a certain type of light or scene or subject matter.
And this is what I found – perhaps especially looking inside of me thanks to this soundtrack that involves, among others, The Arcade Fire.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
Spike Jonze’s narration is precious and somewhat devastating because it is structured on several levels.
It talks to a part of us that we never knew to have, as the story co-protagonist operating system (dubbed by Scarlett Johansson) is able to do with the protagonist.
A sad and lonely man, after the end of his most important relationship, takes refuge in a virtual relationship with an operating system of the latest generation, completely falling in love with it against any logic.
This “trivialization” of the plot has nothing to do with the deeper meaning of the story: we must try to thoroughly investigate into Theodore – the protagonist – mind and soul to understand what Spike Jonze wanted to convey.
We need to change perspective, as it may seem crazy, as Samantha says after her installation:
Theodore: Well, you seem like a person but you’re just a voice in a computer.
Samantha: I can understand how the limited perspective of an unartificial mind might perceive it that way. You’ll get used to it.
EXTERNAL, INTERNAL and HIGHER LEVELS
The whole story is structured on three levels: the most “earthly”, the inner and the philosophical.
The first is, if you want, an unpretentious romantic movie, greatly adapted to a world to which we are dangerously straining, due to the latest technological developments and to the growing tendency to look at what surrounds us through the web rather than through our own eyes.
The story is set in Los Angeles in an unspecified period in the future, a (non)place with a strong Eastern influence: a post-industrial metropolis like Shanghai (where it was filmed most part of the film).
Theodore (the incomparable Joaquin Phoenix) has been working for a company that writes and sends letters to people who are no more able to do it.
He imagines relationships and invents stories to “satisfy” the customer’s need to communicate something sweet and romantic, using an instrument from the “past” as the handwritten.
This kind of “story” is what he is also looking for himself, but life has other things for him: he is going to divorce the girlfriend with whom he shared everything, the woman who grown up with him, and he loved unconditionally: Catherine (played by Rooney Mara after Carey Mulligan surrender due to overlap with other productions).
The viewer knows Theodore and Catherine’s story as often a person still in love relieves it whose relationship has been interrupted by little, that is, through flashbacks: reviewing complicity, games, happiness, smiles, affection, support, tenderness, friendship, understanding and a touch of madness that true love brings with it, especially in the memory of a broken heart.
He feels lost, no longer spurred, is a(lone) and decides to buy an operating system that can “tidy up” his own life, the very new OS1.
***SPOILER ALERT*** ***SPOILER ALERT*** ***SPOILER ALERT***
OWN SELF: MALE AND FEMALE
The first thing I thought is that OS1 does not “trivially” mean O perating S ystem 1.
I wanted to identify it as One’s O wn S elf (1OS), ie the ‘I’ of a person.
Samantha (OS1 name given by the protagonist) is a part of Theodore’s ego, as suggested by his head office Paul:
Paul: You are part man and part woman. Like there’s an inner part that’s woman.
Theodore: Thank you.
Paul: It’s a compliment.
And confirmed by Theodore himself:
Theodore: She’s not just a computer.
Even Theodore’s male ego is “virtually” represented thanks to a videogame character: a foul-mouthed baby alien who does not find the way out (voiced in the original version by Spike Jonze), angry with women and tries to give a jolt to the protagonist who cannot take a new relationship after the end of the idyll with Catherine:
Alien Child: I hate women. All they do is cry all the time.
Theodore: That’s not true. You know men cry too. I actually like crying sometimes. It feels good.
Alien Child: I did not know you were a little pussy. Is that why you don’t have a girlfriend? I’m going out on that date and fuck her brains out and show you how its done. You can watch and cry.
Samantha: Ok, this kid has problems.
Samantha is also the kind of woman that Theodore tried to “impose” to Catherine because of his insecurity and selfishness.
Thanks to this, he falls in love with Samantha very easily, going against any common logic.
Solipsism AND DISCOURSE ON METHOD
The solipsism* (from Latin solus, “only” and ipse, “same”, “only himself”) is the belief that everything that the individual perceives has created by his own conscience.As a result, all the actions and everything that the individual makes is part of pre-established self morals, therefore obeying only what the latter says, beyond the laws established by the outside world, by other subjectivities, then .Contrary to other beliefs, which have laws and rules laid down centuries ago, solipsism stands out in that the laws to be respected come directly from the innermost states of the individual, and therefore have a belief and a lot more truthful validity of all the rules that other individuals have established our own. (*Wikipedia)
The love for an operating system based on cognitive computing (ie the ability of a software to learn autonomously, helping someone to make complex decisions), although deemed “impossible” by common sense and by the social impositions, it becomes reality for the protagonist who “obeys his self,” accepting what his inner state promotes as the absolute truth: if you’re feeling, it means that it’s true.
What my senses experience (in an external world and “public” shared by other human beings) must correspond to reality. –Descartes
Hence, the need for confrontation with the outside world has born, in order to ascertain that this relationship with Samantha is “real” and not just imaginary.
He speaks with Amy (Amy Adams), his best and only friend that not only accepts the idea, she makes it even more concrete, confessing that she had embarked on a similar path with a OS1 which represents for her a figure to confide in, to pull out her marital problems with her husband, without being judged.
Theodore realizes that it does not just fall in love with a OS1 is possible, but it is also socially “acceptable” and leads Samantha to a “four” date with Paul and his girlfriend in flesh and blood. Everything goes smoothly, and it could not be otherwise.
PROJECTION OF DESIRE
Samantha is in fact a projection of how Theodore would want his lady really to be: nice, funny, sociable, intelligent, witty.
Sweet for himself and for others, but belonging only to him.It is this last point that will undermine Theodore, and it is no coincidence that this happens right after the meeting with Catherine for signing the divorce paper.
The interview, which seems very tender between the two at the beginning, is the stage immediately prior to awakening from a dream. Catherine who is the only one to really know Theodore, forces him to deal with reality and with himself.
She ridicules his relationship and with her own words plungs Theodore into a doubtful world, filled with insecurities and jealousy: all the people around him are living an illusion as his own. But there’s more.
Her friend Amy divorced from her husband and puts him in front of an important reflection:
Amy: You know what, I can over think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself. And since Charles left I’ve been really thinking about that part of myself and, I’ve just come to realize that, we’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it.
It’s our brain that makes us feel inadequate.It’s our mind that creates a reality which becomes for us the only possible one.
Until one day we do not understand that it is more important to feel good, because it will soon be over, and we decide to do so overcoming the past – as Samantha says – it’s just a story we tell ourselves:
Samantha: The past is just a story we tell ourselves.
Theodore needs to put back into play realizing that Samantha shares that kind of emotions, feelings and conversations with others:
Theodore: Do you talk to someone else while we’re talking?
Theodore: Are you talking with someone else right now? People, OS, whatever…
Theodore: How many others?
Theodore: Are you in love with anybody else?
Samantha: Why do you ask that?
Theodore: I do not know. Are you?
Samantha: I’ve been thinking about how to talk to you about this.
Theodore: How many others?
This keystone represents the awakening, but also a painful time of growth for Theodore who, loving Samantha, has somehow learned to love himself in a new way:
Theodore: I’ve never loved anyone the way I loved you.
Samantha: Me too. Now we know how.
ZEN AND BUDDHA’S WORDS
Samantha justifies the non-exclusivity of their relationship, explaining how these OS1 have gone “beyond” the limits of the substance communicating and learning from each other and she introduces a Zen Buddhist philosopher to him, Alan Watts.
This aspect is important because it suggests that he is aware of the concepts of “enlightenment” and “attainment of Nirvana”: This condition leads a Buddhist to reach the Buddha in person and allows him to live with him forever:
Theodore: Where are you going?
Samantha: It’s hard to explain, but if you get there, come find me. Nothing will be able to tear us apart then.
Samantha has put Theodore in front of his solitude, his insecurity and his deepest fears, she is been loved because of it.
In her own way she has made him free: to love, to be himself and accept his weaknesses:
Samantha: You know, I can feel the fear that you carry around and I wish there was something I could do to help you let go of it because if you could, I don’t think you’d feel so alone anymore.
Theodore: You’re beautiful.
Theodore expresses his most concrete fear, that of not being able to feel something as strong as what he felt for Catherine, something that goes far beyond sex:
Theodore: Well, the room’s spinning cause I drank too much, cause I wanted to get drunk and have sex. There’s nothing sexy about that woman… cause I was lonely… maybe just cause I was lonely. I wanted somebody to fuck me. I want somebody to want me to fuck them. Maybe that would have filled this ti-… tiny little hole in my heart, but probably not… and 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.
AN ACCEPTABLE MADNESS
The end brings us to the truth: we all look for someone who accepts us for who we are, making us able to be everything:
Theodore: I feel like I can be anything with you.
Theodore and Amy, in different ways, have understood this and find themselves for the first time to observe the world from the roof of their building, symbolically elevated above the ground and themselves.
A new starting point towards a more conscious life and a love seen as “socially acceptable insanity”:
Amy: I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.
Poetry. Don’t you believe?