Today it is almost impossible to go about without technology readily by our side. From smart phones to laptops and watches that now do more than just tell time, we are tied to technology one way or another. We have established relationships of entertainment, work and even a relationship of dependency with these technologies. In Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) this relationship with technology is explored in terms of actual affection and love.
Director Spike Jonze previously directed the children’s book adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are in 2009. Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as the lonely Theodore and the voice of Scarlett Johansson as Samantha, the operating system Theodore falls in love with. Additional actors that lend their voices include Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Spike Jonze himself as the foul mouthed alien boy.
At its time of release, Her was received very well by critics with many nominations and awards. Most notably Spike Jonze won the Oscar for best original screenplay in 2014. It was also nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score and Best Achievement in Production Design that same year.
Her follows a recently divorced Theodore as he develops an unlikely relationship with a new operating system Samantha in the not too distant future. The OS is marketed as, “its not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness”. Eventually Theodore succumbs to Samantha’s charm and falls in love with her. From sexual frustrations to discussing “what are we?”, both Theodore and Samantha experience the trial and errors many traditional couples go through.
I want shed a special light on the line of work the hopeless romantic Theodore find himself in the movie. Basically Theodore writes letters of affection disguised as his clients to their loved ones. He crafts the art of eloquently describing love from one to another. A master at what he does, Theodore creates personal connections (remembering the smallest of details) to those that he writes for despite never actually meeting them. It then begs the question, “how can he struggle in his own relationships when he is so successful in other’s?”
A key difference between his line of work and his own relationships is the harsh realities love brings. At work Theodore is devoid from the arguments, the disagreements and the general unpleasantness that come with loving another. As a result Theodore succeeds in love in times of blissfulness, but fails when faced by confrontations.
Theodore struggles with removing those rose colored glasses when it comes to his own relationships; as seen through the flashbacks of his ex-wife and his refusal to sign the divorce papers. So when it comes to facing anything unpleasant Theodore shuns away and only hopes it to go away on its own.
So what does Theodore’s juxtaposition of his successful love in his work versus his struggles in his own love life convey? Perhaps love is not always meant to be all sunshine and puppies? Maybe a loving relationship has its times of darkness and uncertainties. When Theodore eventually unravels his relationships with his ex-wife and Samantha, he begins to understand that the hardships were an intricate part of relationships just as the blissfulness was. The darkness and uncertainties of a loving relationship push us to a greater self-discovery, as Theodore realizes in the end.
Despite its futuristic backdrop and setting, the movie is still very much about the human condition rather than the rise and fall of some super-intelligent machine. The movie puts on display the different kinds of love we experience throughout life. We see friendship love through Theodore and his friends as well as love and fulfillment in one’s work. But Her also comments on types of love we are sometimes not so readily to discussed or even acknowledged.
As mentioned before, Theodore struggles with letting go his ex-wife go and all those warm feelings. But by the end he comes to terms with their relationship and even admits that he can still have love for her despite not being together. When he and Samantha break up Theodore reflects on a greater love he could have ever imagined; the love for one’s self. That’s why rather than lamenting their breaking up, Theodore realizes his growth with Samantha and understands that falling in love with yourself can be an equally beautiful thing.