Her and the Dimensions of Human Experience
In the latest Spike Jonze movie, Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a lonely man in a somewhat ambiguous future who falls in love with his operating system. The premise sounds vaguely ridiculous. There have been many Siri jokes. And yet…Jonze manages to make the whole thing work. More than work–he manages to persuade the audience that such a love is possible.
“Samantha,” the artificially intelligent new-wave OS, is by Theodore’s side (or in his ear) whenever he needs her. She sorts his contacts, deletes thousands of useless emails, and reminds him of meetings at work. But most importantly, she gives him someone to talk to, someone who won’t judge him or make him feel small. For Theodore, a man who is grappling with a recent separation from his wife Catherine, this is essential, as he’s been unsuccessful in forging the same kinds of relationships with human women.
One of the reasons I went to see the movie was because a friend had seen it and had some interesting opinions about it. It intrigued me, and I enjoy Spike Jonze and Joaquin Phoenix, so I decided to check it out for myself. While I can see where she is coming from in her viewing of the film, I didn’t necessarily come away from the movie with the same ideas. Rather, I came away from it believing in the love story. I had fallen for Jonze’s story.
I really enjoyed the subtle rendering of the future–an all-too realistic looking future where everyone walks around talking to their phones, seemingly oblivious to the world around them, or at least the other people in it. For Theodore, his relationship with Samantha brings the world to life for him–her enthusiasm and hunger for learning more about the world is infectious and he “takes” her along for trips to the beach, a secluded cabin in the snowy woods, crowded trains. In a way, he is rediscovering the world through her.
But what I didn’t know going into the movie was how prominently Theodore’s divorce is featured. He split from his wife Catherine a year before, but has yet to sign the divorce papers. In an especially poignant scene, he tries to explain to Samantha why he hasn’t signed them yet, but gives up and says, “You don’t know what it’s like to lose someone you love.” And it’s a good thing that movie theaters are dark, because, tears.
It got me wondering, though, if I experienced the movie on a different level than my friends because of my own personal experience, what I happen to be going through at this very specific moment in time. Of course, this happens all the time–people experience art differently based on many different factors, among them life experience. But I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have felt the same things about the movie had I seen it, say, four months ago, or two years from now.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the movie, despite the sadness, and would recommend checking it out if you’re at all curious. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about it.
Do you feel like your reactions to movies, or books, or art is refracted through the lens of your life? Is that a good thing? Is watching a sad movie catharsis or masochism? Discuss!