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Her and the Dimensions of Human Experience

2014 January 20

her movie



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!

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. kyley permalink
    January 21, 2014

    I’ve been thinking about your question a lot myself, actually. I recently signed up for goodreads and went through to add all my favorite books from the past. And as I considered my “rating” for various books, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would feel about some of them if I read them today.

    Actually, I was specifically thinking it because of your thoughtful review (on goodreads) of “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” I read this as an 18 year old, and it blew my mind; everything in it was new to me. But for you, reading it later in life, it felt redundant and a bit dated. Similarly, I read “Eat, Pray, Love” at a sad place in my life (and a bit before all the hype) and even though I don’t actually think it’s a good book (and in many ways it’s a bad book), it was important and helpful to me.

    Anyway, this is a long comment, but I think that’s part of the beauty of books and movies: your reaction to them is always your own and things can hit you in just the right spot. There’s something really special about that.

  2. January 21, 2014

    Oh yes, I think movies, books, and art and how you feel about them are always a reflection of what’s going on in your life! Ironically, I think I remember us talking about this very same theme 10 years ago in our apartment!! Anyway, it remains true, and perhaps even more so in the challenging moments of our lives. I love Lost in Translation, for example, so much– and loved it even more the first time I moved to Paris… I admit to watching it at least ten times over six months, especially when I was feeling sad and lonely (though obviously it was different than what you are going through). It was so cathartic and exactly what I needed at that moment. I think when we are feeling vulnerable art is exactly what we need to remind us that we are not alone.

    Another great entry… keep up the good work.

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