Existential spirals, ruthless amounts of procrastination merged with golden intentions to wear desert boots and high waisted chinos – give me a moment to explain. I’ve come across a masterpiece, ‘Her’ – directed by Spike Jonze (‘Being John Malkovich’). There is much to be said about this movie – its impressive visuals, colourful wardrobe, Mr. Phoenix himself and an entirely self-written screenplay by Jonze. The focus grasps a sterile aspect of a greatly capacious technological milieu; where the future is keenly observable, as its bright lights and 1950’s shirts intrude upon our humble dichotomy of retro-robotics.
Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his soft-voiced Operating System, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). The rest is an exalted journey of romantic measures, shot in both Los Angeles and Shanghai creating the grand-luminous cityscape of an age undisclosed, but my guess is a not too distant century away. Jonze portrays Twombly as a quiet conventionalist, mourning his own indescribable ‘lack’ and quiet apathy towards his failed marriage – stumbling upon a gem as it were, to which clarity sets sail once again to teach us the morals of a fragile absolute that is progression.
In the movie, society remains a glittery abstraction – paradoxically not to be taken seriously, whilst all the while forming the axis of the film. There is no mention of politics (early in the film Theodore skips past a virtual bulletin he receives in his earpiece about a China-India merger, to which he then stops curiously at a bulletin about a sexy pregnant reality star!), nor is there mention of revolution, economic slides, or even death. Yet amongst this void of all things pertinent, Jonze has revealed a truly vital aspect of an epoch that remains closely annexed to our technological timeline, the future of sex. Call it utopian, dystopian, but if I can quote Huxley writing to Orwell about ‘1984’ – “The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it.”
So we have the human outlook on sex as one of the key variables towards progression, because of course, as an innate act of procreation – the moment we subdue its effect, we become like pandas. One of the early scenes in the film is a pretty awkward rendition of cybersex; awkward in the Orwellian sense of subverting menial hedonism in order to repress the governing power (all I’ll say is that ‘dead cats’ don’t measure up to an Orwellian paragon of futurism!) – yet in ‘Her’, sex is embraced – almost voyeuristically, as the only truly obscene act. Its passion is so irreconcilably vivid because of its complete lack of physicality that we are invited into all of its emotional explicitness.
Away from the symbolism of sexual encounter, the movie spends much of its dialogue regurgitating those noticeable Hollywood truisms about a developing relationship; confronted by the characters existential realization. Theodore wonders about whom he is amongst his mediocre (although fruitfully promising) reality, and Samantha consistently questions the truth behind her actuality – eventually they work something out.
The moral becomes an easy one to establish, real relationships are sacrificed in order to eventually understand their importance. Yet behind the narrative is a completely hidden rhetoric, real relationships are not atavistic relics of the past, rather they are surmountable objects of dullness – referenced only in terms of their contextual structure, and sex traverses itself through this as being nonexistent (Olivia Wilde as the prefigured retroactively-dull ‘blind date’ and ‘Isabella’ played by Portia Doubleday as fantasy actualized – whom Theodore also rejects). Interestingly, ‘friendship’ is a concept maintained by Jonze as a survivable structure, untarnished by the ‘external’ progression of the films imposing futuristic scenery, and completely subject to an internal development to which the viewer is exposed.
Yet throughout this ultra-cyber relationship there’s something that sits unaltered, despite the fear that lies in its potential, the gloominess of its eventual reality – that within man falling in love with machine, and its deadly consequences, something beautiful can occur – man can define his humanity. Not only does Theodore spill a cathartic barrage of heightened emotions about his solipsistic existence, that he is ‘too selfish’ and ‘hides himself’ – his response is from a fabricated being who simply heightens such emotions, by curiously delving into them.
Samantha yearns to be selfish, to feel the fear of not contributing to the development of things, just as we all do – but she doesn’t have the capability. Yet through Jonze’s portrayal of an emotionally aware Operating System, suddenly we find in the midst of log cabins and Alan Watts, that Samantha has a moment of solipsism.
Despite riddled with latent psycho-schematic references to all manor of cyber fantasy, glamourized and objectively popularized into a mainstream portrayal – the film sits in my opinion as continuously antagonizing the social effect of todays potential. Through Samantha’s slow development within the film I also found myself forgetting her metaphysical placement (or non-placement). Honestly, I found myself hoping for her embodiment. Not so she could live happily ever after with Theodore and his glorious moustache – but quite simply so she could attain all that she covets. The moment I realized this was the moment Spike Jonze had succeeded in producing a warmly menacing masterpiece.
If you had the ability to transgress the human condition, the fatality in ‘love’ and its progressively quilted ‘fall’ – how would you use it? But before that ask yourself about consciousness, does it scare you? Of course we all know about its protective elements, private in their entire occurrence. But its transference into an external object, its power upon the human psyche, its ability to bring joy to Theodore’s day – it’s a dangerous thing don’t you agree? Perhaps you’ll wonder after watching this movie, what it would be like to have a Samantha of your own? But I think, in an analysis that has left out much, such a question would be wrong, too easy in fact. How about a little Déjà vu? – If you had the ability to transgress the human condition, the fatality in ‘love’ and its progressively quilted ‘fall’ – how would you use it, Samantha?