Cinema-therapy is one of my favorite ways to alter my mood. I especially enjoy what I think of as ‘message movies’, that have a deeper purpose beyond their pure entertainment value. Ever since I saw previews for the Spike Jonze film Her, I knew that it would be more than just a fun night out with friends. As I am remembering sitting in the darkened theater, I felt completely drawn in to the story of Theodore Twombly, played both low key and passionately by Joachin Phoenix. He has matured as an actor from the days of his 1989 role in Parenthood in which he was the troubled son of Dianne Wiest’s sometimes befuddled mother, until he could play this role. As the movie begins, he is working at a job that I would love; writing letters for a company called Beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. (I had been a greeting card text writer for 6 years) He pens missives for other people’s relationships, waxing emotionally poetic. Ironic since he is unable to emote comfortably in his own life outside the office in futuristic L.A. He is in the midst of a painful divorce from his long time sweetheart who, in retrospective scenes is sometimes volatile and at others, sweet and lovingly demonstrative. His heart is both broken and shuttered and he seeks solace in the form of phone sex with a random woman; played by Kristen Wiig who has the female lead in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which I also reviewed for Beliefnet. His other primary human interactions are with his college friend Amy (played with earthy sweetness by Amy Adams) and her opinionated husband Charles (portrayed by Matt Letscher) who live in the same high rise building. The imagery of them riding up the elevator several times with a background of trees may be reflective of rising consciousness.
Dis-satisfied with the (blessedly, since an aspect of it was rather squirmy for this viewer) fleeting erotic encounter, he purchases a new computer installation called OS (Operating System) that is reputed to simplify the lives of the owners. In parts personal manager and disembodied friend, each one is tailored to the needs of the one who works with this malleable program. He has the option of a male or female voice for it and he chooses female. Enter the sultry toned Scarlett Johansson who calls herself Samantha; a name she personally selected after a lightning speed perusal of a list of baby girl names.
Initially their interactions are a bit formal, as they set up parameters, but in very short order, they become charmingly flirtatious and more intimate. She ‘senses’ his needs and attempts to meet them; he begins to feel a growing closeness that is more challenging with those in his life who have bodies and faces. Another unfulfilling experience occurs when on a blind date, he is offered an opportunity for the physical gratification that he misses. He stops short of diving in fully; even though the woman welcomes it, since he is not able to immerse emotionally. Refreshing to see that on some level, he wanted something more than a one time encounter, even if he was still skating on the surface of the pond.
As the movie continues to unfold, so too does Theodore’s heart. Samantha is becoming increasingly real to him and he takes her with him to the beach, to a wooded cabin around which snow is softly wafting, dashing through a carnival environment and on a picnic with friends. She tells him “I want to learn everything about everything,” as she begins to see the world through his eyes and interact with a realm outside her circuitry. In this society, this is considered a growing norm, since other people are viewed walking around with ear buds and mini computers, chatting with their own OS friends. The two of them have nearly every component of a ‘real’ relationships except the skin to skin contact. (oh, and paying bills and doing household chores) At one point, I wondered how they would manage the realities of Theodore aging and dying while Samantha could potentially be eternal.
I found the film to be profoundly spiritual and reflective of the power of heart to heart connection, even if one of the hearts (think the Tin Man or the character of Data on Star Trek The Next Generation) is mechanized. It raised one of many questions for me….do only bodies contain souls?
Samantha rapidly evolves over time until she becomes autonomous and makes decisions independent of her programming. Does she love Theodore any less because of it? Absolutely not. By freeing herself, she also frees him to become the man he would like to be. I questioned who was humanizing who. Who was becoming more real?
At one point, Theodore sadly ponders: “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.”
Samantha’s prose reflects what occurs in many human relationships: “It’s like I’m writing a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m writing it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed. I love you so much. But this is where I am now. And this who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can’t live your book any more.”
Philosopher Alan Watts who died in 1973 plays a cameo role later on in the film as this bridge between Eastern thought and the Western mind, acts as a guide for Samantha to span her own conscious evolution.
Her is deeply spiritual and explores the nature of relationship with ourselves and those in our lives, regardless of the form they take.
As I was writing this, I was delighted to see that Joaquin and Spike both received Golden Globe nominations for their work in the movie, which also got nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
http://youtu.be/9teBt8bu5OY The Moon Song (from the Soundtrack of Her)
http://youtu.be/dJTU48_yghs Trailer for Her