I regretted not writing a review for the Tree of Life (2011) when it came out, but to be honest I couldn’t even put words in a legible sentence to give the film justice. Each time I think of that film I just know it’s good but can’t express the way it makes me feel as a person. The beneficial fulfilment I have from viewing it so many times. It’s really weird talking about films that way, that they can have this very strong affect on a person. It’s ridiculous that made up people, characters, can make me reassess my life, encapsulate that exact emotion and make me realise how I should be living my life. But then again, this realisation is nothing new for me.
A few years ago I had the exact discussion with a close friend about films and how the audience responds to themes, emotions, characters, and story lines. We spoke for hours into the early hours of the morning trying to understand how one another were reacting to films, and effectively how audiences did too.
It was difficult for me because I hadn’t really ever felt anything from films. I always had been assessing, understanding, and criticising them (compared to how I would have done them). I was brought up not believing everything in the media at a young age. I was raised on the media theories, why things happen, why characters do things in a storyline. Even my language of characters and storyline, I have disconnected myself from the film as a participant and am now an external body. I call this, “the filmmaker’s curse”. But I think one of the greatest achievements for a filmmaker is to break that curse. To make people like me feel again about characters, story lines, and their world. Tree of Life is one of those films, and now so too is Her (2013).
So I watched this film about a week ago now. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for about half of that too. I’ve tweeted about it, and even SnapChatted still from it. I’ve posted Facebook statuses and recommended it to people that I know wouldn’t even appreciate it. I feel people need to see it regardless of liking it or not. Like the Tree of Life, the more I think of it, the better it gets. I cannot get it out of my mind the resemblance it holds to our future, and current times. The film itself is simple, like really simple. A story of a man who falls in love with his operating system, only to fight and then divorce one another. There’s nothing more to it than that, but the way it presents itself is simply sublime.
We are set in a not too distant future where the lead character, Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix) works at a hand written card company, which really means it’s a place that makes him write cards for couples who want to show their affection to each other with the gesture of a handwritten card. But the fun part of this is that Theodore never actually writes a card with his hand, it’s always with the computer. A true reflection of how life is deceptive.
To continue, Theodore lives a fairly plain life until he purchases his new operating system (now referred as OS). He installs it and we have this great first encounter of human and singular technology. When Theodore asks the OS it’s name, it says Samantha. Immediately I thought, “yeah but this is a name that would have been programmed in.” Which we soon find out is a name Samantha (who is voiced by Scarlett Johansson – but initially voiced by Samantha Morton) that the OS chose herself. But living in an age of Siri and asking her some pretty personal questions I know those responses to be pre-programmed too. I was very skeptical. One thing I didn’t want this to be is a film about Theodore falling in love with an OS that is simply pre-programmed.
But Samantha is singular (meaning she has a mind of her own), and this is amazing. We’ve all seen HAL 9000, and he was singular but was also seen as a villain. Her takes our human theory of singularity and explores the reason why we see them as the villain. I think this is the crux of the film, the ability to make the audience understand why the OS did what they did.
But scraping further into the film’s surface we can understand the message about technology in our current lives. How today with social media dominating how we communicate, that the feeling of connectedness is not really close at all. Maybe that’s a stab at humanity and how self obsessed we’ve become? Or maybe its an understanding that with all our gadgets and networking platforms that humanity is benefiting from the immediacy it has. I like that thought of people needing to bond as a way of life. The more you experience life, meet people, live the better person you become. In Her, human interaction is very disjointed, or not as connected when compared to the relationships between man and technology. But if you rewatch the film you’ll notice how people become more connected the more the OS embeds itself into society.
From where we first meet Theodore to when he goes on a picnic, without Samantha there he wouldn’t have grown to become more social with the world around him. He seems happier. He is happier.
Is that something to question? How an operating system can be seen as a viable relationship for a man or woman? But this world that it’s set in is perfect (not utopian) but people are accepting of other people’s choices (which is another layer of this film). Reflecting on our current society and how same sex relationships or transgender relationships are still frowned upon. How you still find cultures rejecting their own because of their decision to marry another religion, ethnicity, orientation. I find that the film itself reflects these same issues we face today.
Firstly when Samantha meets Jocelyn (played by Gracie Prewitt) and the innocence of a child holds no discrimination to the fact Samantha is not human. To a child who would have only ever know relationships to be a man and a woman (which this film solely shows – no LGBT), but does not question, discriminate or reject the fact Theodore’s girlfriend is an OS. When we compare that to Theodore telling people that he cannot go on dates because his girlfriend is in fact an OS you can see clearly how we hesitate to reveal ourselves because of public judgment. It is purely the OS in the film that are keen and willing to do anything – go to a carnival, go on the picnic.
Which raises another tender point that I think needs to be addressed on how people react to other people’s partners. The way that in the initial asking the fact Samantha is an OS is seemingly hard to double date, but then the way Samantha and the other woman can talk as if they are both two living beings. I think this is a major reason for me why this film if understood can change people’s perspectives on life – you only get judged by people who aren’t willing for change, but there will always be people who will accept and advance.
And is this film is not about advancement? The OS became so advanced that they began interacting with one another, and even “cheating” with them. Also a journey for Theodore and Amy (played by Amy Adams) as humans returning to life as people who are not engrossed in their work, or accepting of life at half value. They too advanced into understanding of a better life, a more fitting life.
What’s more touching in this film is the way it really speaks to every single person in the world about relationships. Samantha in her initial stages is a teenager falling in love for the first time. What is this feeling? Why am I warm and fuzzy thinking or talking to this person, but there are no evident changes (I think this is important. Humans don’t see any physical change when love occurs, and singular technology cannot detect any coded changes). As we progress though late teenage years to early adult hood of sex, passion, and future planning. Integrating each other’s lives into the other. The growth into the first fight, the not talking, the apologising – we’ve all been there.
It is seriously as if Spike Jonze saw a real life representation of relationships, bottled it up, and poured it into this film. Emotions, reactions, everything perfect. But what’s more is Jonze’s view of the future. He feels that our future will be very similar to our past. When we think of futuristic set films we are normally faced with apocalypses, only the fit survived, or hover boards, flying cars. But Jonze sees it as a cycle, that we will may never advance from our fundamental feelings (just like Futurama still faced the same issues of today 1000 years from now) and motives. We will adapt to the technology, and it will encapsulate us but how relationships are formed will ultimately remain untouched. And that I feel makes this such an amazing film.
This is not to suggest we aren’t advancing, but rather what means the most – what we have already perfected – is not going to be tampered with. I’m definitely not denying that people will attempt to match others on DNA or some other technology that calculates a 99.999% perfect match, but nothing will ever triumph humanity. Maybe that will change if we ever find other life, but to be the only know species we have something that is perfect no matter how messed up it seems. A trial and error way of finding out about ourselves, and yet here we are talking with operating systems still experiencing the same trial and error methodology.
So beyond what I’ve discussed above why did I love this film? Well it seriously falls back into the section of how well humanity is projected into Samantha (being our main source of singular technology). When relationships happen is real life we really don’t know anything about the other person involved. We say things, but can do the complete opposite. That is needless to say that we aren’t doing it on purpose, most of the time we end up confessing that we did the opposite to our intentions (didn’t go to the party because I was sick). But with Samantha we begin with a pure source – something that is most definitely frowned upon in this sex driven society. We don’t want clingy relationships, and neither controlling we want equal. Which is exactly what Samantha offers from out of the box.
She thinks of her own name based on what was most popular, and dedicates all he time to Theodore. But she’s not clingy so we don’t get the impression that Theodore should end the relationship (compared to Ruby Sparks where Ruby is overly satisfying). Theodore has the control to turn Samantha off, but she has the ability to disorganise his life – not that either ever thought about causing chaos. They have one hand in each others back pocket, but in a good way.
So the more we learn about the other person the more we notice the cracks that were clouded by love. People join new clubs, form new relationships, we have to embed ourselves in pre-existing relationships – we have a fairly difficult injection styled relationship model. But in Her we see the development of this. From blank, single serving OS all the way to the end of the film with multi-calculating, multi-conversational, individual OS. But what really gets me so excited is the realisation of separation, jealousy, and disappointment that we learn by growing with another person (or conscience).
The fact that something built to help us (not made to fall in love with) becomes so aware that they leave is astounding when you reflect it back to human life. We expect that our relationships will last, but they aren’t designed to last they are designed to be nurtured. If we fail to do so, the relationship becomes conscience and it falls apart (because who wants to remain in a dead relationship).
It is through our viewing of this version of singularity in Her that we can understand nurturing relationships is paramount to life both offline and online.
In these two resources, it is great to see the multiple views. Notably in the film discussion the relationship between Her and Lost in Translation, apart from Scarlett Johansson.
Also obvious discussion on the colour pallet of the film, and how perfect it is.