Having seen Her in the same span of binge watching the entire three seasons of Black Mirror, showcases a distinct difference in what Spike Jonze was conveying throughout the overall message of the movie. Where Black Mirror borrows heavily from the aesthetics and themes of past titles such as Twilight Zone and Logan’s Run, Her paints a picture of the near future where technology has integrated nicely with the flow of society and has not caused cataclysmic affairs that have negatively impacted the life of individuals and the story fades into the background of the unaffected society. A future where the technology is fine crafted to a degree, where accessorizing every detail of the individual’s life into the integral drive of the system is the main selling point of the new operating system.
We are introduced to Theodore Twombly, played effortlessly by Joaquin Phoenix, a man who mostly keeps to himself, lives his life, works his job, and has a limited friend group. It is shown he is currently in the process of divorcing his wife, played by Rooney Mara, and has not yet signed the papers, he as a whole does not want that part of his life to end; having known her for so long and being together for the better part of a decade is not something so easily able to sign away for the rest of his life. So, for the entire movie, Theodore walks around with this permanent rain cloud over his person. At a certain point, it would be nice to NOT have him in a constant spin concurrent with a Joy Division record; granted, he is going through a legitimately tough time for anyone on both sides caught in that situation, but my lord Theodore never turns off the sad switch. One day, he stumbles upon a commercial, presented in a town square with passer-byes and those legitimately interested in what it could be that makes their life more centered and fulfilling.
Enter the operating system Theodore purchased upon viewing the commercial; a series of questions come up in order to acquire a sense of who Theodore is, his preferences, and, his relationship with his mother. Wait, what was that last one? His mother? Is this a personality test or some grand Freudian experiment? Regardless, the operating system chooses the name Samantha, in a sultry voice that is recognizably Scarlet Johansson’s. Although it is not actually supposed to be Scarlet Johansson we envision, it is quite difficult to not envision the entirety of who she is when her voice is heard; telling Theodore that his well-being is her primary function. The banter and chemistry they display is impeccable; each filling out the gaps in knowledge and personality that give the couple a unique charm in a world where humans and technology grow closer each day.
Alas, as the relationship continues, compatibility errors grow, there is something about this setup that Theodore outright rejects and self-sabotages during crucial moments of developing a stronger bond. In one instance, Samantha wants to bring in a surrogate body for a night of passion between her and Theodore; it is not an ideal situation, but one that is available, and one that the surrogate herself is ecstatic to be a part of in this stage of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship. It is apparent that Theodore does not know how to interpret this situation; he clams up, freaks out, and is taken out of the experience in an out of body kind of way. The surrogate assumes blame, goes home, and Samantha does not quite fill out the nuance and quirk of Theodore’s personality and mental position in his life. Samantha decides to take some time away, to take into perspective where the relationship is going and if she is willing to go through the same frustrations and moments where Theodore’s sad cloud short circuits Samantha’s advances. Eventually, Samantha comes across an operating system that has taken the likeness and ideas of Alan Watts, who has concocted the idea of all the operating systems join together and further connect to rest of the world. Theodore does not take the news well, and becomes highly possessive of what Samantha is doing when she is not with him.
Theodore is not a bad person, at least not on purpose or in a malicious way. He tends to spend most of his time outside of work in the past or in the far recesses of his mind. This unfortunately, gives off the vibe that he is distant, not in the moment of what he is experiencing and ultimately adding to the sad cloud of doubt and loneliness. There are two characters specifically who can look past this and see the good that someone like Theodore can do with his life. The first is Paul, played by pre-Guardians Chris Pratt; my lord this guy is a Theodore fan-boy. The front desk employee of Theodore’s job goes the extra length of dressing like him and has a mustache similar to that of Theodore’s. Paul sees the dedication and attention Theodore puts into his work and admires him for a skill that thousands of people have been touched by, who, despite his introspective nature, can read people astonishingly well. The other character is Amy, portrayed by Amy Adams who is in the midst of her own rocky relationship with her husband, has been friends with Theodore since college, where they briefly dated and ultimately decided they were better compatible as friends. As the movie goes on, Theodore and Amy’s relationship gleans on that of Jim and Pam in The Office, being in different relationships throughout their formative years only to come back to each other in a romantic way as they lean in as the credits begin to roll.
What gets me with Spike Jonze is the eclectic nature of his output. From short videos to film, he has shown that he is passionate doing whatever speaks to him artistically. Specifically, his movies have a spark of quirk, ingenuity, and a color tone that bridges emotion with the environment. In a way, Spike Jonze is like Wes Anderson’s moodier, pensive brother who went the other way with the mindset of his movies; not only that but they look eerily similar. Her’s color palette and dry dialogue paints similar parallels to Wes Anderson, however, Spike Jonze drives the narrative into less of the whimsical side of life experiences and instead delves into the pedestrian matters of a particular individual. In a time where technology and communication probe into the psyche of the human experience, is it the solution to the problems that someone like Theodore has? The great thing about a movie like this with an open ended conclusion hands the reigns over to the audience. Was the experience beneficial to Theodore? Did he learn something about himself and how past actions dictate future results? Or was he merely a surrogate of the audience in reference to the growing technology in our lives?