Her (2013) – Meditating Through A Haunting Dream: Synthesizers scrape through the screen, transitioning from the credit sequence to Theodore’s face. For a brief moment, just the unreadable face, in smears of soft pastels, isolated from the background. Theodore starts talking, like making a conversation with his memory, “To my Chris, I’ve been thinking how I could possibly tell you how much you mean to me….” cut to inkless scraping on the screen, the narration imprinted in a handwritten font, words personifying the pictures on the screen, pictures posited as a projection of memories. Cut to, slowly gliding through the letters of people boxed in a cellular office layout, people such as Theodore, he is not alone, at least not at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com.
This is how Spike Jonze’s trailblazing 2013 outfit Her reveals itself. An example of profound audio-visual storytelling- is through images, movements, and cuts befriended by dialogue, sound, and colors. An invitation into the projection of a near future. Theodore remains torpid in the corner of the lift, among other equally torpid people, caught up in the tides of the techno-utopian world.
Theodore lives alone in his house, has been separated for a year now, and is soon to be divorced for reasons seemingly unclear to serve the larger purpose of the film. Soon, there’s the advent of a new operating system, which is “not an operating system, it’s a consciousness.” An OS is a being of its own, with its own evolutionary phases, emotions, explorations, experiences, breathlessness, vulnerabilities, insecurities, and artistic assertions.
As the film progresses, through Theodore and his OS Samantha, we ruminate in a world both alien and amiable, about people, about the human condition- exploratively, retrospectively, and introspectively. As their relationship gathers more weight and mass, the moss of past experiences is involuntarily echoed and projected in nuanced pathos.
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Samantha is indicative of a metaphor. A metaphor for perspective, for an infinite set of experiences, for experiences that transcend physical shape and form, for life in its spirit and nature, ontologically. Every moment, she evolves, absorbing new ideas that melt into deltas as sediments and break off on their own individual streams, meeting new ideas along the way and forming estuaries before colliding with the ocean of thought, feelings, and contemplation.
From the start, Theodore’s loneliness becomes more interactive and eloquent as his relationship with Samantha gains inertia and momentum. Spike Jonze’s lingering frames and simmering pace are more suggestive of Theodore’s existential labyrinth and loneliness, something brought about by personal experiences and reverberating in a universal soundscape.
We witness the souvenirs of Theodore and his soon-to-be ex-wife Catherine, the camera floats within spaces of their shared past as muted memories of an intimate and colorful bygone; sometimes dwelling in warmth and softness, sometimes mewling in dampened gray. Theodore recalls his previous relationship through his OS Samantha, which functions not only as a computed operating system but also as an operating system of life, of people; an operating system that constantly reinvents itself, a consciousness. When they discuss Theodore’s relationship, they always speak in abstracts and idioms, poems and phrases, with no specifics. When we dive into the past, the dialogues are muffled, replaced by images of trivialized events and indeterminate emotions, forcing us to reflect and ponder rather than gauge and conclude.
Later in the film, after Theodore returns from a bittersweet date, he sits on his bed with the cityscape in the background, with numerous twinkling lights in the massive high-rises. Samantha and Theodore talk about his loneliness, how he wanted to have sex, and the tiny hole in his heart that predominates.
Samantha genuinely expresses her romantic feelings for Theodore. They proceed to consummate their relationship, in the course of which, the screen cuts to black. As viewers we’re doing both, peaking into our own souls, “And now I’m inside you. All the way inside you”, and gazing into oblivion, “we’re here together”, “I feel you everywhere”, as they both make love and finally the orgasm. Cut to a floating frame fixated on a suavely positioned drone, entrancingly capturing the urban landscape on a clear night with countless skyscrapers within which millions of lives with millions of operating systems exist. Theodore is not alone, because loneliness is everywhere.
There are a few interesting connotations in the aforementioned sequence. While it represents universal themes of the contemporary world, there are additional layers attached specifically to the plot that delves into other thematic territories. Samantha confesses her love for Theodore immediately after he expresses his loneliness, void, and desire for love. Due to the fact that it is a personalized operating system, this sequence, while evoking the metaphysical themes mentioned above, also indicates how Samantha’s love is a projection of Theodore’s void. To that end, the movie contains a multitude of projections: real, virtual, or both.
Her presents us with a metamodern world immersed in technology: Samantha projects her feelings on the beach by composing a piece of music; another piece of music projects images of her and Theodore together; the lift in the building Theodore stays has a projection of a tree, moving upwards or downwards with the lift; Theodore works at a place that prints handwritten letters, letters that are neither written digitally nor with hands. Through his words, he projects his own language of love, care, and belonging for strangers he has never met. Hence, Theodore’s relationship with his OS Samantha, in the absence of a real companion, feels like a projection of his loneliness.
These overarching constants of projections envisage questions about the limitlessness of reality. In a complex metamodern world, where the boxes and circles of the modern and postmodern worlds have been exhausted, where mediations, paradoxes, summations, and much more are produced in culture, aesthetics and philosophies define, yet not aim to define, the world’s principles and notions. As cultural theorists Vermeulen and Robin Akker describe metamodern with phrases like “informed naivety”, “pragmatic idealism” and “ironic sincerity”, Spike Jonze’s film attempts at the same “un-funneling” of the nature of reality in the post-postmodern world.
Her is set in a near future world, that is ideologically and empirically not far from the present. A future in which the desperate need for basic necessities is rendered obsolete by their ubiquity. Nonetheless, the meaning of life and the purpose of existence are more perplexing than ever. Although fundamentally, life has become easier, living has become tougher. Humans – as innate thinkers, philosophers, explorers, and adventurers – have arrived at the “end of history” ascribed to the contemporary society at the tail-end of humanity’s sociocultural evolution, as discussed by various authors including Hegel, Solovyov, Marx, and Fukuyama.
As time passes, the existential quandaries keep boiling in the furnace to greater degrees of heat. The world of Her feels disconnected and estranged. People communicate their innermost feelings on intimate occasions to dear ones, but the feelings reaching the dear ones are not theirs. It’s rather a projection of them because countless Theodores project it for them. Amy’s short documentary about her sleeping mother is thwarted by her husband, who suggests that she hire actors to express Amy’s thesis, “But then it wouldn’t be a documentary,” it would be a projection, an attempt to imitate reality.
The film’s discussion is incomplete without mentioning Joaquin Phoenix’s splendid performance. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime performance. However, he has multiple performances of such nature, thus solidifying his stature as one of the greatest actors of all time.
Her (2013) is a film that alludes to and comments on a multitude of themes and narratives. While the subject matter and themes are daunting, the visual treatment contrasts the nature of the subjects. Spike Jonze ensures that, in addition to being an ideological juggernaut, the film is a visceral experience. It attempts to encapsulate sentience through tenderness and warmth, employing pastel squashes of colors in every frame and a poignantly arranged soundtrack by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett. It offers both an ethereal as well as a discomforting experience, whose ideas pulsate with louder vibrations and greater purpose even after a decade of its release, like meditating through a haunting dream.