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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Spike Jonze's latest film achieves deep emotional effect

Film is an artifice, yet somehow, through a series of rapidly projected images, it is able to elicit genuine emotion. I know, because by the end of this film I was on the brink of tears with a dumb, love-struck smile wrapped across the length of my face. This is the paradox of film—one that beautifully illustrates the nature of “Her.” How can something we know in our minds to be false make us feel something as real as human emotion? “Her” is a film grounded in beautiful paradoxes.

Let’s start with the cinematography and mise-en-scene, which is by far one of the greatest accomplishments of this film. The majority of it was shot using a long lens, lending a rather fuzzy and ethereal quality to the image. It is almost exhausting, in the best way possible, the number of beautiful shots and montages within this film. If I’m being honest, at first it confused me. Though the quality of the cinematographic image deserves merit on its own, the lack of ambient noise that, in most other mainstream Hollywood films, would have been layered on top of these sequences doesn't fully allow you to immerse yourself in that space.

But this is a film about limits and, keeping this in mind, it makes perfect sense. Samantha is stuck within the confines of an electronic device, not fully able to inhabit the same space as Theodore. She is only able to see the world, only able to be intimate with Theodore, through some degree of dissociation. Maybe this is how Samantha feels. Through sheer style and technical brilliance, Theodore and Samantha explore both themselves and the outside world in which they are a part of, though both are isolated within it in their own unique ways.

Similarly, the color palette chosen for “Her” is one of subtle brilliance. Muted shades of oranges, reds, yellows and greens better resemble the warmth and familiarity of a weathered, old sepia photograph than the metallic and angular nature we have come to associate with the “future.” In this way, it doesn't feel like science fiction. Theodore and Samantha’s world is one that feels all too familiar.

The characters constructed by Jonze, though, are the greatest paradoxes of all. This is a film about a human who, at times, resembles a computer, and a computer who resembles a human. Theodore, beneath his “puppy dog” exterior, has a real complexity. He’s confused, still reeling from the split from his ex-wife. He’s just waiting to not care about her anymore. Samantha, on the other hand, lacks an organic form, yet she expresses herself and evolves in ways that defy the limits of technology. While Samantha longs to feel, Theodore longs to not feel. (P.S. Joaquin Phoenix is an absolute genius, and his performance in this film only solidifies the decision to name my first born after him.) Aside from their careful construction, what I found to be unusual about “Her” was the fact that I found myself relating, in some way or another, to all of the characters.

Similarly, Catherine, the ex-wife—could have easily been made into a villain. We are aligned with Theodore throughout the entirety of the film and, as audience members, we tend to form an alliance with the person we spend the most time with, so to speak. But that’s not how relationships work beyond the pixels of our screens. Long after what you've built has crumbled, and you've spent ample time contemplating the wreckage, you begin to realize that it may not have been completely and utterly their fault. Don’t get me wrong, she had her faults; her emotions were volatile, but he failed to accept her as the human she was, and not the one that he had fantasized her to be. Maybe she wasn't constantly excited about life, a feature which immediately attracted him to Samantha, but who is?

It’s interesting, because what touched me the most about this film is also a paradox. Through the artificiality of the relationship between a human and an operating system I found to be one of the most genuine and, in my experience, most realistic portrayals of a relationship attempted through film; a relationship that is encapsulated in an analogy that rings true in the deepest recesses of my own heart:

“It’s like I’m reading a book, and it’s a book I deeply love, but I’m reading it slowly now so that 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 space 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 is who I am now,” says Samantha.

With time, you learn things about another person. You spend time apart. You spend time with other people. After a while, you get lost in those spaces, finding it harder and harder to jump to the next word. Maybe you realize that they’re not congruent to the shape of the hole that’s inside of you. As much as she wanted to, she couldn't live in his book anymore.

There are some other themes explored within “Her” about the nature of human intimacy in the 21st century, but I’ll save you the details and let you ponder them for yourself. Basically, I give this film an A, and I urge you all to go and see it.

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