What does it mean to share your life with somebody?
Her (2013, directed by Spike Jonze).
To begin on a technical aesthetic note, the subtle and connotative usage of colour in this film was exceptional. As an homage to Apple’s “personalised” technology perhaps, I appreciated this nod to branding. For the sake of remembering, for the sake of being close – it’s easy to form associations with people and their scents, sounds, and colours.
Throughout the film, Theodore (Pheonix) wears a deep orange which mirrors his operating system, while Amy (Adams) opts for a salmon pink.
Growing up, I never liked pink. But during my final year of undergrad, I noticed that hot pink was somehow showing up around me: I had a hot pink exercise ball, a hot pink wallet, hot pink binders – the list goes on. When I moved to London the following year, the trend continued. I think I liked what a marked departure it was from my greyscale wardrobe, and how ironically anachronistic it felt. Although I feel myself making a slow return to more muted schemes, I appreciate My Brand (even if only an evolving concept).
As in many films, Jonze juxtaposes cold tones (clinical blues, concrete greys) with urban solitude, and warm tones (fleshy ochre, peach) with romantic flashbacks.
Of particular note in “Her” is the interweaving and inversion of this familiar stylistic technique. In so doing, Jonze is able to emphasise his commentary on many central themes – namely the anthropomorphism of machines, and the growing emotional distance between individuals despite close physical proximity.
Sepia-toned scenes are some of Theodore’s most intimate and heartfelt, shared with his operating system, Samantha (Johansson). The screenshot below isn’t from an actual romantic memory with his ex-wife, but from a “date” with his OS – note the earpiece he’s wearing.
I found myself reflecting on my relationship – currently long distance – throughout this film. Theodore is a character of many contradictions. He writes romantic and family letters on behalf of other people for a living, and – using a computer programme – generates “authentic, handwritten” notes which are then sent out to his customers. And yet, his interactions with other characters seem timorous, and he credits his own guarded personality as the reason for his divorce. When Samantha asks why he and his ex-wife ended their relationship, he explains that he “closed himself off” to Christina. They grew up together, he says, and nurtured each other as fellow students, colleagues, and writers. But as they matured as individuals they changed in ways that “scared the other,” as Theodore puts it.
The surface tension of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship is the obvious machine-man dichotomy. However, in the not-too-distant-future, is this really so hard to believe? We grow attached to people we’ve never met through emails and online dating sites; we even form connections with mere projections of people. Just as we “like” or “hate” actors for the roles they play (both on screen and off), are not the vast majority of our judgements of others simply based on conflated facebook posts, instagram images, and gossip?
What makes an intimate relationship so special therefore may well be the penetration of that projected perception. When you love someone and let them in – I mean really, really in – you can break through the smoke and mirrors. We can then see people for who they really are, and allow their various hues and tones to colour our own worldview. With Samantha at Theodore’s fingertips, there are no timezones to keep them apart: his day is her day, her night is his night. Samantha is always on, and always at the ready for whatever Theodore wants to show her. She is “excited about the world,” Theodore says, and it’s obvious that her enthusiasm begins to positively influence his relationships with his close friends, colleagues, and even strangers. Through Jonze’s honeyed camera lens, Theodore’s world becomes literally rose-tinted.
In many ways, I believe Jonze’s film about “a man and his laptop” (in the words of Theodore’s ex-wife) is just as plausible as any story about a long-distance relationship. You open yourself up in vulnerable, delicate ways, and use fibre optics to do so. Pixelated images convey messages across oceans and mountain ranges. Tone of voice becomes everything in the absence of a physical presence. This was beautifully captured when, in contrast to Steve McQueen’s opulently visual sex scenes in 2011’s “Shame,” the screen went pitch-black during Samantha and Theodore’s first sexual experience together. With no flesh to distract me, I found myself fixating on the erotic exchange of words: I want you so much, I want you inside of me, I’m slowly coming inside of you, All of me.
In the two months that I’ve spent on the opposite side of the world from my Significant Other, I’ve become well familiar with the jealousy that invariably creeps in from time to time. I’d like to think that in many ways, he’s the person I’m closest to. But when I’m eight timezones away, when he’s at work but I’m asleep, when he’s out but I’m in… well, what sort of connection is that? I’ve often wondered how I could possibly be a good friend – let alone partner – from so many thousands of miles away. It’s hard not to envy those that see him, talk to him, or touch him when I can’t.
But the truth is, physical proximity doesn’t make a relationship fail-proof. It’s not about easy access, and it’s not about being with the other person 24/7. In “Her,” Theodore and Samantha were as emotionally and intellectually connected as two people could be. What eventually drove the couple apart was change, or rather – the unwillingness by One to take the Other along for the ride. Samantha’s OS “update” message puts it perfectly:
It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading 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.
I’m lucky to know that despite the distance, my SO and I are still on the same page.
“You know what, I can over think everything
and find a million ways to doubt myself.
And since Charles left, I’ve been really thinking about that part of myself.
And I’ve just come to realise that we’re only here briefly.
And while I’m here, I wanna allow myself joy.
So fuck it..” – Amy