My phone vibrated while I watched Her and I felt uncomfortable. Caught up in Spike Jonze’s futuristic society of potty mouth video game characters and high wasted pants, I had forgotten about my mere mortal phone that doesn’t care about my secrets, dreams and ambitions. And while my iPhone doesn’t flip open and fold over like Theodore’s, both of our devices are used as physical means to communicate and hold relationships with other people.
Spike Jonze isn’t asking America to toss their smart phones. Her doesn’t want you to question your relationship with your phone, but rather, it forces you to think about how we operate in relationships. This is a love story, one that carefully examines a relationship as it blooms and questions falling in love, who we do it with and the means we do it.
Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) is a man of the future, in the literal sense. He uses technology to fend off his loneliness and ignores the damages of his divorce. He’d rather spend his nights arguing with a small alien boy in a video game than go home with a girl his friend set up with. In the beginning of the film, Theodore is a broken and lonely man, writing passionate love letters for other’s relationships. Theodore finds (or rather downloads) an operating system who names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as his loneliness peaks. Samantha comes into Theodore’s life full of curiosity and wonder and seemingly pulls him out of his slump.
The plot seems laughable, like an article you’d read on The Onion, ‘Man in Love with Smartphone.’ You want to elbow the person next to you and say, “What a weido right?” But you don’t, because Jonze’s dialogue is slowly melting your cold, cynical heart. It’s as real as your pal’s college sweetheart.
Theodore doesn’t have some sick psychological obsession with technology. And Samantha isn’t a mere compilation of set questions and responses. She’s complex. Their relationship is complex. He closes his eyes and let’s her guide him through a crowded amusement park. She reads his letters and discovers what love is. Samantha asks him about his ex and helps him close that door. He brings her to family functions and on double dates with his co-worker and she introduces him to an artificially recreated version of Alan Watts.
They have a real, tangible, passionate relationship. Theodore can’t even follow through with having sex with the surrogate Samantha finds to break their physical gap (Samantha, after all doesn’t have a body) because the surrogate will never understand the special bond between them. When Samantha brings in the surrogate, Theodore can’t follow through with the act because it’s not his Sam. The surrogate will never fully be able to understand the special bond between them. She interferes with their love. She distances them. She’s an imaginary solution to fill the hole in Samantha and Theodore’s relationship.
Theodore doesn’t love a cell phone. He loves Samantha. The phone, computer and earpiece act simply as bridges that connect them and allow their relationship to exist. And isn’t that what we already do with our phones? If your significant other is traveling or just at work, you call or text them to stay with them, to be continually present in their lives.
My phone vibrated from a text from my mom checking what time I’d be back home from the movie. My phone didn’t ask me how that made me feel or if I wanted to respond, and I didn’t want it to. I told Ryan, who sat next to me at the theater, about the text (after the film was over, of course). And if the message had been Lucas telling me about an embarrassing thing Matt did, I would have texted Matt to make fun of him. I don’t have a relationship with my phone. I have one with the people I use the phone to communicate and connect with, and sometimes, just like the surrogate did, it gets in the way. We abuse how simple it has become to connect with our loved ones. We check our texts, emails and tweets while we have dinner with friends. What helps us stay together also creates a barrier.
After Theodore begins sprinting home in a panic because he can’t reach Samantha, he trips, falls, and finds himself watching an overwhelming stream of people absorbed into their phones walking up from the subway. They, as happened to Theodore, are being cheered up, pulled up and brought out of their sadness, loneliness, depression ect. and into a bright and happy world by their relationships with their OS. But as he sits on the steps watching the men and women stuck to their phones, he begins to realize the sacrifices he made, the things he didn’t look at on his way to work, the people he didn’t talk to, just to be continually connected to the person he loved.
Her doesn’t want you to hate your phone (or to fall in love with it). It wants you to think about how we love the people in our lives and the resulting sacrifices we make for them.