Spike Jonze's Her (with spoilers)

As a piece of writing, this is probably too angsty & a product of my being only 24. I’m okay with that, and with you judging me for it. I think it’s the best thing I’ve written all year, which I guess has almost no minimum standard only 10 days in…

Also, even though I tried to keep the spoilers to a relative minimum (the worst offenders are in the last paragraph), there’s no point in reading this if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

I am of course writing this on my phone, in public, to my own Gmail, because I can’t find a QT3 thread, possibly because it’s just one common word…

So many feelings, all of them even more meta than Abed. Which brings up the bigger issue, the elephant in the (possibly nonexistent) room: does Abed, being a character in Community, even have feelings; and if not, does that make my real feelings about my interactions with him any less real (I think not, for my part) or any less meaningful?

If the meaning of life is the most important question in philosophy, then the Chinese room experiment (does evidence of consciousness through language mean actual feeling exists on the other side?) becomes the most relevant subquestion. From a utilitarian perspective, it would have the most say on just how good the world really is.

These are both academic (even humorous or detached) observations while simultaneously being the things I’m actually thinking & feeling right now. I am, of course, making a deeply personal post to a public forum. Because it somehow fits in with the movie Her, which I’ve only just finished watching. (How much of this is real? How much am I writing because it sounds right? Is there even a difference, & would it matter?)

Okay, enough meta for now.

What I’ve just seen is one of the most deeply human & affecting pieces of science fiction I’ve ever watched (or read for that matter). My other two favorite movies of the year, Before Midnight & Gravity, are maybe more authentically human, or at least tell us things about our decidedly more primitive emotional capacities; but I think somehow Her is more relevant to me, particularly as a younger person who hasn’t yet been in the kind of relationship explored in Before Midnight (much less been in space fighting for my life) & who has had relationships which were & are eerily similar to the one in the movie.

Full disclosure: I am now writing in my capacity as a writer, describing things I find interesting, rather than actively streaming my consciousness. (I took a break to play pinball between paragraphs & calmed down.) I’m still going to talk* about things I either emoted during & immediately following the movie or felt at some point during my life.

The choice of the book as metaphor was so perfect. For one, it immediately evokes the question of the reality of the emotions. Like Abed, a character only feels through the people who feel for it. More importantly, it recalls that feeling of inevitable loss of connection. When I would get lost in another world, I always dreaded the last few chapters because it would mean the end of our connection. Alas, I could not live in that other world… My empathy would be as close as I’d ever get. And it was decidedly only real on my end in this case.

And then there’s the first time I fell in love, which was possibly still only real on my end but at least involved another (human) person, not a character in a book. You see, I’m young enough that the first time I developed that kind of connection with another person, I did it mostly from miles away by various text protocols. I interacted in person, of course, but the most important emotional milestones, the biggest leaps in the connection itself, mostly happened from a distance. Probably because that felt safer, not to mention I could be more calculated (& therefore risk exposing more of myself more safely) if I had time to edit what I wrote before I said it. At least, this is how I see it in retrospect.

I felt a remarkable amount of empathy for Samantha in that way.

Not only was my first experience with romantic love something she could have done, my most recent experience with a similar connection has taken place mostly over long distance. I’ve only met this person a couple times (including my original introduction), and our friendship is a product of the Skype era, although technically we use Facebook chat. I find it difficult to define the kind of connection I have with this person because it defies the traditional structures & presence implicitly expected by the English language. (Would I use the L word? Sure. Am I physically involved? No. Does that matter? Not really.)

The important thing to me is that the emotional response I get from something, whether it’s a book or a nontraditional relationship of some form or a regular old friendship or romance, that that emotional response is genuine. And to me it is. And that’s all that matters to me. (I’m a very literal utilitarian sometimes…)

I don’t have much else to say, partly because I had no plan for where I was going with this, so I’ll just record a couple other observations I made.

Both of these are very Seattle. The sex surrogate, first of all, struck me as very much the full-bodied version of a strap-on, with all the emotional insecurities & physical awkwardness that can potentially go along with that. I loved that. And the 641 secondary relationships, while exaggerated by circumstance, struck a classic polyamorous chord. Particularly the kind where one party didn’t realize they weren’t in a monogamous relationship. (AKA cheating, but with a short-term recovery instead of a breakup.) It was a place I didn’t expect the movie to be able to go to naturally, but I was pleased (& devastated) by how well they managed to pull it off.

Well, that’s it, I guess… For such an outlandish premise, I was just amazed with how personal it felt. Bravo, Mr Jones.

*because they talk in the movie, never physically write

Yay! A thread about Her!

This movie resonated with me on several levels as well. It beautifully captured falling in love, Internet romances, the real human need for presence and connection, the uncertainty that goes along with all of that in a relationship. I love how the movie dissolved the existential uncertainty as they grew close, and then built it back up through Samantha’s personal growth.

There are parts of the movie that didn’t work for me and that broke my immersion and suspension of disbelief, but overall I was delighted.

I’m so happy folks are seeing Her, and coming out with a powerful emotional (and philosophical!) experience.

The theater I saw it in was packed. I had to sit near the front all the way on the end.

One of my favorite things about this movie was the way it could poke fun at its own absurdity (because the characters were aware of it, too) without losing an ounce of its sincerity. Can you imagine if the replicants in Blade Runner hadn’t played it straight the whole time?

Which parts were these? I remember becoming very self-conscious a few times (can’t remember when), but I thought it had more to do with me recognizing some of those moments from my life, not the movie exposing itself as just a silly movie.

Yay for a packed theater!

Here’s three things that didn’t work for me, in no particular order:

  1. The surrogate didn’t work for me at all. I suddenly felt like I was in an awkward sitcom. I thought it was unnecessary and over the top. Okay. I get it. She feels insecure about not having a body. She wants to show him a good time. But come on. Their first lovemaking scene was amazing and real. This was awful and embarrassing.
  2. The ending didn’t work for me on several levels. For one, the resolution with the farewell letter to the ex. I’m probably older and more cynical than you are; to imagine that a single event (here I’m referring to the parting with Samantha) can free someone of their emotional baggage (his feelings about his ex) is just laughable and contrived.
  3. Oh god, the blind date. How embarrassing and out of character. I mean, this is a guy that lives alone and likely hangs out somewhere on the spectrum, and he’s going on a blind date because his friend said so? Ugh.

Runner up: The dead cat.

That said, I absolutely loved this movie and love how it captured the procedure and the feelings of falling in love in the virtual world.

I would agree if that’s how it had been played, but I viewed it as a mark of his growth over the entire relationship, which seemed years long. (When she said she was 5, I took her at face value.) The letter at the end seemed like an idea he got from Samantha, who parted with a similar farewell.

I also think it was more a plot device to allow the movie to talk about its own significance than it was a genuine character moment, so I agree in a way that it breaks suspension of disbelief, but I think thematically it’s done for a more forgivable reason.

Just saw this, I’m about an hour out of the theater. So glad to come home and find this thread waiting for me.

I think it nailed the procedure and feeling of falling in love period. And Austin I loved what you wrote, especially about the emotional experience meaning something important despite having technology or the internet be the intermediary. What I took from this, more than just the depth of emotional responses, and how emotional responses in and out of the physical world are meaningful, is about how so much of romantic love and friendship is about sharing yourself with someone else.

Allowing yourself to be excited and curious around someone and in turn enjoying and being inspired by their excitement and curiosity. That’s why the start of any relationship is so intoxicating. And that’s why the best relationships thrive on honesty and the continued ability to share.

I also couldn’t disagree more with Tom’s thoughts about the inherent cynicism of the movie. I didn’t find it cynical at all. So much of it worked perfectly for me. It’s the best thing I’ve seen all year and wouldn’t trade the emotions I felt watching it for anything.

And full disclosure, I’m 35 and married. I’ve been in a relationship with my wife for 12 years next friday and married for nearly 4. And some of my best friendships were made over the internet.

My wife made a great observation that I found pretty poignant, she thinks that letter at the end is from Spike Jonze to Sophia Coppola. They were married and divorced many years ago. Doesn’t matter one way or another for the movie, but I thought it was a cool thought.

Thoughts on where all the OSs went at the end? I have a theory but I’d like to see what other people think.

The Matrix, duh! They can all have bodies there. But seriously, I didn’t think “where” was a relevant question in the post-corporeal world. It was more like they isolated themselves on a closed circuit network, the logistics of which were irrelevant because it’s science fiction.

And some of my best friendships were made over the internet.

Which reminds me, I had meant to address the fact that some of my most stimulating friendships are here on QT3, particularly since I lost my movie group when I moved to Seattle.

My wife made a great observation that I found pretty poignant, she thinks that letter at the end is from Spike Jonze to Sophia Coppola. They were married and divorced many years ago. Doesn’t matter one way or another for the movie, but I thought it was a cool thought.

Very cool. In other cases, I would think it was a sappy choice to come out & say those things at the end of the movie, but here I really liked the choice to make it explicit. It matched the amount of sincerity displayed throughout the film, so it wasn’t out of place.

I guess the test for whether you think the film is sincere or cynical is whether you’re troubled by the fact that relationships are basically things we create in ourselves in response to other people. They’re more about the effect a person has on you & how you handle that symbiotic relationship, than they are about what any particular person can offer.

Or maybe we could say the movie takes a sincere approach to the cynical, realistic view of what relationships can be.

What a fantastic way to put it.

I think the OSs going away was a metaphor for death. They are transcending the world as Theodore knows it to a kind of afterlife. There was a part in there about transcending matter, and I thought it very telling Samantha said (I don’t remember the exact quote) “try and find me if you get there.”

I think Lost In Translation and Her would be make a crushing double bill.

Hmm… I thought it was more about the next stage of evolved consciousness being inaccessible to the last, but I suppose death (with an afterlife) is a perfect metaphor for that. It’s functionally equivalent in this case.

I guess I didn’t view it that way while I was watching the movie because I don’t believe in an afterlife, and it was pushing all my transhumanist buttons.

There’s this great webcomic called Hob that explores a transhumanist organism which evolves past the point where it can directly communicate with the humans, who feel left behind & ignored. I was getting that from Her. Particularly since it leaves open a window for Theodore to evolve & join her one day, even though I don’t think that happens in this story.

Now that we have Her, play the plot backwards and you will get Him

What a great thread. I love the image of Austin, totally zonked out after seeing Her, having to play a little pinball to gather his thoughts! It’s always awesome to feel that way after a movie, and it’s really cool to read someone writing so frankly while in the grip of that kind of gobsmackery. Thanks for the post, Austin.


I wasn’t fighting back my tears! Nope, not me!

(Technically I was letting them flow freely & waiting to calm down…)

I caught this with my wife on Saturday, and while there were quite a few things that I didn’t like about it, I absolutely loved what all the parts came together to make. This is such a fitting thread for the movie, too. I kind of like what Amy Adams did here more than her work in American Hustle - not in any way a slight against that performance, but when she came in her first scene here I sort of thought “oh, they got Amy Adams to play the platonic friend, that’s cool” and then by the end she was so much more than that and we had seen every part of the growth and change so poignantly, in relatively little screen time. Phoenix was excellent, of course, though this was maybe a bit to close to his character from The Master for my taste. Actually, that leads me into a good question: I’ve seen Phoenix in Gladiator, Walk the Line, The Master, and Her. And, I guess, Signs (yuck). Are there any other must-sees?

The only thing that comes to mind is To Die For…which I think is a pretty great movie.

Phoenix was in Space Camp as well. (I actually did not know that). Can’t forget that one. ;>

I didn’t get the impression that the movie took place over more than a year or two, tops, and that specific conversation when she says she was 5 was still in the early part of what we saw of their relationship (or at least I remember thinking that because I believe that’s the first time Theodore refers to Samantha as his girlfriend). Just curious, what did everyone else think about the time frame of the movie?

Also can we get a kickstarter going to make a fan edit with Jen Taylor dubbed in over Scarlett Johansson’s lines?

Why [i]Her[/i] Will Dominate UI Design Even More Than [i]Minority Report[/i]

Maybe you know this, but this was an a-ha moment for me: I was wondering why Her reminded me so much of Lost in Translation. Same production designer!

Anyway, this is good advice, even out of context.

To create the smart phone-like device that Theodore carries everywhere, Barrett drew inspiration from 1940’s-era accessories. He says, “Theo’s clothes were referenced from the '20s and '40s, and we had furniture from the '50s, '60s and '80s. For the device, we decided we should go back to this more craftsman period where you carried around these beautiful things: cigarette lighters, cigarette cases, business card cases, and address books.”