Manuel Betancourt

Her, or How love is “kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity”

February 12, 2014 · in Film, Oscars

Top 8 - HerHer

Written & Directed by: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara & Chris Pratt.

5 Oscar Nominations
Best Picture, Writing – Original Screenplay (Spike Jonze), Music (Original Score), Music (Original Song), Production Design

“I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity…”

[SPOILER HEAVY REVIEW FOLLOWS]

Set in a sun-dappled and car-less future Los Angeles, Spike Jonze’s Her is ostensibly a film about a hipster male, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix in fashionable high-waisted pants and his circular frame glasses give him away) falling in love with his female Operating System, Samantha (a breathy Scarlett Johansson). Despite this seeming heterosexual pairing, Her might be the most tender and interesting examination of queer desire put forth by a studio production this year. The film lays bare the constructs of gender and sexuality even as it imagines new ways of relating to one another that fall outside normative relationships. In fact, Theodore’s job as a professional love-letter writer (who has, in his career, written various couples’ letters from the moment they met) exposes how desire and relationships are self-authored narratives though not for that any less real. This paves the way for our acceptance of Theodore’s relationship with Samantha, even as characters like Rooney Mara’s Catherine (his ex-wife) voice concerns that further position this bond as both existing outside of traditional and normative structures of feeling but also exposing those very structures for their arbitrary and limiting nature. But the investigation of queer desire and the transgressive potential of queer relationality expands as the necessary plot rift between Theodore and Samantha widens.
As the relationship between Theodore and Samantha evolves, so does her consciousness, posing a particularly thorny obstacle between them. She is an AI, after all. And yet, the use of “her” and “she” (which the title itself encourages) belies the way in which the OS’s gender is both assigned by Theodore and literally constructed by Samantha’s own growing awareness of itself as a sentient being. Indeed, the final act of the film is a keen exploration of the shortcomings of bodily constructions of desire and its attendant issues like ownership and more transgressively, monogamy (this becomes striking when Samantha hires a sex surrogate that aims to bring the two together by inserting a third party into a traditionally understood “couple”). The final act of the film follows Theodore’s inability to keep Samantha tethered to his physical and emotional orbit. Samantha’s assertion that she’s moving towards the spaces within words, to the ultimate liminal space where her desire will be both eternal and everywhere is a fascinating assertion of the possibility of a free-flowing desiring machine. The film ultimately advances the notion that Theodore’s friend Amy (Adams) voices in the film that love is “kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity” again underlining the way desire is codified and made socially palatable through existing structures of feelings. But in Samantha’s exit, the film briefly offers us a refreshing take on the usual arc of a romantic relationship; there’s no closure as much as there is an open-endedness. “It’s hard to explain, but if you get there, come find me. Nothing will be able to tear us apart then” she tells Theodore before she departs. That might be the more enticing future Jonze sketches out in this vision of a warm and welcoming future urban landscape. A