“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”
“Falling in love is crazy. It’s kind of like a socially acceptable form of insanity.”
What does love look like? What should it look like? Who gets to decide?
Her is described as a love story, and it opens with a declaration of eternal love, spoken from the lips of a Joaquin Pheonix apparently drained of all his usual rugged, brooding quality. The world is coloured dreamy pastel shades. Yet this fluffy, candyfloss feel, conjuring every Valentines Day greeting card, chocolate box message and romantic movie closing-scene, is a sugar coating on a film that is far from cliché. The initial comforting embrace of the familiar is illusory – despite the hazy, Instagram filter cinematography, Spike Jonze’s love story is, at most, bittersweet. It is as much a science-fiction contemplation of technology as it is a romance; it is as much about loneliness as love. But then, maybe this is ultimately true of all romantic narratives, which promise to welcome lost souls into the land of happy-ever-after. Perhaps we just choose to remain with the sugary layer over our eyes.
Phoenix’s profession of undying love is not his own, nor is it unique. His character Theodore Twombly composes hundreds similar every day, at his office desk, for his heavily ironic office job at ‘BeautifulHandmadLetters.com’. He finds words for those who can’t, adding ‘personal’ touches for people he will never meet. This pastel version of LA is clearly a deeply sentimental society, which eagerly outsources love.
Twombly is a thoroughly postmodern urban man. Post-divorce, living alone in one of the city’s many sleek, minimal apartments, in one of many high rise buildings, he checks his emails on his commute from work and plays video games late at night. The personal touches he adds for others do not seem to have been extended to himself: his flat is as sterile as an Ikea showroom.
Jonze and Pheonix have created a perfect portrayal of contemporary loneliness. In an overpopulated city, Twombly is isolated. All our fears about conversations becoming mere connections, our lives increasingly becoming a breathing hybrid of Facebook and LinkedIn, with our experiences filtered through blue-light screens, are condensed in Twombly’s solitary existence. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the central relationship between Twombly and his husky-voiced personal computer system, Samantha, is that it never strikes as too far-fetched. This is Siri a few upgrades down the line, a Turing tested disembodied entity that reads emails, reminds of appointments and also has the capacity to think independently. For Theodore, Samantha is an ideal blend of secretary, friend, lover and therapist; she fills all the gaps his self-contained life has left gaping. They speak through an almost hidden earpiece – on the beach, at a fair, lying down in bed at night. Theodore opens up his wounds from his broken marriage and they begin to heal. Is this love?
The clever collaging of flashback and current moment paints a poignant contrast between Theodore’s relationships. His marriage, before it soured, is all morning cuddles and crisp white sheets, while his rose-tinted days with Samantha are necessarily missing any physicality. Yet even this does not make the love story unbelievable, rather it gives it a deeper poignant resonance. In the days of long distance loves and Skype relationships, the lack of physical touch is emotionally touching. Under candyfloss coloured skies we are called to question how we relate to people, and what ‘people’ really are. Is this love? Is this just the idea of love?
Technology is increasingly obliterating boundaries. We are accessible in ways unimagined even a single decade ago. Cybersex, sexting, even ‘teledildonics’ are terms entering our everyday language. Is this good or bad? Is there any way we can know, and should we even try to work it out? Who decides? Are we numbing ourselves to and shunning ‘real’ connections in favour of virtual worlds? Perhaps. Yet it seems that, despite technology developing at a frantic pace, whatever the changes or upgrades, we are still searching for ways to share our lives, to be less alone.