One thing I find really interesting about Spike Jonze’s Her is the aesthetic choices and the role that physicality plays in the film. It seems almost seems as if there’s an unconscious need for the physical among humans, despite its depiction of people interacting more deeply and internally with technology than externally with others from the outside world. There’s the obvious aesthetic style in regards to fashion, scenery and the semi-futuristic style of the setting which suggests, at least to me, that the central romance between Theodore and Samantha could never work because it’s missing that human element of physical presence, or at least something that’s identifiable to the human eye. The surrogate partner scene covers this even though it ultimately expresses the impossibility for Samantha to merge with the body of this ‘other’, in an effort to immerse Samantha into Theodore’s physical world.
In a way, it’s a very cinematic type of conflict. The failure to create a specific type of illusion that Theodore needs to ‘feel’ and touch, through the synchronization of Samantha’s voice with this other woman’s body, somewhat illustrates the relationship between a spectator perceiving an “image” and connecting with what they see in front of them. How can Theodore directly interact with Samantha if he can’t perceive her as a visual or physical presence? Or, does he do so in his mind? Does this, in turn, potentially question the task that cinema (or certain forms of cinema) has in establishing narrative immersion for audiences?
In spectating a cinematic narrative, developing a connection to said narrative is often a goal for the spectator. Even though Theodore can be viewed as the relatable, identifiable protagonist within the film, the sequence discussed above also offers an insight into this struggle to connect with narrative in a meaningful way; specifically, through the woman who plays the surrogate. After the attempt to combine Samantha with the surrogate woman fails, the surrogate breaks down because she’s faced with the realization that she can’t directly connect with the narrative of Theodore and Samantha’s romance, as she so desires to. I think it’s possible to interpret this sequence in regards to cinema’s role as a medium of wish-fulfillment; but, as this sequence suggests, it doesn’t always succeed in fulfilling such wishes.
To take this theme a step further, it seems at first that Samantha is designed to fulfill the wishes of Theodore in an unconscious way. The foundation of their relationship is built upon the “code” of Theodore’s personality, so that Samantha’s responses are meant to make Theodore aware of his flaws in an effort to improve his situation and potentially alleviate his personal problems. It’s as if she’s initially a secretary for Theodore’s mind, until the trajectory of their relationship develops to the point where it’s unable to identify whether or not Samantha is becoming an independent entity or simply a reflection of Theodore’s inner concerns.
I think, as a result, Her presents many relevant questions that are tied to cinema’s ability to form a relationship with its audiences by offering something that they can question, connect with, and form something personal with. It’s a film that, despite it’s seemingly outlandish story of a man falling in love with an operating system, still explores themes that aren’t unrelatable or completely detached from the human experience (i.e. recovery, happiness, jealousy, companionship, etc.) However, while it succeeds in presenting these questions, it never really provides answers; determining “why” or “how” the central relationship develops in the way it does becomes an exercise in audience participation through interpretation. In an ironic twist of fate, the inability for us to directly understand what’s going on in Samantha’s “mind” and identify with her as a human presence simply leaves the spectator questioning the events of the narrative in binary terms: “Did something happen for ‘this’ reason, or for ‘that’ reason?”