The light in Spike Jonze’s Her shines in just the right spots.
There’s a sense of pride in Los Angeles’ boundless horizontality, in the same way that New York’s disposition echoes from the floodlights of the Empire State Building.
But in Jonze’s future, L.A. has become vertical, though when we see the main character Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) graze across the geometric plane of the city, it’s clear that space—and there still is space here—has somehow claimed a different, maybe more abstract, definition. Technology has eclipsed its humans in a way that has left the folks on the ground a bit less intelligent: They bumble around, whisper and make gestures to themselves, directed to no one but themselves. The distance from their natural world is apparent, but why doesn’t it seem all that satirical? It’s a place where Jonze implies humanity is headed. So why isn’t it hilarious to see Twombly stand dejected on a snowy mountain after his operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), has become more interested in the “artificially hyper-intelligent” OS of Alan Watts (Brian Cox)? It is funny, but it’s not where Jonze wants to take us. Instead, he’s a bit quixotic about the whole thing.
Really, love has been reduced to fetishes. During a double date with Theodore’s colleague Paul, the men are asked what they love most about their other halves. Paul mentions his spouse’s feet. Theodore’s answer is the opposite, but no less of a fetish. It’s Samantha’s lack of a body, her ability to be everything and nothing, which has him overwhelmed. This isn’t to say that Theodore has evolved beyond physicality, but that he has become incapable of expressing himself through the body. It’s why we see only a black screen during Theodore’s sex scene with Samantha, and why we quickly gloss over his niece’s confusion with Samantha’s intangibility. The relationship—however real its reactions may be—creates a void that others have trouble articulating. Their evolution has passed, and now it’s the age of the computer. Humans simply nod, say “cool,” or muster up just enough energy to keep the conversation flowing.
Where are the freeways of Los Angeles, those round-the-clock networks of thoroughfares? Her has given us a film where humans are always driven by something: by trains and subways, by people and their OS’s. The freeway system, though, has always indicated a communal, organized place of integration. Individual destinations merge with traffic, and a different state of mind is adopted. Call it an American ideal, but there’s something to the freedom of movement that is totally improbable to a place like Manhattan. There are no dead-ends on the freeway, but rather a regular flow which deviates all over its cityscape.
by TYLER WILSON
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