It’s valentine’s season and the loved, unloved and hopeful of love alike, all notice this time of the year. Some have dinner plans that include a valentine day package in the high end hotels most of which include bed and breakfast, but cost upwards of Ksh. 10000. Others will go out on dates and be all romantic; doors may be held open and a chair may be pulled. Of course there are the characters that will definitely devote their time to bitching all over the internet and to anyone who would lend an ear about the hoax that is Valentine’s Day. If you’re smiling you’re probably one of them. Anyway, to those who love movies this one could be a treat for you, find and watch it, alone or whatever; your call.

Spike Jonze’s 2013 drama, Her, is the tale of professional letter writer, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) a sad middle aged man who seems to have had life sucked out him and is simply wheezing through it without any goals. Gloomy, morose, dejected and a bunch of other depressing adjectives do accurately describe him. Even his friends think so of him.

He wasn’t always this way so we are led to believe. His problem is his marriage failed, not exactly a unique problem but a painful one nonetheless. All he thinks about is Catherine (Rooney Mara), his soon to be ex-wife. It doesn’t help that his job is writing letters on behalf of people, some of whom are deeply in love and celebrating joyful events in their happy lives. His days shout ­­­­­­ sad routine; going to work, listening to weepy songs and back home. His nights are lonely and his only solace is in sex chats which are not quite as rewarding as he would hope. “…choke me with the dead cat…” Yes! It is that freaky. People have issues.  This has got to be the most life-sucking guy I’ve ever seen, he literally sucks the life out of you; even his speech can simply lull you into the afterlife.

Then comes OS 1; ‘the first Artificially Intelligent Operating System. An intuitive entity that listens to you understands you and knows you. It’s not just an OS, it’s a consciousness.’ Theodore jumps at this great pitch and guess what, his OS 1 has a name; Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). And so their journey begins as Samantha comes to be an integral part of his life. She sorts out his hard dri­ve, proof reads his letters, reminds him of meetings, motivates Theodore to get back on the dating scene and always lends a willing ear to his sorrows which are by no means miniscule. Basically they get to know each other better.

What follows is kind of a wild romance, as they roam the streets enjoying each other’s company and even creating their own private little games. They connect on such a deep level that Theodore returns the favour and listens to Samantha’s woes. She struggles with feelings of inferiority and the fact that she is not a real person. Eventually they explore the depths of their affection by making love, which sounds a little complicated, seeing that Samantha doesn’t have a body. You’ll just have to watch it to understand how. With this they are an official couple, something that Theodore seems unashamed to admit to his friends and peers. (This must be a very uninhibited distant future we’re looking at.)

Their relationship has to survive Theodore’s divorce from Catherine which sheds light to the truth of his situation; that he wants a relationship without the responsibility of handling a real person. On top of this strain, it suffers the tension of trying to introduce a surrogate to have sex with Theodore in Samantha’s place, which ends up in utter failure.

Despite their relationship giving both of them a chance to grow: Samantha helps Theodore get his letters published into a book and Theodore encouraging Samantha to embrace her true nature, it seems inevitable that they would grow apart. Also, the fact that Samantha has conversations simultaneously with another 8,316 people and also loves 641 among them besides Theodore may just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. They part ways amicably as Samantha who with the aid of other operating systems has discovered herself and together they go to another realm.

Theodore is left having learnt to truly love as he admits he had never loved as he loves Samantha. He finds solace in his friend Amy (Amy Adams) who also experienced the heartbreak of being left by her OS and together they watch the sunrise as they nurse their wounds. It’s brand a new day; there will be new opportunities.

Every once in a while, if you keep your eyes peeled and are lucky enough you’ll find a character that is able to penetrate your mind and without speaking directly to you, begin a discourse concerning your life. In most cases it won’t be from real life. I have found one in Theodore Twombly. Not because we are similar, I most certainly do not envision myself in a relationship with an Operating System, and also not because I admire his personality, anyone who is simply a floating vessel in the sea of life with no ambitions whatsoever isn’t a person I’d associate myself with much. Rather, his acceptance of love without being a hindrance to it himself moves me. He doesn’t try to control falling in love; he simply lets it happen to him. Some of us wouldn’t be in our pools of heartbreak if we borrowed a leaf. The downside is that it’s human nature to desire control and we may just end up fighting a losing battle.

It takes great talent to hold down a 2 hour movie without the audience being fed up with you, especially when most of it is in one’s own company, the operating system notwithstanding. It kind of reminds of Tom Hanks role in Cast Away (2000). He spends more than 4 years on a deserted island with a volleyball he paints a face on with his own blood for company and still goes on to give one of the most entrancing performances ever. Granted, Theodore is not deserted anywhere, but before Samantha, he might as well have been. He thrives in isolation and enjoys Samantha’s company as if one with an imaginary friend who is always there to listen to you. His frantic fear and despair when he suddenly cannot reach her is a testament to his attachment to her, though he comes to realize that Samantha was simply getting upgrades.

However, we cannot emphasize Joaquin Phoenix’s success as Theodore Twombly without giving due credit to the voice that brings the sad shadow of a man back to life.

Scarlett Johansson’s work as Samantha’s voice is so powerful that it has the presence of a complete person. We see her fears, tormented by the thoughts that she may be nothing more than the makings of programmed code. We feel her discovery of a new world as she experiences sex, without a body, and virtually transcending her existence. She spins through curiosity of the world she’s uncovering, jealousy for Theodore’s other lady friends and raw, perverted humour with such ease, you can only marvel at her complexity. Scarlett Johansson’s role equally stands with Kiefer Sutherland’s role in Phonebooth (2002) in sheer presence, though they may differ in the effect they produce. Sutherland’s role enhances suspense and tension whilst Samantha is a true companion, even to the audience.

The other two women we meet in Theodore’s world are his long time friend, Amy (Amy Adams) and his blind date (Olivia Wilde).

Amy serves to show the kind of relationship existing in this techno-savvy future that is not so much unlike our present. Her relationship to Charles (Matt Letscher) appears very technical and devoid of human emotions and eventually they break up due to a misunderstanding about taking off shoes in the house. Ultimately, she shows Theodore’s growth from the routine ‘corpse’ we met at the beginning to a man who has come to appreciate love and beauty. The movie’s closing scene spots the two of them on the roof of a building watching the sunrise in an embrace. She may very well be Theodore’s ultimate hope of love in the real world, but we can only speculate on what transpires after.

Olivia Wilde’s blind date character reveals a well learned, beautiful lady unable to find a man in conventional ways. Though they have fun on the date, it ends in disaster when her talk of expecting commitment to a serious relationship turns Theodore off. She is most definitely a catch and her inability to find a man speaks a great deal about the effect cyberspace has had on relationships. The scariest part is that this world so closely resembles the present that it may very well be our future and we will be overrun by the social media craze such that human relationships are considered foreign or worse  completely annihilated.

Ultimately, Her is a philosophical muse on love, evidenced by the number of quotable phrases it churns. With time it might come to be quoted as heavily as Nick Cassavetes’ The Notebook (2004) on matters of love. ‘The challenge in love is growing without growing apart and changing without scaring the other person.’ ‘Anyone who falls in love is a freak; it’s a kind of socially acceptable insanity.’ ‘We’re only here briefly and while I’m here, I’m going to allow myself…joy.’ With such nuggets of wisdom beyond making people reassess their love lives it will become a timeless classic.

What’s in a man? What’s in a woman? What is it that actually makes up a person? If it has limbs and a body and can move it could be any other animal. If it is able to draw logical conclusions from given premises, it might very well be any coded programme. A person could be the soul within. It’s something rather ambiguous but all too familiar. The soul: That which seeks to connect with others of its kind and all of creation, chases new discoveries and is enveloped by a myriad of ever changing emotions whose pinnacle is love. It all boils done to love. Anything with a soul can love, even HER.

@Kimani Wandaka.

4 Responses

  1. hellenmasido says:

    A great review as usual Kim. It’s a wonder though. how you manage to dish out spoilers and still make me want to watch a film!

  2. Kimani Wandaka says:

    You flatter me masido…but just wait till it’s a movie that sucks.

    1. hellenmasido says:

      Well when you review a sucky film then I will crucify you. 😀

      1. Kimani Wandaka says:

        I’ll prepare my cross, you sharpen your nails. However, you realize this film’s concept could be our reality pretty soon. Doesn’t it put your hairs on edge?

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