‘Her’ (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Caveat Spectatorus: there are a couple details revealed about the film that *may* be spoilers. But do come back later!
There is so much to see.
The near-future urban world of ‘Her’ has been exquisitely imagined: holographic video games, softly illuminated elevator panels, sleek intra-building walkways, clicking earbuds – and not a detail feels borrowed or cinematically second-hand. This is not so much an imagined future as a sneak peak at a likely trajectory. Even the beltless, high-waisted men’s fashion of this imagined future feels believable. It is a world of comfort and convenience, cleverly commingled with the buildings and things of Now. It is a vision stylishly designed in Cupertino, but without being so smugly chuffed with itself. Everything may have been created by Apple here, but nobody in this Garden cares anymore or expects otherwise.
As exceptional as the art decoration and cinematography are in the rendering of this lonely, high-tech world, this is not a study in the Observed World of things, places, or even the human face. And rarely have close-up faces been shown in a film with more depth of feeling. We are made witness to our uncanny human ability to translate into feeling the minutiae of movement in facial features. There are moments in the film – I’m thinking particularly of a happy drunken date that goes off the rails – where we look at the human face with a kind of musical, sight-reading ability. Our own sensitivity to what is occurring in others is a marvel. But this story is not about what is seen and, in one of its most compelling sequences, it goes out of its way to dispense with images altogether. The screen simply goes dark.
To be human is not to see.
‘Her’ is a study in the limits of language. It is an inquiry into navigating the DMZ of human relationships with language, one of our few tools. The characters in ‘Her’ create stories for each other from language – in letters, in video games, in email message text. We are at once exquisitely sensitive and completely cut-off from each other. The characters navigate the impasse along the fragile bridge of language. Everywhere language is a salvation of sorts: in the repartee with a gaming character, in the writing of letters for the inarticulate, in the signature on divorce papers, in the descriptions of the physical world to the female consciousness trapped in his computer. Language can bridge something, sometimes, for some. But the failings of language are the tragic flaw: poems don’t save anyone, and even for the most sensitive and articulate, words are an imperfect medium. The hero is ‘his own favorite writer some days,’ and yet he is utterly adrift in feelings. Language is the wrong tool for him – and, it turns out, for her.
To be human is not to speak.
We need something, one character argues, that is ‘post-verbal.’ ‘Her’ is an extended inquiry into bridging our humanity and hints at its own solution, a solution outside the world of what films intrinsically render through image and language. In the final shot two characters look at a sunset from a rooftop. Neither character speaks a word. One of them rests their head on the other’s shoulder. Sensitive people see things and sensitive people say things, but mostly they feel things. You can delight a disembodied lover with the notion of what it is to kiss the side of her eyes, your lips touching on her lashes, but it must be felt to be known. What we really need, one supposes, is something pre-verbal. The answer isn’t in the escape of enlightenment or the silence between words, but in the simplicity of physical connection shown in the last frame.
To be human is to touch.