(Author’s Note: What follows is the first, or second if you count the essay on my father, entry in an infrequent series of personal essays I’ll be writing under the category of Art Imitates Life, which, I hope, is fairly self-explanatory.)
Sitting here, it’s almost a little strange thinking about just how resonant Her was for me. I do not doubt that there were others who were connected with the film, and I suppose that’s one of the many successes of Spike Jonze’s love story. From its ability to examine on how we live now to its focus on how we love now, Her does so many things right. And one of them was help me fall in and out of love with the same person.
To give a brief idea of the situation without going into too much detail, Tumblr, that blogging platform that your high school sibling is probably using instead of doing their homework, was where we “met”. And after a few brief flirtatious messages sent back and forth over that medium, it moved to a different application, where there was a bit more immediacy. Both of us were new to the idea, almost alienated by it. The concept of experiencing these emotions and feelings for someone else who was, as Karen O describes in “The Moon Song”, a million miles away was foreign. But that the emotion transcended the intangibility is what made it special, I suppose. It felt nice to be wanted. It felt nice to feel the warmth of this person’s words, if not their body. We Skyped a few times (and of course, I made him watch Frances Ha), and as frustrating as it was, it seemed to be still worth it. To have someone who was an intellectual and emotional equal, someone who was as fascinated with the world as I was but pursued their own passions. In my way, I had my own Samantha, a person who was mine and yet not mine.
Cynical though it sounds, good things are bound to end some time, and they did. My inability to perfectly articulate my feelings at this moment is, I guess, like Samantha’s. But, to completely over project and over identify, I was Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodor Twombly in the scenario, sans high waisted pants. (I didn’t handle it at well during the worst week, as I ended up buying $50 worth of chocolate.) What did, occur, throughout the long distance relationship and subsequent breakup was that I grew, and Jonze’s film helped me do that.
First, Jonze’s film helped me legitimize my relationship. When I saw it, a few weeks before it went wide, it was still very strange having this dynamic with this person. Like Theodore and Samantha, nothing technically had been set forth as a label, and initially nothing was supposed to. Pragmatism for both seemed to get in the way. Theodore occasionally vocalizes in the film that he’s dating a computer, and it sounds as strange and alien to him as when I said I was dating someone long distance. There’s a fear of being seen as totally ridiculous in this scenario. One expects someone to perhaps react similarly to Rooney Mara’s ex-wife character, so incredulous. Instead, there is a sense of comfort and understanding from people, both in the film and in reality. Chris Pratt shrugs it off saying. “Cool”, and Amy Adams asks rhetorically, “Is it not a real relationship?” That support alleviates the ridiculousness I felt. As Adams suggests, I allowed myself joy.
The opening shot of the film has Theordore look directly into the camera for less than a second and then look past the camera, dictating a love letter (though, one that is not technically his), as if the anxiety and fear he carries prevents him from professing his feelings eye to eye. I always looked past the camera when speaking to him about my feelings, my tongue twisting and my mind stumbling to find the right words to describe how strongly I had begun to feel. But the moments I did look him in the eye have left an indelible mark upon me.
Theodore acknowledges the weirdness of Samantha’s intangibility early in the film, but it becomes very apparent that he needs to push that aside. Newness was part of the appeal. As their relationship develops, their conversations become deeper and more meaningful. Having someone on the same page as you both intellectually and emotionally is wondrous. There is a special kind of thrill one gets when talking to someone who is interested in exploring the facets of your character and is as equally willing to let you explore theirs. That was intoxicating to me. I vaguely remember someone saying that they knew the reality of their relationship, how deeply they cared for someone, when they realized what all those songs were talking about. And I finally seemed to understand what all those films were about.
That intangibility ends up being an interesting obstacle. Samantha asks, “What’s it like to be alive in that room?” Theodore lays on his back and describes the feeling of being alive. He and I were left laying on our sides talking to one another late into the hours of the night (yay time zones!) talking on Skype, revealing to one another what was on our minds. I was intoxicated, drunk on the beauty of his heart and mind. But you can’t help wondering what it’s like to feel the warmth of their skin, the softness of their lips, the minute fibers in each hair on their arm, or the cool mist of their breath.
Manic Pixie Dream Person this is not, though. As much as Samantha becomes her own being, the same can be said of this person. They had their interests and passions and I had mine and we were able to meet in the middle appreciating the other person’s in a respectful way. Not only with respect, but genuine interest.
Mirroring the relationship between Theodore and Samantha, there became a distance, a reticence, and a hesitance I sensed in him. An aloofness where I would not hear from him for a day and, while I hardly ran around the streets of Los Angeles in a panic, I did obsessively check my phone to see if he had messaged me. I concede that it is the acuteness of the film to portray such realistic evolution in a relationship.
While the end was not exactly like the one in Her, I came away from the breakup feeling devastated, but unsurprised. It was almost like I was in the scene where Theodore is led into his bedroom to lie down as Samantha gives him the news. As Theodore could see the little details in everything, as if feeling desired amplified the singular uniqueness of life. He saw the light dust falling onto the bed, I saw the tiny bubbles rising from my glass of sparkling cider. The relationship seemed to slipping from my grasp, my fingers unable to hold onto everything. Although the breakup hurt a great deal, the expectedness of the matter is what probably hurt the most. I continued to reel from this event until seeing Her a second time.
The most important thing the film ended up teaching me was that people grow from these relationships. Her portrays that evolution in a relationship and in the people within that relationship as a necessary part of living. Theodore realized that he wanted to be honest and more flexible in his relationships. He found himself, became more self-aware, and discovered what he wanted. Samantha grew exponentially to a point where she needed to transcend the relationship to reach her full potential. I, like Theodore, discovered what I needed in my life. The film seems to stress that although the relationships in our lives are important part of joy, they are far from the only thing: friendship, adventure, evolution, experience. Though I may have slumped back into a more cynical mindset, the recent second round of viewing of the film helped me move past the pain I felt.
Her is an outstanding rumination on relationships and personal growth. The film made me realize I can still allow myself joy in this world. All relationships in any form are transient, but the memories of them, painful or joyous, are nonetheless experiences one can grow from. The singular beauty about art is that it can act as both a mirror to the ways we live our lives and work as a catharsis to confront and get past obstacles we encounter in our lives. The various messages of transcendence, love, and closure in Her are beautiful. And it was beautiful that for a brief time I had someone who was mine and not mine.