The Everlasting Beauty of “Her”
Director & Writer: Spike Jonze
Her. Where do I begin? Her (2013) is a beautiful movie. It’s a beautiful movie about one the most beautiful thing in the universe: love. But what makes Her so beautiful is not only the story, but also how it is delivered. The story is layered with a perfect soundtrack, courtesy of Arcade Fire, that adds to the atmosphere and it is shown through astounding visuals (thank you, Director of Photography, Hoyte Van Hoytema) that serve as the stage for our characters. This results in a film that is truly, through and through, beautiful.
One could watch Her and come away thinking the film is really a satire on our technology-dependent world, but I’d rather view that aspect of the film as an alternative reading and treat it as the love story I think it was intended to be.
Her is the story of Theodore, a lonely man played by Joaquin Phoenix, living in a world dominated by technology, until he purchases a fully-conscious, hyper-intelligent operating system (think Lucy in virtual form+feelings). Said lonely man then quickly falls in love with that operating system (romantic love, not love in the Apple die-hard and MacOS kind of way), who names herself Samantha, and is played by Scarlett Johansson (who, interestingly, also played Lucy).
What’s beautiful about Her is that, assuming you have an idea that the movie is a love story between a man and an operating system, you come into the movie with some presumptions and judgements. How can a man fall in love with a operating system?? How can an operating system fall in love with a man?? These are the kind of presumptions you bring with you into the movie, but then shit happens and you find yourself rooting for Theodore and Samantha, and then you start to death-stare the characters in the film that look down upon their love, and before you know it, you forget that you weren’t that far off from those characters you now despise.
That is the beauty of Her. It takes your preconceived notions of love, picks it up by its feet, and shakes it until its completely and utterly disoriented. You find yourself looking back at pre-Her you and how narrow your definition of love was, but being happy, post-Her, that your definition of love has expanded. Like Samantha tells Theodore, “The heart’s not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love.”
The beauty of Her strikes you immediately from the moment you press “play.” The first sound we hear, “Milk & Honey” by Arcade Fire, plays before the movie even begins, when all we see are logos, and it serves as our first introduction to the tone and mood of what’s to come. As Theodore says to his smart phone: “Play melancholy song.”
Part-way through the movie, deep amidst Theodore’s relationship with Samantha, we see them (Samantha as an earbud in Theodore’s ear) on the beach as Samantha decides to compose a song that captures what it feels like to be on the beach with Theodore. The song she composes, “Song on the Beach”, sounds exactly what you’d think a song about a romantic day at the beach would sound like.
Later in the film, Samantha composes another song, “Photograph”, saying that she hopes the song will capture, like a photograph, that moment in their lives, of them together. What Samantha says about that song applies to every song we hear in the film, as each song of the soundtrack feels like the perfect snapshot of the scene they’re featured in. Which brings us to…
Her is a Cinematography lover’s goldmine. Just look:
Her has everything: interiors, exteriors, landscapes, and whatever that last beautiful gem of a shot would be called. You know the cinematography of a film is truly magnificent when you find yourself having to pause the film multiple times to admire what you’re looking at.
The world of Her, a futuristic Los Angeles, is a sight to behold. The streets and bridges Theodore crosses are surrounded by buildings that touch the sky. The writer’s workshop/studio Theodore writes in (and Chris Pratt works in) looks like a modern creative’s haven. The apartment Theodore inhabits looks like an interior designer’s masterpiece, with a panoramic view of the city that can only be beaten by the view from the roof.
All of these puzzle pieces come together in unison to form a beautiful film, but these pieces are held together by one thing: the colour red. Red is the colour of passion, red is the colour of anger, and red is colour of love, and it is these three things that create this rollercoaster our main character goes through, all while wearing red.