Her: A Reflektive

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January 20, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Twelve hours after seeing Spike Jonze’s masterpiece Her, I’ve just discovered that indie-rock band Arcade Fire originally wrote the song “Supersymmetry” for the film.  Instead however, the song was included as the final track on their newest album Reflektor.  The fact that Her and Reflektor are linked all of the sudden makes the universe make even more sense.  While watching the movie, I couldn’t help but notice that Her seems to bring to life the main theme of Reflektor, that of synthetic emotions, and superficial feelings being mistaken for something real and tangible.  Now that I know there was originally supposed to be a connection between the two proves that the two are sending the same message to their audiences.

I think anytime there’s a title track on an album, the eponymous song should be a microcosm for the rest of the album; it should summarize everything that the album stands for and believes in.  Such is the case with Reflektor and its title track, wherein the idea of something so diluted and intrinsically fake is mistaken to be real, as a result real feelings are seemingly stirred without a proper and true basis for them.

In the song, the singer has thought that he had fallen in love with a woman, but in reality his love is merely “a reflection, of a reflection, of a reflection, of a reflection”.  Even though he may be in love with “her” his feelings are unfounded and are therefore synthetic as a reflection is not a tangible thing that someone can actually love.  The entire song references this superficial and replicated love that even if the lovers feel something they believe to be real can never be because it’s baseless and lacking a foundation.  The lines “We’re still connected, but are we even friends”, and “Our love is plastic, we’ll break it to bits” do more than prove this theory of mine to be true, it also proves just how easy it is for these bonds to form and how believable they are despite the fact that this faux-love is essentially a copy of a copy of a copy, after all what these lovers share is naught more than a mere reflection reflected multiple times back at them.

At the core of the film, what Her is all about is the fear of real love.  Because of this innate fear, the main character Theodore relegates himself to a faux love with his computer operating system.  Even though he believes he is in love, an may very well be, what it comes down to is that he can’t actually be in love with his computer because it’s a relationship that was founded on insincerity and artificially evolved.  His phone, named Samantha, was programmed to best suit him, on top of being a fully sentient artificial intelligence capable to learn and grow at her own astronomical rate.  She was specifically and superficially crafted to, in some sense, attract him.  As a computer, Samantha is fully capable of acting and doing anything she can to best suit Theodore in a way that no one ever will be able to, but even though she is able to do this, it’s still fake because he merely grew more dependent on her and did not grow as a person, as is what should happen in a healthy relationship.

When we look at Theodore’s life, everything he does, all his interactions are as a proxy for love, and his entire love life is but a reflection of a reflection of a reflection.  What is being reflected, the true love that he can’t find anymore is his ex-wife and their failed marriage.  He loved her, but because it ended badly, he’s now left chasing a reflection of that, because he’s been scarred and frightened by the real thing.  His job is to write love letters for people who can’t do it themselves.  Even though he isn’t in the relationship he knows all of the intimate details of their lives, as in some cases he’s been working with the same couples for almost ten years.  In this occupation, he is the reflector, someone who takes the feelings of another and reflects them unto the target.  The words that he writes, that he comes up with himself, are very romantic and loving, but they aren’t real on his part and even though he writes about being in love, the letters are rendered moot and hollow because all he is, is a proxy, an agent, a reflector for those with true feelings of love.

The true revelation of the shortcomings of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship comes to light during their two sex scenes, which subtly reminds us that we can’t make love to a computer.  In these two scenes director Spike Jonze asks the question “Can we really be in love with something if we physically cannot demonstrate that love?”.  Ultimately the answer proves that we can’t.

In the first sex scene between Theodore and Samantha, which in reality is nothing more than him masturbating to the sounds of Samantha climaxing, is an inversion of an early scene when Theodore has phone sex with a random woman.  In both scenes the acts are exactly the same, audible masturbation, but in the case with SexyKitten he obviously didn’t love her because there was nobody to love, but with Samantha, he convinces himself that it is love even though the actions were the exact same as with SexyKitten.  This shows the logical fallacy in loving a computer over a person, because both were disembodied but Theodore wouldn’t say he had sex with SexyKitten, but he did say he had sex with Samantha even though both were instances of masturbation.

The second sex scene draws parallels to Theodore’s occupation as a personal letter writer, as this scene involved a proxy as well in the form of a woman named Isabel.  The fact that they need a proxy to pretend to be real speaks volumes about the intrinsic falsehood of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship since they need the employment of a third party to help make it real.  But for Theodore having sex with an actual woman pretending to be Samantha is too awkward for him because it’s insincere and fake even though in this scene sex is a very real option.  But the actual sex would have been too real a truth that would have undermined and exposed his synthetic and reflective love with Samantha.

It’s this fear of true love that ultimately led to him rejecting Olivia Wilde’s character.  Here was a woman he was attracted to and had great chemistry with, but at the prospect of embarking on a real and serious relationship, he balked at the idea and eventually settled for Samantha, his operating system, as with her there’s an innate sense that it isn’t as real or serious as being with another human being.  Because he experienced the real thing with his ex-wife Catherine, and was hurt by it, Theodore is content with settling for the reflection of true love in the form of Samantha.  It isn’t until the end when she reveals she has been just as intimate with hundreds of other people that Theodore starts to realize that he is trapped in a mirror house of love.  He sees it for what it truly is and realizes the folly of being in love with his operating system.  What they have can’t be love if she also is in love with over 600 others.  It becomes a love that is so diluted and insincere that it’s not love anymore.  It’s a mere reflection of a reflection of a reflection of love.

What Her and Reflektor espouse is that we live in an age where it’s never been easier to be caught up in the superficial and synthetic, and that as a result we’ve mistaken these things to be real and natural when they inherently are not.  Her does this with technology and Reflektor does this with another person.  In both instances the relationships described aren’t founded on any real foundation, but are cheap replications of the real thing, and because of that, everyone is mistaken into thinking these relationships are more than they actually are.  What these relationships become though are something that was once real that has since been diluted, and that diluted, cheapened version was reflected over and over again.  Arcade Fire told us that we’re living in the reflective age, and with Her Spike Jonze showed us that we’re living in the reflective age.

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