Happiness And The Self: The Philosophy Of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ – ScreenHub Entertainment

Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers for Spike Jonze’s Her.

Her, written and directed by Spike Jonze (Jackass, Being John Malkovich), is one of the few films with a runtime of over 2 hours that truly uses it. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, and Chris Pratt, Her brings in an all-star cast and delivers some of the best subtle and emotional performances in film. The film reflects on themes of identity and happiness and, in this post, I will be looking at how it does so and what concepts it explores.

Emotional Separation From Reality

Her Refraction.jpg
[Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
The stand-out theme of the film is emotion and, more specifically, an emotional disconnection from reality. This is communicated and symbolised somewhat by the pastel colour scheme of the film and the quiet, subtle soundtrack.

One of the more interesting concepts explored is that, due to technology, society has become so disconnected from their emotions that they have lost the ability to properly communicate them (and therefore hire professionals such as Pheonix’s Theodore to do so for them). In fact, I think it is Theodore’s unusual emotional situation (coming out of a divorce and spending his days writing emotional love letters for happy couples) that makes him surprisingly relatable despite his unusual and unfamiliar character.

The concept explores the idea that social media and our replacement of people with technology (specifically in relation to interaction) has created an emotional disconnection and feeling of separation from reality. This is largely explored through Theodore’s job as a letter writer as it shows the gradual progression of technology that makes it easier to communicate and, as it becomes easier, it becomes less meaningful and therefore much harder to communicate meaning and emotions.

If You Can’t Tell, Does It Matter?

Her Train.jpg
[Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Some of the themes explored in the film look at genuine artificial intelligence (also famously looked at in Blade Runner 2049 and Ex Machina) and genuine happiness. The former is displayed through Samantha. It is most obvious at the beginning as Theodore buys the OS and later when, as Theodore meets with Catherine to sign the divorce papers, she questions his relationship with Samantha and he beings to doubt it himself. The basic concept of the argument is that it is impossible to tell if Samantha has true, real artificial intelligence, capable of feeling emotion, or if she is simply designed to make it seem as if that is the case.

The later, however, argues that as long as Theodore thinks Samantha’s emotions (And therefore her love for him) are real, it shouldn’t matter. Also, as long as the emotions that he is feeling are real, it shouldn’t matter why he is feeling that way. If someone is happy because they believe they are loved when they are, in fact, being sold a fake simulation  of love, should it matter that the love they feel is coming from a truly sincere place?

Intrigue Of Amy

Her Amy.jpg
[Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Amy, played by Amy Adams, is an interesting character as the themes explored through her character are very different to those explored in the rest of the film. She also delivers some of the most interesting and thought-provoking lines of dialogue in the film.

The character is constantly struggling with herself and striving for perfection and, in doing so, destroying her happiness. This is explored through her messy divorce and her job. At her job, she is part a team that is designing a game in which you attempt to be the perfect mother, similar to her life in which she is desperately trying to be the perfect wife to a man with whom she shares no interests.

“You know what, I can over think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself. And since Charles left I’ve been really thinking about that part of myself and, I’ve just come to realise that, we’re only here briefly. And while I’m here, I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it.” – Amy

Her husband also plays an important role in revealing this side of her character. Throughout the first part of the movie, Amy is stuck in an unhappy marriage with a man who does not understand her and pushes her further to perfection, even to a point where she gives up and simply divorces him and is finally able to relax.

Impermanence And Limitations Of Emotion

Her Beach.jpg
[Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
The film also explores the limitations of emotion in both the sense of time and volume (for want of a better word). In the film, not a single relationship survives other than that of the friendship between Amy and Theodore (who already had a previously failed relationship). This is probably simply a comment Jonze’s thoughts on relationships and people changing.

More interestingly, the film shows Theodore struggling to really sever his emotional connection with his wife (shown by his constant delaying of signing their divorce papers). I think this is also intended to reflect Theodore’s fear of unhappiness, or, more likely, a fear of inability to feel emotion.

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” – Theodore

Theodore sees his wife as his last moment of happiness and would seem to be terrified of leaving that behind, fearing that he will never reach that level of happiness again. Also, Theodore only agrees to sign the papers after he is secure in his happiness with Samantha. This, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting parts of the film.

The film also asks questions that it does not explore or attempt to answer but are at least interesting to look at. Through the reveal of Samantha’s ‘other contacts/interactions’, the film asks if we are limited in emotional capacity and if so, is that done so by our limited intellect. Secondly, an in continuation of theme (and continuing the previously mentioned themes of technology limiting our emotional availability and capacity), it questions if our emotional capacity is decreasing in size due to increased connectivity and improved technology.

“The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you more.” – Samantha

Purely Aesthetically…

Her Owl.jpg
[Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Aside from the philosophy and intrigue of the film, it is aesthetically brilliant. The previously mentioned panel colours make watching it surprisingly comforting to watch (and makes it feel much shorter than it actually is). Also, the set design and cinematography (above) are beautifully constructed, having some of my favourite shots of all time.

I hope you liked this post and, if you think I have left anything out, please say in the comments. Also, be sure to check out more of our content at Screenhub Entertainment such as my post on the philosophy of Ex Machina or my post updating you on the latest news on the announced Game of Thrones prequel.

3 thoughts on “Happiness And The Self: The Philosophy Of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ – ScreenHub Entertainment

  1. This was a great read! It was very concise about all the major points in the film. However there is one thing that was left out that must be said. We cannot overlook the fact that from the very beginning, Theodore almost immediately begins treating Samantha like a person. Saying things like “I’m sorry” or when Samantha says “I just thought about that”. This is a very early but clear admission on the part of Theodore and Sam that what they started in a relationship could be synonymous with that of a human being relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

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