Her Spike Jonze (USA 2013)

Her Spike Jonze (USA 2013)

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Her Spike Jonze (USA 2013) Joaquin
Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johanson

viewed: Empire Cinema Newcastle upon
Tyne; 18 Feb 2014; ticket: £4.00

Loony toons

As I watched Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ my
question was: what was it selling?

Initially it looked like advert for the
ideology of personal development wrapped up in a Guardian Angel type
fable, the role of the disembodied presence being appropriated by an
Operating System called Samantha.

Spike Jonze’s (writer and director)
scenario posits a world in vague fuzzy future peopled by characters
borrowed from a Bill Viola photo installation of the mid naughties;
the ‘Her’ characters file past us on the way from one place to
another their faces and comportment defined by a sort of sedated
slo-mo contentment their voices resonating with anodyne honesty and
reassurance.

For reasons know only to himself,
Theodore Twombly, Jonze’s male protagonist is named for the American
abstract painter, Cy Twombly who died in 2011. Perhaps Jonze owns
work by Cy who is a lyrical and even romantic painter. Perhaps Jonze
intended the use of the Twombly name as some sort of gesture or
homage. Cy Twombly certainly as a painter developed and built on his
work during his long career; though whether his later work is
preferred to the earlier, or vice versa, is a matter of taste.
Unlike Spike Jonze, Cy Twombly would not have confused development
with the changes brought about by ageing and experience.

The self development ‘sell’ hawked by
Jonze amounts to no more than rehashed Californian self help mantras.
One of these mantras intones that relationships when they fail, and
perhaps even when they don’t, constitute a kind of disease that needs
a fix. There is a current of contemporary developmental psychology
thought that sees relationships as problematic from the point of view
of ‘individual growth’. The theory is that in relationships
dominances develop leading the co-respondents to sabotage each others
potential, each trying to suppress or undermine or exploit the other.
In a culture that adopts individualism as its key value the belief
is that the operant function of a relationship is promote ‘the
potential’ of the self. The individual is more important than any
grouping: dyadic triadic or collective.

And everyone has ‘potential’.

Relationships can make ‘real’ change
in individuals impossible. It is no surprise when Alan Watts, one of
the original ‘gurus’ of the California alternative personal growth
trail puts in a voiced appearance.
(“The
only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it move with
it and join the dance.” Alan Watts) Watts was certainly one of the
thinkers most influential in promoting the ideology of perpetual
personal change and increasing acceleration, that Jonze is selling in
‘Her’. In as much as the object of the questioning and programmes,
such as they are, is to make the individual feel ‘good’ about
themselves, the movement quickly becomes an ideology of narcissism.

To
the extent that this is a film about talking about relationships,
‘Her’ targets a female audience. Talk in the form of dialogue covers
the film wall to wall: (in the same way that mindless destructive
action wall to walls in the ‘boys’ movies) it is the stuff of soap
opera, soap opera talk. Spike Jonze’s dialogue is like retreadings
from Friends, Desperate Housewives etc. The critical point is the
vacuum within which all the talk-talk happens. Soap operas are
located in parallel universes, designed to resemble real life, but
have no such connection. ‘Her’ takes place in such a parallel world.
A sort of fuzzily defined future where Computer Operating Systems
possess Artificial Intelligence, and the characters work in soft
communication industries: Theodore works for a company that writes
personal letters for people, implying intimate communication skills
have died.

‘Her’
dialogue has the surface look of being about something real, but
lacks the context that means that it can signify anything actual.
Context is everything in relation to dialogue. Where dialogue is
detached from contexts that give shape and depth to meaning, then
what is spoke in the situations contrived by the script, is
disconnected from grounds about which we might care or understand.
Simply put without context situations are meaningless, without
consequence. And all the emotive cross referencing self questioning
and self agonising that Jonze inserts into the ‘Her’ dialogue between
his protagonists is spurious. ‘Her’ context and setting are vaporific
and lack significance. The dialogue signifies nothing more than an
exaggerated swollen sense of self importance.

‘Her’
is about selling narcissism wrapped up in the myth of personal
development and change.

And
it’s all wrapped up.

‘Her’
is a prime example of the inflated ambition of contemporary film
making. Woody Allen once used to know how to make concise funny
Romcoms. Interestingly most were set in NYC which gave them some
kind of context, as did Woody’s jewishness. And Allen knew how to
deliver a film in 90 minutes. Jonze takes over two hours to deliver
‘Her’ and his film is tortuously slow lacking in basic filmic
tensions and laboriously tedious in coming to its conclusion. During
the screening sometime in the middle of the movie, the dialogue was
punctuated by loud snores coming from some one asleep in the stalls.
That about sums it up as there’s lot of slo-mo in Her,
much of the film passes by in Spike Jonze’s comatose state of film
making, accompanied by a load of dreary tinkly music attributed to
Samantha the Operating System.

And lastly a question to which I don’t
know the answer. Samantha the disembodied OS, at the end of the
script passes, with her new chum Alan, onto another higher plane,
another dimension of existence, leaving Theodore behind. She has
migrated in accordance with her destiny.

OS/OT = operating system = operating
Thetan. Is this an allegorical movie driven by the belief system of
Scientology?

Adrin Neatrour

adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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