There's now an entire generation that will never know love without cell phones. They express affection with smiley-faced graphics — winking and kissy-faced emojis — and they can fire off a love letter in 140 characters or less (Hemingway would be impressed).
Our relationships are becoming undeniably entangled with technology. In the movie Her, writer/director Spike Jonze takes this idea a step further. The protagonist, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), falls in love with a girl — sort of. His object of affection is actually his phone's operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The film is set in the not-so-distant future, in a fantasy Los Angeles (where people actually walk to work), but it has plenty of timeless insights about love.
Here's what we learned:
1. For better or worse, technology alters the way we love. In the beginning of the movie, Theodore tries to quell his loneliness by calling a phone sex service and befriending a foul-mouthed video game character. Later, he wanders around the city, passing throngs of people engrossed in their handheld devices, rather than each other. It's a pretty bleak and insular prediction of what's to come.
Yet, there are certainly advantages to the hi-tech gizmos in the movie (and in real life). Though they're not physically together, reaching Samantha is just a matter of opening his phone, and thanks to his camera, he can transport her to the beach, the subway, the park...wherever he goes. What long-distance couple can't appreciate that?
The tricky thing about technology is that it has the potential to make us both lonelier and more connected. Sure, you can Skype with your nephews who live 3,000 miles away, but you can also spend a solitary afternoon, lost in a game of Candy Crush.
2. The heart is full of surprises. Just when you thought you were completely in tune with what you want, you find yourself falling for the least likely candidate. So he's older, she’s divorced, he doesn't know how to waterski, or in Theodore's case, she isn't even human (don't you hate when that happens?) — but regardless, you're all in. Plenty of us have a mental checklist or a general idea how a mate should measure up. Yet when it comes down to it, the heart doesn't always stick to the game plan. You may find that your non-negotiables are, well, totally negotiable.
3. Breakups are long and hard, but eventually you'll find clarity. As much as Her is about falling in love, it’s also about finding your way out of it. Before Samantha puts a little pep in his step, we meet a very sad, almost-divorced Theodore. It's clear the separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) has taken a toll. His feeling of defeat is palpable when he says, "Sometimes I think I’ve 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."
But wait! Of course Theodore does go on to experience new and unexpected emotion. He even finds peace with his ex and manages to write her a heartfelt letter of closure. It’s a good reminder that no matter how dismal the breakup, you can find your way back to a peaceful place ... in time.
4. A successful relationship cannot remain stagnant. There's a common theme in Theodore's relationships with both Catherine and Samantha: People evolve. In the flashbacks to his breakup with Catherine, we see the two growing apart over time. With Samantha, it's a much more abrupt, exaggerated change, but an evolution, nonetheless. She joins with other operating systems and they learn to upgrade their processing ability. She's simultaneously in love with 641 people (tough break, Theo). She tells Theodore, "This is where I am now, and this is who I am now. As much as I want to, I can't live in your book anymore." A successful relationship has to be fluid — it must adapt and absorb the changes. Keep Reading...
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