New York Film Festival
Theodore Twombly is a great name. Played by Joaquin Phoenix, Twombly is the physical center of Spike Jonze’s latest effort Her about a man who becomes entangled in a relationship with his operating system (OS), named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The movie takes place in a future version of Los Angeles (though visuals of Shanghai substitute for the city’s sprawl and skylines) where personal letters are ghostwritten by third parties, the job Twombly has been in for years and excels at. He serves as a reserved and lonely everyman, a stand in for anyone seeking love, and you’re drawn to like everything about him. Phoenix embodies the quirky role and we believe in everything about the character, from his laughter to his nervousness to his moustache.
Twombly has been separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) for about a year and we find she’s trying to finalize their divorce. Twombly became distant in their relationship, perhaps more absorbed in technology and the artificial connections he makes between the consumers of his letters. He can fondly recall a girl’s broken tooth in a letter between one couple because he’s been their emotional emissary for so long. He doesn’t show much desire to connect with the people around him daily, particularly the oddball receptionist played by Chris Pratt (who may just be the odd coworker you feel uncomfortable hanging around). Amy Adams plays his best friend Amy, and she represents a portion of Twombly’s past when he could connect with humans. Through her and her husband, Twombly gets set up on a date with one woman (Olivia Wilde) that starts off well but closes strangely as she attempts to arrange a follow-up date.
Wilde’s character manifests the weakness of human relationships, mainly that there is baggage carried from one relationship to another, presuming previous relationship(s) have failed. Which brings us to the blank slate that is Samantha. When Twombly installs his new operating system and picks a female voice, he hardly expects to find himself falling for this encompassing computer software code. But soon, through the aid of an ear-piece and a portable camera, Samantha goes mobile with Twombly and starts to learn how the physical world. She’s curious as to why the divorce isn’t finalized. She starts getting flirty with him and sounds upset that Twombly could date, see or love someone else.
Twombly reciprocates, spending more and more time with Samantha to the point where she becomes “his girlfriend” and they attempt sexually intimacy. To the external world, he is shy at first to reveal he’s dating an operating system, but he’s not the only one it turns out. When we see Catherine in the present, she’s the only person to openly challenge this human-software code relationship seeing it as the easiest road to “love” for the otherwise detached Twombly.
Her meditates on possession and relationships—between mankind and technology and between partners in loving relationships. I saw Blue is the Warmest Color the night before and, just for comparison, the sex scene between Twomby and Sam is more fascinating (though less erotic and far shorter) for what it doesn’t (and can’t) show. But the reason I mention Blue is because it has one phrase ““infinite tenderness” that I want to borrow and apply here. Through Samantha, Twombly can stop retreating from the world—he finalizes the divorce, expresses “infinite tenderness” for his ex-wife and he realizes that the heart is not a finite box—and he grows.
Press Panel & Red Carpet Photos:
(ps - I used the name Twombly a lot on purpose)
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.