BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Yes, Her. Everyone I knew saw it–loved it, gushed about it, talked about it in a dream-like trance. To say the least, my interest was piqued–especially because I had read countless articles beforehand. I couldn’t help it, they were everywhere. In particular, one stood out where the author describes the film as essentially un-feminist, being that there isn’t a huge female presence. You could say I saw the film with the idea that women weren’t important, that they were conspicuously absent.
Life works in funny ways, because nothing you plan happens. I went to Union Square expecting some indie flick about love that I would find ways to criticize, but I found the opposite to be true. I loved it & I loved it because I saw nothing but women–women through the lens of a man who happened to be extremely lonely in his desire for real human connection in a world of virtual reality.
We enter into the film as witnesses to a world that is absent of real human interaction, similar to the one we’re in now, but perhaps fifteen years from now. Theodore writes letters for lovers & friends, whose words & emotions are really his, but recycled. When he leaves work day after day, he walks into a sea of humans talking into ear pieces & metallic devices, hardly even taking notice of anything else. This is Theodore’s life on repeat, as he pushes off signing divorce papers. Sounds kind of empty & isolating for anyone, right? It also sounds like the kind of virtual reality we’re almost in–one where our iphones become high powered to the point where we forget other people are actually important, too.
When we meet Amy through the course of the film, Theodore’s closest friend, I realized something. She was cool, smart, funny, & understanding. She also wanted connection, to find a meaningful life. The author who published the Slate article disagrees, however, citing that Amy shows a lack of a sex drive for anyone: “Inexplicably neutered, she shows no sexual inclinations, neither for her soon-to-be ex-husband, nor for Theodore—nor for her own operating system, a female voice who has become her (platonic) friend”.
I find this rationalization somewhat misdirected & troubling, in that there is far more to womanhood than sex. Amy is successful in her own right–a computer programmer who realizes she is unhappy in her marriage. Instead of waiting for her husband to initiate the break-up, she finds the courage to do this herself. To me, this seems to be the work of an independent woman who is not codependent on her partner. While her computer games can be arguably mocking, she does mention her job is “terrible” but needs to make one major life decision at a time–a fair assessment, I think. If Amy was only concerned about sex, I feel it would simplify her character as a woman, ignoring parts of her personal life that also fulfill her.
Concerning Samantha, of course, things get a tad more complicated. At first, it is apparent to me that Theodore loves her so much because she is always there for him, simply existing for him. This is an unrealistic, immature idea of love, which he soon loses, & learns from. As painful as it was to watch Theodore slump on the subway stairs, heart falling into his stomach as he realizes Samantha communicates with other people, & loves other people, it is also an awareness he desperately needs. Before, he was searching for a love who would only love him; perhaps, this is the moment he can begin to understand he cannot possess another person–a woman.
As Samantha grows & expands her intellectual & emotional landscapes, we witness the birth of a woman–a woman who is scared, excited, happy, & sad to know her own mind, who chooses to be independent. Living in a virtual reality, between playing a seemingly three-dimensional video game, speaking with his OS, & writing virtual letters has left Theodore unable to express his emotions in his own life. Living in this environment skews his ability to have meaningful connections with other people, but it is also what saves him.
Samantha is bodiless. Being a woman does not just mean you have a woman’s body–I felt Jonze actually did a great job at illustrating this sentiment, at having the audience question what makes us human. Samantha had feelings, emotions, thoughts, & anxieties separate from Theodore or her programmers–she was human but not human. Unlike Theodore, she was not confined by her mortality, by her physical body–she could literally expand her mind in the matter of seconds, become part of a world we cannot see–the spaces between words, the length of rain drops falling to the ground.
In this way, Samantha became so much more than a body, she was a woman defined by her mind, by her very being. The idea that Theodore legitimately falls in love with this ghost-like, ever-present voice is astonishing: it seems they have sex & the screen goes to black, something happens to both of them. Samantha is everywhere, feeling the world without a physical body. While at first, Samantha does long to have a body just to be touched by Theodore (which is problematic), she quickly grows to appreciate her transcendent presence, noted on their vacation. Samantha is a being beyond our comprehension & human perception–that doesn’t make her less of a woman, just not the kind of woman we’re used to.
While it could be argued that Samantha’s orgasm was only emotional, I see it as an awakening to a whole new dimension–a virtual reality where she expanded with, & into, the universe; Theodore also awakened, into a world where he could feel comfortable being himself, & truly communicate with other people. It wasn’t just about sex, it was about finding connection, experiencing love, & being able to lose it, because that’s what being human is about–losing more than winning & still coming out triumphant.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015) & Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the chief editor for Luna Luna Magazine.