Queering Her

Before reading, please note that there are many spoilers from the movie Her that may harm your experience of the film. Because the movie is so wonderful, watch the movie first—then read this.

Spike Jonze’s Her is a masterpiece on many levels. The focus of the film is a man—Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix)—who is having a relationship with “a computer”—Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). It is a metaphor easily hyperbolizing most people’s relationship with their smartphone. It is a literary film about people who quite literally get aroused by words. Her continues Jonze’s infatuation with stories concerning performance and also raises many tech related philosophical questions. The film suggests ways technology can and should change in the future, offering creative ideas for product design and suggesting humans can live forever via their written word(s). Her is a masterpiece that comes from a singular vision, one so strong that viewers feel the director/writer’s passion in every frame of the film.

A relevant parallel in Her is its queer connection. Although there are no outright LGBTQ characters or discussions of LGBTQ issues, the film is a queer parable buried under a “heteronormative” relationship. Twombly is a typical pre-middle aged metropolitan heterosexual male. He is recently divorced from a heterosexual marriage and works a job that he doesn’t hate writing personal cards for people who don’t have the time to write them. He is lonely and has an incredible sexual drive that goes unappeased save for a few pornographic encounters. His life changes when he meets a “woman” by way of Operating System (OS) Samantha, a hyper-intelligent incarnation of Apple’s Siri.

Samantha is charming and incredibly realistic: in theory, Samantha is a woman. Because Twombly lives in a literary reality working as a writer and where the spoken word makes society go, he has an instant connection to her. She seems more realistic and more understanding than most human females he knows and his relationship with her goes from being based in business to based in flirtatious sexuality to based in love.

The film outlines a typical Boy Meets Girl, Boy And Girl Fight, Girl Leaves Boy storyline: the exterior of the characters’ relationship is nothing uncommon. Their beings are the catch because he is a man and she is not a natural woman: this is where the film gets queer, turning the film into a metaphor for sexuality and gender issues our society struggles with. Samantha and the OS are not traditional humans and relationships with them are seen as taboo in some sects: they are outsiders, seen as that which is divergent from the norm. In effect, Twombly represents the open minded lover or perhaps even a bisexual male. He even has trouble coping with himself and understanding his own sexuality, which Jonze handles very delicately via a surrogate sex scene and the end of ultimate demise of their relationship. There is even a scene where Twombly comes out to his ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), explaining that he is in a happy relationship with an OS. She—A member of Normal Society.—reacts in a way associated with the antiquated and bigotry: she belittles him, telling him that what he is doing is wrong and not natural.

This base relationship in Her aligns with general queer studies, a thought discipline defined by “whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant.” Samantha and Twombly are an easy metaphor for the queer since they are outside the sexual mainstream. Her role as an “unnatural woman” (or that which goes against making heteronormative couple, a natural male and natural female ) could easily be replaced with a transwoman or a bisexual person or male in today’s society. Jonze’s making Samantha and Twombly’s relationship taboo and placing Twombly as a newly queer person makes the story a symbol for alternative sex and gender.

Her hints at an all accepting utopia, where all depths and variety of gender and sex are accepted. There is another coming out moment in the film where Twombly and Amy (Amy Adams) have a positive discussion about he and Samantha. Amy has a contemporary point of view, condoning his dating an OS. They even discuss others who have similar relationships. There are several scenes depicting the acceptance of Samantha’s queer body as she participates in a double date and even speaks with Twombly’s friends, accepted as a normal person. There is a scene in which a somewhat kinky sexual encounter instigated by Samantha goes wrong. Like all couples, sexual risks and the revealing of fantasies don’t always go as planned. Ultimately, Samantha (and the other OS) leave as they are not understood and because of complications related to their being.

This is of course a queer viewing of Her because it in no way intends to be this. Moreover, it is not a perfect queer parable because the OS (The Others, The Queers) leave humans behind as they are misunderstood and too complicated. Moreover, the way Twombly and Samantha’s relationship breaks relates to her own innate queer fault(s).

This said, it is very easy to connect Her to alternative sex and gender issues because that is what the film’s narrative base is about: a man embarking upon a non-traditional relationship. It just happens to use an otherwise heterosexual “female” as the queer body. By this math, Her could be viewed as a metaphor for interracial relationships or interfaith relationships, too. It is a lush intellectual playing field that will hopefully help some understand differences in our society. Her illustrates that those outside of the norm are not bad: they are just as complicated and nuanced as you or I, they just happen to be packaged differently.

This post was previously featured on Medium: find it here.

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