I spent this weekend doing what I believed to be a final pass at moviegoing prior to the Golden Globes (this year’s field is DEEP, so it may require a few more trips), and spent my Saturday seeing two offerings I was VERY excited about: Her, and Inside Llewyn Davis. I have things to say about the latter, and I’ll get there, but first: Her.
I know a few things for sure about Her:
- From the first trailer I saw, I said to myself, “This is going to be a heartbreaking film to watch.” I wasn’t wrong. However, I left this movie saying “This is very sad, but not in a bad way.” Sad, yes, but not debilitatingly so.
- Having never had a reason to go to bat for ScarJo, I will find a way to burn the Academy down if she goes unrecognized for this performance. There are some eligibility issues at hand because only her voice is used and not her likeness. This is an antequated rule, award voters. FIGURE IT OUT.
With that said, I want to draw attention to a lower-profile element of the film: BeautifulHandwrittenLetters. com. The protagonist, Theodore Twombly, works for an Internet company called BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com. As the name might imply, their business is sending handwritten letters to people from their loved ones.
Here’s the catch: the loved ones aren’t writing the letters. They send photos, notes, and other artifacts to authors who work at the company, of which Theodore is one. They compose letters for these people based on the artifacts, and mail them to the named recipients. From how the movie refers to these customer-company relationships, there are people who have been sending information to these companies for years, with letter writers creating sentiments for them over long stretches of time.
As I said, there were several sad elements of the movie. But this part was one of the saddest to me. Those who know me know I am a tremendous proponent for handwritten correspondence, letters, and cursive handwriting. But I didn’t know how to take this portrayal of it…at first.
Earlier this week, I commended a colleague of mine for recognizing his lack of critical thinking in responding to…lots of things. Student work, the writing of friends and acquaintances, and other times when he felt he held back on giving needed criticism. It takes a lot to say out loud that you’re holding back, and even more to do so in a public forum as he did. We’ve all read articles and blogs or gotten notes from students with which we disagreed, had questions, or felt uncomfortable. But we often resist that urge to send that comment, question, or voice our discomfort; this is a particularly pronounced phenomenon when we’re responding to people we know or want badly to be supportive of.
When I really think about it, these are two different versions of the same problem: what needs to be said, isn’t being said. Be it words of encouragement or love that we can’t be bothered to say, or that critical question that we worry will fracture our relationship, the words go unsaid. And despite the fear and trepidation we hold about saying these things out loud (or, in some cases, online), that fear is a dangerous one.
The near future in which Her takes place is full of people who willingly hand their lives and deepest thoughts over to artificially intelligent beings to help them sort out, even as they live in a world of real people who could easily do the same if allowed to do so. Seeing all the people in the film rushing through near-future Los Angeles, earpieces in and necks lowered to interact with their devices was startling…but not altogether different from where we are right now. The movie is powerful because of its selected story, but also powerful because we’re not far from a world where this could be the case for any of us.
I know there are people in my life with whom I should be more vocal- with words both supportive and critical, encouraging and questioning. Chances are, I’m not alone in that. Her, along with last week’s conversation, will likely push me to speak up more often. As Amy, Theodore’s neighbor says closer to the end of the film, “We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.” And if expressing thoughts that could create joy can help facilitate that, it’s something I want to do. How about you?