Thursday, January 16, 2014

Speak, Assassin: In Defense of "Her"

"Her" is fantastic. Much of its dramatic power hinges on an exquisite scene that comes about 2/3s of the way through the film, when Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, has lunch with Catherine, played by Rooney Mara, to hand over their divorce papers, for her to sign.

In a review called "Love Objects," Elaine Blair, writing for the New York Review of Books, attacks the scene for idealizing and objectifying Catherine.

But her critique misreads the scene, in my view. I posted the following comment to the review:
I took this scene to be shot in cinema's version of free indirect indirect style: we aren't seeing Catherine as the world sees her but as Theodore sees her. Jonze's reliance on free indirect style, which he uses, I think, with extraordinary delicacy, applies to every moment that Catherine is on screen. 
Throughout the film, Theodore embodies our tendency to idealize the past—particularly a past love. His professional life, his constant reminiscing, and, most poignantly, his relationship with Catherine all reflect this tendency. So it should come as no surprise that when Theodore actually comes face-to-face with his past, in the present, Jonze makes clear to us what he is seeing: not the present but the past; the idealized object of his desire, flawless, eternally young—his Beatrice. 
The fact that Theodore can only see Catherine as a desired object, that he has lost the capacity to experience her as a desiring subject, is not a flaw in the film but its triumph: we contemplate together love's greatest loss, in which the beloved is now but a memory, and as a memory no longer herself—an object, not a subject, forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment