Holding It Strong or Letting It Go: A Look at ‘Her’ and ‘The Past’

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece Vertigo had strong references to the story Pygmalion, a legendary figure from Greek mythology known for falling in love with his own artistic creation. As the ivory sculpture, which he named Galatea, becomes Pygmalion’s object of affection, Aphrodite turns her into a real woman and eventually the artist and his “masterpiece”get married. In Hitchcock’s movie the plot follows a detective who finds the doppelgänger of the woman he’s obsessed with. After this discovery, he tries to turn her into the woman he’s actually in love with.

Vertigo, dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

Vertigo, dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

Spike Jonze’s new film Her takes this mythological story of love–for oneself and his aesthetic production–to another level by visually eliminating the aesthetic element that originally sets up the base of the Greek myth. Using a marvelously designed near-future as the environment for his futuristic tale, Jonze comments on “the upcoming man.” Still depending on some human connection, Theodore–perfectly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix–creates an Operating System to fill his lonely nights. As this custom-made OS starts to fill the gap that Theodore has in his life (he is on the verge of a divorce), he lets himself drift into a relationship with this invisible beauty–voiced excellently by Scarlett Johansson. Created to recognize his owner’s needs and to provide them, soon this OS starts to mean more than an assistant to Theodore.

Her, dir: Spike Jonze, 2013

Her, dir: Spike Jonze, 2013

In the background, we witness a near-future that doesn’t seem that different from where we live today except for the very high waist pants that men wear and some high-tech home entertainment. The human heart is still the same: vagabond about love, easy to surrender and yearning for a touch. By avoiding the corny clichés of impossible love stories, Jonze’s new work makes strong yet subtle comments on how each era creates its own taboos and unconventionalities in the frame of an ever-changing world and us, humans, just struggle to figure things out.

While Her reveals characters located in the future but looking into the past to see clues on how to be a complete human being, Asghar Farhadi’s new film The Past presents a group of people that are stuck to their pasts and their longtime coming issues. Analyzing each character neatly enough to make it possible to write a book on each of them, Farhadi’s film adapts a way of storytelling that is constantly shifting to make the audience question their standpoint on who is right and who is wrong. As each character opens up and reveals what’s been hiding beneath, it gets more and more hard to place a final verdict on the matter.

The Past, dir: Asghar Farhadi, 2013

The Past, dir: Asghar Farhadi, 2013

Like his previous film A Separation, the director gives a masterclass on blurring the lines. This blurriness is not just in the plot, but it is also within each character. As it becomes clear that none of these characters is fully or even considerably “trustworthy” in terms of what they say and what they actually do, we, as the audience, start to consider each character as fully self-righteous and slightly shady agents that edit the truth for their own sakes.

A French woman who is torn between her new boyfriend, her teenage daughter and her soon-to-be-ex husband who is visiting from Iran; an Iranian man returning to France to finalize his marriage with a French woman who is recently living with another Middle Eastern man and his son from another woman; or a struggling man facing the visiting ex-husband of the woman that he’s seeing while his wife and the mother of his young son is still in the coma after attempting to commit suicide. The story has many aspects to look from but none offers a safe bet. Each perspective that the plot offers has its what if’s or but’s, making it hard to deliver justice. Farhadi’s mastery, both as a director and a screenwriter, comes from his omnipresence on his characters and their drives. He favors or despises none of them–he just knows they are simple people with worldly problems.

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