I am a deeply impatient person. I try to keep the worst of it subdued, to at least play at maturity, but it comes out in the way I love spoilers (more often than not I seek them out myself) and the way I watch the clock tick up by seconds during the last minute before my shift is over at work and the way I average 87 miles per hour on the expressway so that I can get to my destinations sooner.
Because I’m impatient, I always want to skip ahead. If a plot point in a movie is taking too long to develop, I’ll open the Wikipedia page and read what happens before the movie can tell me itself. I did it just last week, watching the Bride struggle to get out of a coffin in “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” I’m not sure when it started, but I think it goes back a ways. I tell people I just don’t like surprises, but what I mean is that I don’t like to wait.
I was a sophomore in high school the first time I saw the film “Her.” At the time, no one had written a comprehensive Wikipedia synopsis for it yet, so I was forced to let myself be surprised. Over the course of the film, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”), a lonely writer going through a divorce, and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”), his ultra-intuitive, all-knowing operating system who speaks to him through an earpiece, form an emotional and sexual relationship. He’s a human, and she’s a computer program. The premise works better in its execution than it does on paper (I swear), and upon first viewing, I found myself wanting to reach for my phone and look for a review, a blog post, anything that might answer all of the questions I had about this movie.
By now, I know all of the answers. I love the movie so much that Samantha’s lines about how “the heart’s not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love” have practically written themselves in my DNA. Even before quarantine, the film was a comfort I returned to often. During quarantine, it resonates because it’s about connection and disconnection with technology as a medium — the ways we can relate to each other through it but also the ways it limits our interactions. It’s easy to identify with Theodore and his desire for love and closeness in any world, with or without a pandemic, but his relationship with someone he can’t touch — someone he can’t even communicate with without the technology — hits harder now than it did before.
But the more I watch the movie, the more I think that I identify most with Isabella (Soko, “The Dancer”), a woman who Samantha enlists to act as a middleman, to be the body Samantha can never have and give Theodore what she thinks will be more genuine experience during sex.
Samantha is quick to clarify that Isabella is not a sex worker because there’s no money involved; she just wants to be a part of their relationship. Isabella is a conduit, but she also comes into their relationship with the assumption that she’ll be an equal partner. When she enters Theodore’s apartment, her arms wrap around him immediately, borrowing Samantha’s emotional familiarity with him and translating it into the physical, even as Samantha guides them. It’s Samantha’s voice in their ears, but it’s Isabella who has the bodily agency. She doesn’t really know either of them, but she’s able to act as she does, and she might even believe she does. When things inevitably go awry and Isabella leaves sadly, she tells Theodore and Samantha that she will always love them. Even though he’s the one to call the whole thing off and send Isabella home, insisting that it just didn’t feel right, I think Theodore is more like Isabella than he realizes.
Theodore works for the fictional beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, a company that writes personal letters for other people. In one scene, he tells Samantha about writing love letters for a couple named Roger and Rachel for eight years and how he included a detail about Rachel’s crooked tooth in a letter because he saw it in a photo of them. Theodore, like Isabella, is an intermediary in other people’s love lives, a guest meant to manufacture or facilitate intimacy when his hosts can’t find or make it themselves. His familiarity with them is artificial, but he pretends to know them deeply in order to replicate their love back to them.
There’s something there that I can understand. It’s not so much the in-betweenness or the way other people use Theodore and Isabella to communicate love when they can’t do it themselves; it’s the immediacy of knowing another person.
When I meet people, sometimes I want us to act as we’ve always known each other. I’m impatient. I want to skip over the pleasantries, the hesitation, the shyness, so I can get straight to the familiarity, the warmth, the kinship. Forget the exposition, give me everything that comes after. Let me know everything about a person and let them know everything about me in the second I see them, so I can love and be loved in an instant. I’m impatient. Drop me somewhere near the center of a relationship, past the earliest stages but far from the end. Let me walk into an apartment and wrap my arms around someone I didn’t know at all yesterday but know deeply today. Make me like Isabella and Theodore, but remove the artifice.
I know it’s a lot to ask, and I know people just don’t work that way. The practical parts of me rail against my inability to let go of this kind of idealism, the same idealism that makes the idea of love at first sight so appealing to kids and hopeless romantics. It’s the practical parts that keep me from leaning completely into my fantasies of seeing and then immediately knowing other people, of cutting through the politeness to get to the closeness. I play at maturity by holding myself in one spot and trying to root myself there.
I’m trying to get myself to enjoy the exposition. I’m trying to rein in my eagerness and remind myself that, sometimes, good things take time. I’ll probably keep spoiling movies for myself, though. I’m still impatient.
Daily Arts Contributor Katrina Stebbins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.