Scene Analysis | Her

Have you ever had a complete breakdown in public; blurring the line between public and private spheres? In Her, Theodore faces this exact experience when his operating system lover, Samantha, breaks his heart. Samantha is not just in love with Theodore, but also 641 other users.

The scene is incredibly quiet, except for the sound of footsteps in background – almost sounding like a calm herd of cattle walking by. As the commuters go about their day, the echoes of footsteps serve as a reminder of the sheer amount of other bodies in this public space. Jonze implements shallow focus in order to highlight the audience’s focus on to Theodore. Although he is trying to keep his cool, the passersby around him seem to not care about this man at all. The coldness that Theodore receives from the living, breathing humans around him is juxtaposed with the warmth and intimacy he received from Samantha. As Samantha tells Theodore of her other lovers, he now experiences a new sort of pain: it is not cold ignorance, rather heartbreak.

The majority of the scene is shot in close-ups as Phoenix displays subtle performance techniques to highlight the pain he is experiencing. Phoenix has a controlled, yet erratic performance as Theodore tries to keep calm in the public space despite his private heartbreak. Theodore is almost perfectly in the center of the frame, but Jonze’s handheld camerawork allows for some imperfection, as Phoenix’s forehead sometimes is cut from the frame. Despite his attempt to remain composed, Theodore’s pain cannot be cinematographically contained.

Despite lacking a tangible form, Johannson’s Samantha uses pauses and pitch to match the level of emotion put forth by Phoenix. Her voice is consistently breaking, relaying her concurrent pain with Theodore. In fact, pauses are incredibly important to this scene. As Theodore asks “Are you in love with anyone else?” a long pause proceeds; there is no rushing of the dialogue here. As this moment is so heartbreaking – so painful – Phoenix allows for the audience to sit with the pain.

Tara Zdancewicz is pursuing her MFA in Film and Television Studies at BU. She enjoys gushing about film to the undergraduates that she teaches.
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