“I wonder if this isn’t an apology, rather than a fuck you. A sorry for the way things went. Because even years after, the shortest relationship can feel like an undigested, still-wrapped Big Mac in your small intestine.”
I heard the rumours before I saw Her. That this was a response to Lost in Translation, the little-listened-to other side of the argument/conversation/divorce; a fucked up partner piece to a previous Oscar winner. But that’s not why I wanted to see it. My motivation was simple and baseline: I want to fuck Joaquin Phoenix with every unearthed nerve in my body. I also have the utmost respect for him. That career phase in which he seemingly went batshit crazy for an entire year only to make a secret documentary about the fickle nature of celebrity, I eat that for supper with custard creams and a cuppa. There is no-one more awesome, actually acting, not relying on their star power, or the artificial contours of their ass cheeks, to make movies. That man is awesome and can do no wrong in my eyes.
I revel in every crossover, coincidence and reference excavated by the hot-ness that is Amy Roberts, but as she pointed out, I’m the Angela Chase to her Rayanne Graff, the Joey Potter to her (R.I.P.) Jen Lindley. We’re not meant to agree over which boy’s hotter or what path our life should take. We balance each other out, which is important, means our principles don’t match and don’t need to. She’d never sleep with James Van Der Beek circa 1998, and I’d kick Jordan Catalano to the curb soon as I found out he didn’t write letters. Word.
So, this is either value for money, or dead horse flogging, but for what it’s worth, I didn’t think Her was a Lost in Translation ‘revenge movie.’ I totally love that coined phrase and wish that it was, though. But for me, it was profound. Sure, cinema, to my mind, is church anyway, and seeing it on a Friday morning with, like, 3 other people in the entire screen, was pretty Biblical, and the coffee helped. But I was awestruck by it. It spoke to where I am now, and it wasn’t at all a response to 2003. Although I see how it could be. Maybe I’m gullible. I don’t really care. But this was the tiniest speck of a heart, mine, compiling something unspoken I wish that I could say.
As someone that’s lived inappropriately on the internet since 1999, or before, the idea of falling in love with an operating system is not only believable, but in a fashion it’s happened, every time someone cute’s asked me a question, MSN-ed me, added on Facebook, or tracked me down on the You’ve Got Mail message board just to quote Tom Hanks at me. I am in love with an operating system. I’m in love with people I’ve never met, and never might, and my computer has served me better than a lot of real life in the last months when anything structurally solid I thought I knew has crumbled like mint cake in front of me. And that’s exactly it: in your moments of crushing disappointment, when you thought you might never get out of bed again, and your bones had no capacity left to feel temperature let alone joy, who was there? And I don’t mean that like the god song that goes, “When I needed a neighbour, you were there, you were there,” though, effectively, you were there MacBook, and if you hadn’t been, what the fuck would I have done?
My defence of Her is not purely about my apparent eroticism for my MacBook, nor is this an advert. If Lost in Translation is about one person’s realisation that a relationship isn’t everything they thought, hoped, or dreamed, then Her is the marked flip side, the fall out from the decision. Not revenge as such, because after a point, there is none. But isn’t it okay to say, “I was in this relationship too and I felt the things you did and I didn’t want it to end at this outcome but it did and I’m processing”? Because for all of Lost in Translation’s profundity, what about the other person: the vapid photographer husband who’s too thin to see his own wife’s discontent? What happened to him and how did he feel when this distance crept like Johnny Depp into the make-up trailer late at night?
What I wonder, too, is if this isn’t an apology, rather than a fuck you. A sorry for the way things went. Because even years after, the shortest relationship can feel like an undigested, still-wrapped Big Mac in your small intestine. Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who, once broken up, you hope never to see again, like your school photos from 1987. But the important ones, the people it took 57 Pot Noodles and every single Sex and the City episode watched twice with note-taking to get over, have a piece of you, always, whether you like it or not. And it’s personal choice to acknowledge that or not. And I get it, this is tough stuff, not what you’d choose over a Cherry Bakewell. And it’s frowned upon, right, to look back? I’ve read a plethora of Twitter feed quotations which mostly concur: the past is done, so stop looking back, and embrace that fucking brilliant future of yours. Like fucking brilliant’s a guarantee. Maybe it is, who bloody knows?
Dissemination is tough as fuck. Just looking into a person’s eyes again when, you know, the past rolls out, apocalypse-like, but way scarier than any of that The Walking Dead, happy on a farm shit, is DIFFICULT. So why do it? And this is where my biggest defence of Spike Jonze and Her comes in, which challenges Amy’s more than conclusive argument. Because I’ve done this. I didn’t write a film, but a play, about my past. And I didn’t do it as some name-calling, revenge, coming out on top shit. Because, 6 years later, there aren’t winners anymore. Losers, sure, we all are. But no-one wallows in this amount of heart-break to try and prove someone wrong. I don’t think so anyway. And this is why.
Writing about my ex was pretty involuntary. It’s not something I would’ve chosen to do. In fact, it’s a topic I found impossible to string a sentence together about the entire time since, that in the end, I’d basically written it off as one of those life events I was too close to, I could never write usefully about. And the bad stuff, the fucking awful, no-one wants to tell that story least of all me, stuff, seemed unfair and unhelpful to put out there: like those back and forths between Brad and Jen in the press years later. Misquoted to holy hell, I’m more than sure, but why? Just why?
I was writing a play about customer service. We’d hashed out so many ideas in the development phase, of what this could be about. Stemming from my own decade in retail jobs, we wanted to ground it in shops but take it elsewhere: like the way one day we’ll just be consumers in our houses never interacting with another human being thanks to Amazon and their robot crews which will probably destroy the planet with fire. We had big ideas, as a team. And at the end of the dev fortnight we made 2 absolute decisions. #1: set the piece in a video store, with the decline of Blockbuster our backdrop. #2: create characters, like fictional people, based in truth, that tell every side of the story. BRAIN HAD OTHER IDEAS.
When I eventually sat down to write the thing, which I was going to have to perform myself, by the way, one week before the deadline, because nothing works you harder than absolute fear of imminent failure, all I could write was Him. And trust, this was involuntary to start. But it’s also all that there was. My brain made the decision without me that it didn’t want to write some experimental piece about the future of shops; it wanted to tell a true story, love story, about people connecting in retail jobs, their relationship slight in some ways, like the durability of Woolworths, but lasting in others (e.g. Brad Pitt’s torso in Thelma and Louise, like you ever forgot).
This was a person I’d not spoken to in 5 years, not dated in 6 or 7, who I hadn’t even face-to-face seen since the previous decade. Or I had but, I’d, you know, ducked down a different Poundland aisle. It was something I knew I’d face up to one day, that I’d revisit and figure out, but the way you lose most of your high school French by your mid-twenties, a separate part of me thought it was un-revisit-able, like my crush on Mark Paul-Gosselaar.
Anyway, brain be crazy, and wrote it pretty speedily. All 8000 words of monologue. I changed the ending, because no-one, especially not me, needs to rehash that. But the important stuff, the way a shop romance happens, how the people we meet at work can impact us long term, how the environment helps and hinders, that’s what I was shooting for, I guess. I didn’t do it as revenge. I felt pretty guilty to start with, like this wasn’t a subject I should touch, but it was my story too, and for whatever fucked up reason, I had to tell it. It needed air time. Performing it every night was hard. Emotionally, a bit shit. But it was perspective, to finally understand some of it and say, you know what, it ended piss poor as everything does, but some of it was good, and it was a long time ago, and it doesn’t haunt me anymore, and everything’s different, we’re not the same people and that’s actually okay. Really, it is.
Sometimes, for whatever reason, you’ve just got to lay all that shit down, in print or person, and acknowledge the fuck out of it. Because, trust me when I say, repression’s a shallow grave that serves you for a time but, at some point, now or in the future, you’re going to need to know what happened, because it’s a huge fucking part of you, whether you enjoy that fact or not.
Maybe the bigger question here isn’t, “Why write a film about your ex?” but, if you’re going to write about it anyway, why even put it out there? Why find it a multi-million audience for your pain and misery? Relatability, I guess?
The ex-wife in the movie, portrayed by Rooney Mara, was angry, sure, but Joaquin always made it pretty clear he played a part in that. The line that hit hard was him saying something along the lines of, “I left her alone in the marriage, and I didn’t realise until it was too late.” This is a person Botoxed by regret. And it’s an unrecoverable regret, a seemingly un-do-able one. In flashbacks, he remembers when it worked, when everything was better. But however much you rehash the past, there’s no getting it back. It’s Walter White gone. And that’s both gutting, and O-K, eventually.
The other reason this film struck me, was in its intimacy claims, the idea that our most significant relationships, now, aren’t necessarily face-to-face. And it’s not just that those are difficult, maybe more so now everyone has a phone Sellotaped to their palm. But meeting people online, talking on the phone, isn’t something to underrate. Maybe the most meaningful connections a person can make aren’t dependant on physicality. A voice can do as much. When you boil it down, the sort of connection each of us is after, has a lot less to do with what magazines want us to think it does. Being able to talk, like really talk to someone, is one of the most interesting things any of us can experience, at least, I think so. Conversation is sexy, right?
But hey, I’m prepared to be wrong, about all of it. Pretty funny, that both Her and Lost in Translation took home Best Original Screenplay Oscars. Kind of fucked up that Scarlett Johansson’s in both.
Does writing about a failed relationship make a difference at all to anything? I think so. I mean, it’s probably a good thing to remember the positive that happens to us as well as the shit. It identifies moments change accosted us (like a Hannibal victim). Reminds us that connections are important and rare and worth revisiting. The pure act of admitting something was important to you, is reparation of Stevie Nicks proportions. And at the end of the day, you both wanted the eggs, so as the years elapse, everyone just chill the fuck out and share a cupcake, as we’ll be dead soon. And if you want to fuck an operating system, you’ll get zero judgement from me. Whatever gets you through, my friend. Whatever works.