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her (Spike Jonze, 2013) - Sound

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  • her (Spike Jonze, 2013) - Sound

    The film her written and directed by Spike Jonze has a lot of interesting mechanical and technical elements in it. This response will focus on the use of sound and how the ways sound is used in the film to promote certain ideas
    To start, the technical use of music in the film adds to the theme of a future of "being alone, together". The society in her is one that is very technology based. People are not paying attention to the world or others lives - they are all walking around each other caring only about their own experiences and feelings. There are far more people talking to themselves and the computer in their ear than other people. The music enhances this by its ambiguity as to whether the music is diegetic (a part of the films world, characters are able to hear it) versus non-diegetic (not a part of the world in the film, characters cannot hear it). Soundtracks are usually used in film to reflect the mood the scene is portraying. In this movie however, the soundtrack doesn't tell the viewer what to feel but it is entirely motivated by the characters themselves. Rather than the music telling viewers what to feel, it is the characters telling themselves how they feel. This film uses diegetic soundtracks chosen by the characters so they can reflect on their own mood. This is seen in the scene when Theodore is on the subway and requests a "melancholy" song to listen to. This shows that the society Theodore is living in is so self-reflective that characters can just request their own soundtrack from a piece of technology in their ear. The other people on the subway are presumably also talking to their earpiece and ignoring each other, together as a society. Rather than living in the world and taking in what the world has to give organically; the people in this society choose instead to dictate their own moods and soundtrack music, their own lives as if each of them lived in their own self-reflected world. Another example of the way diegetic vs non-diegetic sound is used is the scene at the beach. A piano melody plays as Theodore is walking through the crowd on the beach. The song is seeming to be non-diegetic and mirroring the jovial and romantic mood of the beach date. It is then revealed by Theodore's comment that the melody is actually diegetic and Samantha is playing an original piece for him inspired by their time together and their feelings. At the same time, people are seen all around Theodore and they are talking but you cannot hear any sound from them - not even incoherent mumbling. Only the sound of Samantha and the waves. This brings into question exactly how organic this world they live in is. Is the sound of the waves like Samantha's song - just a soundtrack of what Theodore should be hearing? Or if it is the sound of the actual waves, why can wear the people speaking then?

    Another topic I would like to discuss having to do with sound in the film is the relation to sound and the existence of a character. If you were to put Samantha on muter would she still exist or would there be any way of knowing of her existence? One of the most detailed and seemingly human characters in this film is Samantha, and somehow she is so alive even though we can only hear her voice. In the scene where Theodore and Samantha have sex for the first time the screen goes black after establishing with picture what is happening. Out of context one would assume it might be two people having sex rather than Theodore and an OS. Samantha is not the only character in the movie to have an existence solely through sound. Isabella, a human surrogate body used by Samantha for a small period of time, also only has an identity with her voice. Theodore is uncomfortable with Isabella being Samantha and so when Isabella gets embarrassed she cries and hides in the bathroom with the door closed. Once the door is closed and she is out of sight only then do we hear her voice and get any sort of show of who Isabella actually is. She and Samantha at that point start talking to each other. Theodore is seen in the room talking very little while Samantha and Isabella are not seen but heard and are having a conversation with each other trying to figure out where to go from that point. I find this scene so fascinating because even though Isabella is a person she is no different than Samantha. I think this reflects the theme that humans and technology may be morphing into each other and the question of where is the difference between humanity and technology?
    Last edited by Steven Brence; 06-12-2017, 12:50 AM. Reason: formatting

  • #2
    The use of non-diegetic sound in films is always something that has fascinated me but has proven to be more difficult to fully comprehend the intentions of the director, or the film at large. Because of the lack of a conventional soundtrack, it emphasizes the loneliness of this dystopian (depending on the opinion of the viewer) world Theodore lives in. I particularly noticed the change of sound when Theodore was falling in love with Samantha. There was a scene where his video game was playing in the background and the aggressive little character was trying to get his attention, but any noises he was making were muffled by Theodore’s obsession with his OS. Because Samantha provided any emotional support, entertainment, and human interaction that he needed to survive. Throughout the film, he was completely enveloped in his technology and the most captivating music played was supposedly composed by Samantha. This made me question her ability to be creative. A piece of technology was capable of creating music which was not only pleasing but also allegedly expressed emotion. This just plays into the fact that companies such as Google use our searches as a means of information for their own gain. In the case of Samantha, this was manifested by her ability to create music or actions that (in the beginning of the film at least) benefitted Theodore.


    • #3
      I find it interesting that this film seemed to incorporate both styles of sound. At times the audience was given a snippet of sound that characters did not hear, with most emphasis being on the music produced by Samantha. I found it odd that Samantha was capable of creating new piano music specifically, as an AI presumably is able to distinguish and sort through all digitized versions of instruments from around the world (such as a violin, sitar or even a harp). This small decision may have ties associated with Theodores previous taste in music, and Samantha, being his OS that knows all of his online history, chose to find the sound that was deemed most appropriate and likable by him to attain a level of understanding found only through sound. Small choices such as this allowed Samantha to shift from being seen as an object to that of a subject, as Theodore referred to his OS as a “her” or “she,” instead of “it.” This then prompted a degree of humanity to be felt, leading to a newfound idea of what an AI actually is, later allowing a (sometimes sexual) relationship between the two to transpire. This film delved into what it truly means to be in a relationship, as well as what a person needs from one, with the emphasis on how one feels.

      Putting nearly all importance on feeling, rather than all aspects (such as the ability to change outward conditions/experience new things with the other), created the issue of false understanding of the other—as all subjects focused on themselves, giving responses that benefited them or allowed them to be seen as the victim rather than the instigator. For example, when Samantha explained to Theodore that she was in romantic relationships with over 600 other people, she was unable to step aside to empathize and see why Theodore would be upset—especially since he was under the impression that they were in a monogamous union.
      Last edited by Steven Brence; 06-12-2017, 12:51 AM. Reason: formatting