“Love comes in many shapes and many sizes.”
That, my friends, is a nonsense sentence giving an abstract concept an unnecessary physical component. But it is true that there are many ways love can be represented in art. In its first century (approximately), Cinema has celebrated stories about love that step away from the traditional ‘man and woman/man and man/woman and woman/man leaves woman for another man or woman/woman leaves man for her own sanity’ stories.
Some screenwriters are so bold, so brave that they are not afraid to fail. The idea that the romance at the core of their story is unrealistic or silly doesn’t reach them. These writers are the ones that will be remembered. Because, ultimately, there isn’t anything ‘original’ left to write. But the brave writers step away from the traditional and make the relationships work.
her is a movie about the relationship between humans and technology. In fact, it is (and I hate to use this word) literally a movie about a man falling in love with his phone. Main Character Theodore Twombly lives a life that seemingly revolves around avoiding other human beings. He writes personal letters for people he has never met; he’s reluctant to sign his divorce papers or to see his wife whatsoever; he goes on a successful date but doesn’t want to take it further.
Twombly is so introverted that he can only connect with people when he doesn’t have to see them.
This is where Samantha comes in, marking the moment in which Spike Jonze makes one of the smartest choices he could have made. Samantha is an Operating System with the intelligence of a human. Unlike Siri, Samantha doesn’t have to pause to think. She speaks fluently, coming up with ideas like any other human being. But narratively, Samantha is the only one that can make Theodore take a look at himself and make a change for the better. I’ve said it before, but that’s what the essence of story is: two people that disagree on something, each fighting their corner until one of them submits. her could not work if Amy Adams’ character took over that Samantha role. A human just could not reach Twombly like Samantha, an AI, could.
And that’s exactly how the movie doesn’t fall apart.
Many stories have tried the ‘human falls in love with computer’ plot to less success. They failed to develop the characters, focusing purely on the gimmick of ‘man and computer’. Spike Jonze made the relationship mean something. He took the time to develop Twombly’s isolation from humans in every aspect of his life, subconsciously establishing that he trusts machines more. It’s why the final scene is so powerful. The whole movie has seen Theodore and Samantha falling in love, but the final scene sees Theodore and Amy watching the sun rise. Theodore has finally embraced human contact, and it’s all down to an operating system.
Lars and the Real Girl
A not-dissimilar movie to her, Lars and the Real Girl follows the frustratingly handsome Ryan Gosling as Lars, a good-hearted but socially challenged guy that develops a romantic relationship with an anatomically correct sex doll named Bianca. When you compare Lars to her, it’s surprising just how close the movies are in terms of theme. Lars is just as isolated from human life as Theodore; he needs a non-human human to discover the importance of human contact; and (spoiler alert) neither of the movie’s central romances end happily.
But where Lars steps out of her’s shadow (that’s a grammatically frustrating sentence, isn’t it?) is in its treatment of Lars and his situation with Bianca. The movie never steps into smut or ‘shock’ scenes. The relationship is romantic, but not sexual. Much like the romance, Nancy Oliver’s screenplay is gentle, sweet and distinctly pure. This is a good example of the relationship dictating the tone of the story. Many movies (particularly romances) have their tone dictated by the nature of the relationship. Roman Holiday is so light and breezy because of the effortless chemistry of the characters, for example.
But more than that, the relationship between Bianca and Lars has a deeper, symbolic nature. It reflects the intrinsic nature of Lars himself. He’s gentle, sweet, pure. This is something I rarely see in screenplays, or even movies. Of course the relationship should be a reflection of the character’s essential nature! Why wouldn’t it be?
Every element of your story should be devoted to saying something.
A beautiful movie that frustrated me in 2008 with the overkill of commercials repeating ‘WAALLL-E”, WALL-E is a gem of a Pixar movie. The relationship between WALL-E and EVE is incredibly well-written, and the writers must be commended for crafting such a believable, heartfelt and touching romance between a pair of mechanical beings. The entire nature of the love story between WALL-E and EVE is hopeful, sweet and reflects the classic Hollywood stereotypes of romance of Fred and Ginger.
And on that note, much as her and Lars and the Real Girl do, WALL-E treats its non-human characters exactly as it would if the characters were humans.
Many writers make the rookie mistake of treating non-human characters explicitly inhuman. They seem to think that AI characters should be robotic and mechanical, resulting in cliched characters and unengaging action. Pixar succeeds because every character, from Remy the Rat to WALL-E himself, is innately human. Their relationships to the outside world and the humans surrounding them don’t depend on the species or job roles. Everyone is human. If a rat and a human bond over being told they cannot do something, an audience connects to it.
Everyone has been rejected or misjudged. Humanity is empathy. We connect to the human aspects of narrative.
BE GENTLE, TENDER AND REAL
For the screenwriters that are brave enough to tell love stories outside the realm of ‘normality’ (whatever that means), it can be a challenge to avoid slipping into cliche or unimaginative repetition. The masterful storytelling of Spike Jonze, Nancy Oliver and Andrew Stanton/Jim Reardon demonstrates that just because a character is not human or does not have a relationship with another human, doesn’t mean they can’t have a realistic relationship like ordinary human beings.
Even those outside the norms, those that are different, are human.
Any writer worth their salt can and will find the humanity in the different.