Nathaniel from The Sandman and Theodore from Her both fall into a unique relationship in their respective stories. In addition, each protagonist finds himself toying with opposite emotions almost simultaneously, and the juxtaposition creates a character who lives on-edge with a distressed personality.
The Sandman deals with Nathaniel’s perception of a monstrous creature, “the sandman,” who is said to take out the eyes of children that don’t go to sleep. In the beginning of the story, Nathaniel comes across as calm and curious. He wants to know what the Sandman looks like, but he doesn’t think anything about him will be scary. He “compose[s] [himself] so that [he] may calmly and patiently” describe the encounters he’s had with the Sandman (Hoffman 86). As a young child, he had “an irresistible urge” to discover what the myserious Sandman looked like (Hoffman 88). And then, once he quietly crept into his father’s study, he was overcome with “horror and alarm” at this “hateful, spectral monster” (Hoffman 89). From this point on, Nathaniel lives his life in constant fear. His unease affects many aspects of his life. His relationship with Clara becomes negative, with Clara thinking that Nathaniel is crazy. In addition, he falls in love with Olimpia, a robot. The opposite emotions that Nathaniel has follow him to this relationship. His “heartfelt rapture” pushes Nathaniel to fall more in love with Olimipia, but he also realizes “how entirely passive and taciturn” she was (Hoffman 112-113). Nathaniel concludes his story with him waking up from a dream feeling healthy and strong yet at the same time “tormented [and] self-divided” (Hoffman 118). Nathaniel’s mind is full of contradicting feelings that cause him to transform from an innocent child to a distraught man.
Theodore from the movie Her also deals with tough emotional conflict. When a sex surrogate Isabella comes to Theodore’s apartment to act as the physical Samantha, Theodore can’t decide how to feel. Part of him clearly wants to love Samantha and engage in an intimate, physical relationship. However, he also hesitates before doing this. His movements are awkward, and Isabella ends up guiding their time. Theodore clearly looks uncomfortable during this scene despite talking to Samantha. In addition, Theodore struggles with getting over his divorce and falling in love with an operating system. He doesn’t want to actually sign the divorce papers even though he clearly likes Samantha. On top of these relationships, Theodore goes on a date with a woman whom he dated in college and how happens to be married. Theodore enjoys spending time with Samantha; it makes him happy. However, the confusion from the other relationships hinders him from enjoying talking to Samantha.
Both characters have a strong relationship with a woman whom isn’t actually alive. This, coupled with the crazy encounters that they have, lead Nathaniel and Theodore on an emotional roller coaster throughout the story and movie, respectively.
Hoffman, E. T. A. “The Sandman.” The Golden Pot and Other Tales. Trans. Ritchie Robertson. London: Oxford, 1992. 85-118. PDF file.