Awards season is upon us, and we’ll be looking at another film with buzz today. Set in the not-too-distant future of Los Angeles, Spike Jonze’s Her explores the world of love between humans and computers.
Joaquin Phoenix is a mild-mannered writer who works at an office that produces letters for people too lazy (or uncreative) to write them on their own. Using voice-based technology, he creates these cards semi-robotically, lacking any true emotional depth.
His ride home on a mass transit system is barely different than one someone might take today. Theodore (Phoenix) stands amongst a mass of others, glued in to his phone and the news of the day. A connection among human interaction is not to be found anywhere on the train.
While he’s not keen on making friends to or from work, he does have some close compatriots in the form of Amy Adams and her husband. Amy (also Adams’ name in the movie) has a staid relationship with her spouse, but offers support to Theodore.
The turning point comes one day after work when Theodore sees an outdoor ad touting “OS 1”. What makes this different than any other operating system in the history of computers? OS1 is completely artificially intelligent, corresponding with the user.
Theodore Twombly immediately finds a bond with his OS, who is called Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johannson). Amongst other things, he opens up about his pending divorce with his wife and finds a confidant in Samantha. No longer is this operating system just a program, it is a friend.
Spike Jonze begins to challenge what current ideas of human and technological interaction are at this point. We are currently face down in our phones, bored to the point of being interested on our laptops, and figuring out a new way to do old things on our tablets. Human interaction has not ceased as a whole, and many have argued that computers have helped.
Right now, we do not fall in love with computers or technology. Instead, they act as conduits between two people. Online dating has gone from taboo to a relatively normal part of life. Jonze takes this one step farther in Her by giving actual, sentient life to a program.
One of the big problems I hadn’t noticed was pointed out by the Wham Bam Pow! podcast. If we consider Samantha a human, doe she have an age? We do not traditionally ascribe ages to products unless it adds value or alerts us to a possible date of obsoleteness. Theodore falls in love with Samantha, to the point of having simulated sex.
Is Theodore’s sex with a simulation purely virtual or does the cognizance of the program create a new set of parameters? It’s a complex situation I believe we will see more of as time passes on. In fact, I would not be surprised if some of the traits Samantha possesses will become fact in an operating system within the time frame of a few years.
As real as Theodore may think his love with Samantha is, so is his heartbreak. Realizing that their intelligence has outgrown humankind, Samantha and the other operating systems decide to leave. Once again, Theodore finds himself sullen. His devotion to Samantha was real, as he refused to participate in sex with a surrogate (Olivia Wilde) and now realizes he can not replace Her with anything else.
Comfort finally comes in the form of Amy. After her separation from her husband, she too finds solace in an operating system. Eventually, her OS joins the mass exodus and leaves her feeling cold. Theodore and Amy find solace in each other, embracing each other on top of their apartment building, looking outwards towards Los Angeles.
Spike Jonze’s Her is the first serious look into the future of technology and relationships. He does not treat the idea as novelty, rather he sees it as a matter-of-fact. Joaquin Phoenix brilliantly plays a man who can only find happiness in what he can control, only to have it come crashing down on him. Her raises a lot of interesting questions about love and digital intrusion that continue to unravel amongst our real lives.