Theodore Twombly is lonely: going through a divorce that drains him emotionally and without that many friends, he seems to communicate more with his electronic devices that are completely voice-operated (or maybe he just doesn’t like buttons) than with actual human beings. When a new operating system with artificial intelligence comes out, he decides to purchase it – and his life is changed instantly with the arrival of Samantha, his extraordinary new OS. Slowly but surely, an unconventional romance starts…
The new romance of the digital age?
Her, directed by Spike Jonze, was first released on December 2013 and immediately received rich critical acclaim in several areas; it’s been nominated and awarded several awards for its outstanding storytelling and acting. And it quite earned it, too. Her truly is a sweet romance – a sci-fi romantic drama, in fact, set in the year 2025. Yet it has a heavy feel to it – and conveys something that is quite fuzzy, something you cannot quite put your finger on. No doubt many people can sympathise or even identify with Theodore, played by Joacquin Phoenix; a lonely, emotionally troubled man who spends his time either at work, or with the few friends that he has, and ends up engaging in at times quite strange cybersex during sleepless nights. He is an introvert, sensitive but withdrawn from the world, and manages to bring other people joy by the professional writing of letters on behalf of other people. While everybody else seems to be ‘living’ their lives, he does not seem to do so – until the unexpected arrival of Samantha as his companion, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Aware that she is, in fact, merely a computer programme, he is amazed at her ability to learn and develop a personal that complements him perfectly – but of course there are many issues that they have to work through…
True pure love…
Theodore and Samantha’s story truly is a sweet one: a relationship in its purest form maybe, only existing on a personality level, on an intellectual level. The physical barrier is, of course, an issue for them both; for Samantha, because she is constantly reminded of her lack of a physical body, probably even more so than for Theodore. But that also means they understand each other completely. It is a new strain on a relationship of course: there is constantly the danger that once they have nothing to say to one another anymore – or that one of them does not express their feelings adequately, bottling them up – the relationship is in peril, as this is what it consists of. But in general, it is a truly adorable, magnificient relationship, one that warms us at to our cores and makes us happy and –
…with just a touch of dystopia
Hang on. Recap for a little; Samantha is still a computer programme. During the film you sometimes tend to forget this fact a little (never completely) because she has, in fact, an adorable quirky personality and a very charismatic voice, but there are times when this fact is uncomfortably highlighted, for instance when the film features a few very strange sexual encounters. (Probably not what you’re expecting now, just… different.)
In that sense, the film raises a few very significant and justified questions – because no matter how weird it is, it does not feel completely unrealistic considering technological advances these days. Now, not literally; I do not want to start a whole ‘everything is bad and throw away AI courses’ debate because, with a lot of friends being computer scientists, I often have to endure from other people that they think that’s all computer scientists do all day long. Instead, it’s in the metaphoric sense that all this needs to be seen. How much control do technical devices have over us nowadays? If you’re reading this in a public space, look around you and just check how many people are currently glued to their little screens – sitting in the train while writing this, I can detect at least ten in my close vicinity. And how much of our life do we ‘delegate’ to technology without even thinking about it?
It’s such issues that slowly creep in, from the very beginning until the very end of the movie; that we tend to be very much emotionally dependent on technology. It is funny, then, that the first time Theodore actually does something manually (writing instead of dictating to a machine) is when he is more fulfilled emotionally because of Samantha’s presence.
High re-watch factor
I believe I might actually go and see that particular movie more often and so should you – I believe it’s one of those movies that make you think the more you watch them, and it’ll probably give you more interesting insights – morally, personally, whatever – on second watching. And down to its core, it’s mostly a real feel-good romance – even though it tends to be quite a disturbing one at times as well.