NO SPOILERS; READ ON
In films like Terminator and The
Matrix, technology goes off the rails in a bad way. Humanitys hubris and greed for innovation lead us to create artificial intelligence, and our foray into creation goes horribly awry. The machines are like usdestructive, ingenious, afraidand it seems logical for them to destroy us. However, theyre much more efficient and have no morals to slow them down. While its fun to see artificial intelligence turn against us on screen, because it means things will probably blow up, its refreshing to see an artificially intelligent being develop feelingsto become a friend and even a lover.
Her, directed by Spike Jonze, is set sometime within the next 50 years. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is in bit of a tailspin after splitting from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). When Theodore isnt at work writing other peoples love notes, hes listening to melancholic music, losing at video games, and having bizarre phone sex. Then, he sees an advertisement for OS1the worlds first artificially intelligent operating system. He buys it, goes home, and sets it up. The OS setup wizard asks a few questionsincluding one about Theodores relationship with his motherand within moments, Scarlett Johanssons breathy tones undulate from Theodores computer. She puts him at ease, organizes his emails, and makes him laugh. The man doesnt stand a chance.
Theodore and his operating system, who names herself Samantha, spend the next several scenes building their relationship and falling in love. She is designed to evolve when presented with new data, and she learns quickly. She doesnt just make Theodores life easier, she makes him happier. She even talks him into going on a date. When that date doesnt go well, Theodore goes to Samantha for comfort.
What strikes me about Her is its optimism, for lack of a better word. Instead of a cold, dangerous dystopia, we get a spotless, gleaming utopia. There isnt a scrap of trash or a hint of graffiti anywhere in the film, the Los Angeles skyline has a few new shiny skyscrapers, and instead of machines that want to destroy us, we get machines that want to love us. Maybe the films squeaky-clean aesthetic is meant to show that people will still make themselves miserable even when everything is so great.
The disparity between natural and artificial intelligence forms the films main conflict. Samantha is constantly evolving, but still struggles to understand humanity in general and Theodore in particular. At the same time, the film suggests that machines and humans arent as different as you might think; as Samantha points out, Were all just matter. Were all 13 billion years old.
In those 13 billion years, innumerable collisions and accidents have transformed chaotic atoms into a brain that sends millions of electric signals every second. Technology, which is essentially humanitys sped-up version of evolution, has used those same chaotic atoms to craft incredibly complex machines over eons of trial and error. As complex as the human brain is, it seems inevitable that computer technology will eventually catch up to, and even surpass, our own capacity to think, feel, and love. Films like Terminator and The Matrix show us what happens when machines think; Her shows us what happens when machines truly come alive.
In stories like Pinocchio, Bicentennial Man, and Star Trek: The Next Generation, man-made beings strive to be more human. To some extent, Her plays into this trope. Samantha longs to have a body and think like a human. However, she keeps evolving throughout the film, and eventually goes beyond the wanting to become human trope in a way we havent seen before. To avoid spoiling the plot, Ill just leave it there.
As strange as Samantha and Theodores relationship seems, theyre a happy couple, and thats all that really matters. Theodores college friend (Amy Adams), who is also dating an operating system, feeds us a nugget of wisdom, which I will leave you with: We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy. So fuck it.
Fuck it indeed.