NO SPOILERS; READ ON

In films like Terminator and The

Matrix, technology goes off the rails in a bad way. Humanity’s hubris and greed for innovation lead us to create artificial intelligence, and our foray into creation goes horribly awry. The machines are like us—destructive, ingenious, afraid—and it seems logical for them to destroy us. However, they’re much more efficient and have no morals to slow them down. While it’s fun to see artificial intelligence turn against us on screen, because it means things will probably blow up, it’s refreshing to see an artificially intelligent being develop feelings—to 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 isn’t at work writing other people’s love notes, he’s listening to melancholic music, losing at video games, and having bizarre phone sex. Then, he sees an advertisement for OS1—the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. He buys it, goes home, and sets it up. The OS setup wizard asks a few questions—including one about Theodore’s relationship with his mother—and within moments, Scarlett Johansson’s breathy tones undulate from Theodore’s computer. She puts him at ease, organizes his emails, and makes him laugh. The man doesn’t 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 doesn’t just make Theodore’s life easier, she makes him happier. She even talks him into going on a date. When that date doesn’t 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 isn’t 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 film’s 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 film’s 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 aren’t as different as you might think; as Samantha points out, “We’re all just matter. We’re 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 humanity’s 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 haven’t seen before. To avoid spoiling the plot, I’ll just leave it there.

As strange as Samantha and Theodore’s relationship seems, they’re a happy couple, and that’s all that really matters. Theodore’s 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.

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