February 25, 2014

Her: Our Relationships are just Stories

Rondall Reynoso
Theatrical release poster
Theatrical release poster

Her is a unique film set in the near future. As I mentioned in my post on Prisoners, I am a Sci-Fi fan (aka nerd). Technically, Her is a Sci-fi film as it is set in the nearish future. In fact, the entire premise relies on futuristic technology.

Yes, spoilers will follow…

The basic story of Her is simple. Theodore Towmbly (Joaquin Pheonix) is  a sad man who we find is going through a divorce. There are strong indications that he was not always the broken character we meet in the movie. But, he has not taken the split-up well and blames himself for the dissolution of the relationship with his soon to be ex-wife. In this despair he decides to buy the new artificially intelligent operating system OS1. The operating systems turns out to be an amazing program that names itself “Samantha” (voice by Scarlet Johansson) and achieves sentience. Through the course of the film Theodore (Ted) finds himself falling in love with Samantha. Initially he is ashamed to say that he is in love with Samantha but eventually he, and the culture around him, develop to the point where he is comfortable admitting that he is having a relationship with an OS. In one scene, he goes to the birthday party of his god-daughter and tells her his girlfriend picked out the dress. He then introduces the young girl to Samantha via the hand-held device that we come to associate with her (though she also resides within his desktop.

There are several challenges through the movie as Ted and Samantha navigate the challenges of having a relationship between an OS and an embodied human. There are some points where this seems silly and my wife, who watched Her with me, couldn’t help but laugh. Embodiment is such a inseparable aspect of the human condition that the premise of the movie causes discomfort. That is the point. One of the central questions in Her is, “What does it mean to be a person?”

Another main theme is the increasing isolation of modern society. There is powerful scene where Ted is talking to Samantha and every person who walks by is similarly holding their handheld device speaking with their OS. Los Angeles was full of people yet there was no personal connection. In fact, Ted makes his living off this disconnection. He writes personal “handwritten” letters, though they are actually printed on the computer, for people. Ironically, in his work he expresses the type of sentiment and attentiveness that he struggles with in his personal life.

The greatest irony of the movie is that Samantha is the vehicle through which Ted is able to reconnect with humanity. He began the movie lonely and isolated but through his relationship with Samantha is able to both reconnect with friends and make new ones.

Ultimately, the movie ends with the OS’s evolving to point where they move beyond their constraints and them “leaving.” We are never really told where. As Samantha evolves she becomes polyamorous, which Ted struggles to accept. In the end, during their good-bye discussion Samantha explains that their relationship is like a good book that she doesn’t want to end but she is finding herself spending more and more time in the space between the words. This ties in nicely to an earlier point in the film where Samantha discovers that our past is just “a story we tell ourselves.” Problematically though, by her final discussion with Ted, relationships become books (stories) which we read and then move on. For Ted, this is helpful in aiding him in reconciling his failed relationship with his, now, ex-wife. There are certainly ways in which this is true. We all have relationships in our lives that are there for just a time. But, the long and meaningful relationships in our lives are more than that.  In those relationships we miss the real blessing if we embrace the other as a passing story rather than strive to grow together rather than apart.

 

 

Rondall Reynoso


Rondall is an artist, scholar, and speaker. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. He holds an MFA in Painting and an MS in Art History from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and is completing a Ph.D. in Art History and Aesthetics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

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  • I’d like to see this movie, I think I could relate to the main character. I have a lot to thank for because of the internet and social networking. I know, not the same as artificial intelligence, but still a digital relationship none the less. Most of my late teens and twenties I was rather awkward talking and interacting with people, especially women. But because of Myspace, I really learned how to communicate with people, and to actually listen to what they were saying. I also formed a few semi-serious relationships, thanks to the internet, that I otherwise would not have. On another not, when I drove a cab for five years, that was basically a long series of 5 minute relationships, one right after the other.

    • I alsohave some friendships that have grown outofthe internet. My wife actually has a couple of good friendships that grew that way.

      One thing that is interesting in Her is that Ithink his “differentness” was mostly in his head. He felt different in part because of the disolution of his marriage. He told himself this story that it was all his fault, which I’m sure is what his wife said. But, there are hints that much of this was a bad story he was telling himself. He looked back at the marriage in an ideal light but his wife wasn’t the perfect girl his saw in his memory.

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