Teaching a Robot to Love: A.I., Social Networking, and a “Her” Movie Review

Let me start off by saying that no one does quirky quite like Joaquin Phoenix.  I’ve loved him ever since he transformed into the scheming, incestuous emperor Commodus in Gladiator nearly fifteen years ago, and his uncertain, offbeat demeanor was perfect for this film.

Her takes place in the not-so-distant future, in a grey and dingy Los Angeles where Theodore, Phoenix’s character, writes personal love letters for a web-based company.  I loved the use of color throughout the film — the interior scenery is a cross between the sterility of a white hospital and the inside of a sherbet carton, bursting with pastels and the occasional neon pink or orange.  The future is also very geometric (the dangling origami boxes above Theodore’s desk were a nice touch) and everyone, for some reason, wears very ill-fitting high-waisted pants.

The driving force of the movie is Theodore’s blossoming relationship with Samantha, a personal operating system that adapts and evolves through its interaction with its user.  Theodore, who we learn is going through a difficult divorce with Is That Really Rooney Mara?!, instantly bonds with the program.  Though there were a few parts that made my best friend and me squirm in our seats (especially the scene with the sexual surrogate), Theodore’s love affair with a sentient, bodiless being somehow makes sense.  Theodore is profoundly lonely — one of the most heartbreaking moments is his resignation that he will never again experience feelings at full capacity.  Joy and love, he declares, will be “lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”  Samantha fills the void of a failed romance, but comes without the obligation and physical awkwardness that Theodore clearly has trouble with (as demonstrated by his unsettling date with Olivia Wilde’s character).

Her left me thinking about the future of technology and social networking in particular long after I left the theatre.  Back when the Internet was only a few years old, I joined my first blogging site and a Canada-based forum that no longer exists called “Koolplace.”  Through these mediums, I made my first two “Internet pal” connections with a girl in the UK and a boy in Wisconsin.  That girl and boy are now 30 and 27, respectively, and I’m pleased to say that we’re still frequently in touch over ten years later.  My friend from Wisconsin and I have traveled to visit each other three times; my friend from the UK and I talk about doing so in the future.  They’re both real people, but before meeting face-to-face, they were no more physically “real” to me than Samantha is to Theodore.  Yet I grew to care for them very much.

Of course, I’m cognizant of the fact that these e-buddies are real people with real bodies.  Theodore “knows,” that his new girlfriend lives inside of a machine, but his heart hasn’t quite caught up with his head — often the case in actual relationships.  The film’s biggest preoccupation for me was with authenticity: the “reality” of our interactions; the “reality” of human or personal identity.  After all, Theodore’s very livelihood is a fraud — he writes letters to loved ones who have no idea that they’re reading a stranger’s words.  Would we prefer the lie?  The blue pill or the red?  The living flesh of a person or the reassuring resemblance to one?  Regardless, Her suggests that we’re all social creatures, no matter what form “social” takes.

More Great Films on Ontology and A.I.:
Inception
The Matrix
Memento
Abre Los Ojos (or its English remake, Vanilla Sky)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Being John Malkovich
2001: A Space Odyssey

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2 comments

  1. Very well-written, and insightful questions near the end. Also interesting to note that the “robot” in your title applies to both Theodore as he ends up with his neighbor at the end and Samantha as she grows and begins to understand what her needs really are.
    Nice touch!

    Check out my write-up here: http://bit.ly/1fTN0qz

  2. Very well-written, and insightful questions near the end. Also interesting to note that the “robot” in your title applies to both Theodore as he ends up with his neighbor at the end and Samantha as she grows and begins to understand what her needs really are.

    Nice touch!

    Check out my write-up up the film here: http://bit.ly/1fTN0qz

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