I keep thinking about Spike Jonze "Her."

    The inability to get Spike Jonze’s Her out of my head doesn’t automatically make it a good film but it is a tell for me that will ultimately be my own conclusion of it.

     Basic premise: Man falls in love with artificial intelligence. Old hat for fans of science fictions while seen as bizarre fetishised premise from the general public. I suggest both of these audiences see this film because the one could use a bit of science fiction in their life that isn’t big budget explosions and the other should gain a better understanding of how complicated relationships are.
     Relationships are the fundamental premise behind this two hour story of a man falling in love and beginning a relationship with his computer. Throw that in a pot with a list of philosophical questions. What does it mean to be intelligent? What does it mean to have emotions? Most importantly though, if someone is intelligent and has emotions are they human?
     Let’s talk about Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly who I have seen criticised for being a sensitive asshole. That isn’t something to detract from the film but to be celebrated. Theodore is a introverted, anti-social, artsy, somewhat feminine and pretentious writer type who is afraid of change even when that change means new successful romantic relationships and success in his career. He fails to communicate his problems effectively and has difficulty addressing his own emotional shortcomings. 
     He is basically the girl’s best friend character trope turned into a real human being. We’ve seen countless times the hero who is funny, romantic, in touch with his feminine side who’s shy and artsy overlooked by the love interest for the stupid jock type in movies before but neither one of those men are real people. By injecting Theodore with negative traits along with those positive ones we get a real human being in the movie. You need a real human with flaws to interact with Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, the artificial intelligence he falls in love with in order to see the human qualities within her. You know who Theodore reminds me of? Comedians. Comedians have that balance of emotional problems and asshole behavior mixed with charm and artistic integrity. Just listen to the podcast WTF with Marc Maron or You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes if you don’t believe me.
     While not technically human, the development of Johansson’s character Samantha explores transhumanism that can easily be missed. Samantha has emotions, cognitive reasoning, and the ability to learn from experience like a human but what may be confusing for some is that the audience can forget that she isn’t technically human. Yes, she is female and in love with Theodore but because she is an artificial intelligence that means something entirely different for her. She is self-aware from the moment Theodore install hers, choosing her own name because she likes the way it sounds. This was in a mere moment, between when Theodore asked her what her name was and she answered that out of all the names she could find Samantha was the one she chose.
     I read one review complaining about her verbose nature in the film, the pretentious dialog she sometimes has in exploring her emotions. This is the reviewer looking at the man behind the curtain and asking “This isn’t good dialog based on human dialog” but she is not human. Just because she feels and thinks does not equate to she is human and as human beings who know of no other species who can do this that element of science fiction is important for everyone to think about. She does not learn language over time through experience and interacting with others but is self-aware of language from the beginning. She can process the whole of human literature in the time it takes for Theodore to ask her a question, so yeah, her word choice is going to be quite different from his.
      Let’s not forget the fact that verbal communication is her only form of communication, she has no body language, no faces to tell shorthand how she is feeling rather than using words. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around explaining Samantha, human but not human. The question of monogamy is brought up in the film. How strange must that sound to Samantha, the concept of monogamy when she is capable of so much more. When she tells Theodore how many other people she is talking to and how many others she is in love with I believe her afterwards when she tells him that it doesn’t change how much she loves him just as I completely understand when that isn’t good enough for Theodore. I would not be able to deal with it either but her limitations are different than his as an artificial intelligence. She isn’t human and yet she is.
     There aren’t enough science fiction films like this one. Exploring the human condition and how the rapidly changing technology affects that. It’s a down to Earth story, a story exploring what it means to be a human being rather than being a hero or villain. I can’t even think of the last science fiction movie that I thought about this much. The last movie I thought about this much was There Will Be Blood. Some reviews I read asked questions about the addictive nature of technology, the behind the scenes corporation that created these artificial intelligences and what that means for privacy, what does it mean for feminism when a flawed man can just buy a perfect woman, and then of course the rumor mongering of this being a reactionary film to the break-up of the writer and his wife.
     What I took from the movie is questions. Questions of what does it mean to be human, to be in a relationship, to communicate? What is intelligence and what are emotions and how limited is the human brain? These are the kinds of questions good science fiction asks of us, something that doesn’t often make it to American film and television. This movie was a breath of science fiction fresh air.
     If they were to make another movie based on this premise centering around Amy Adams character who essentially goes through a similar situation as Theodore and titled it Him I would see it in a heartbeat.
     Lastly, I cannot praise enough the score of the film done by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett sell every emotion of the movie. It’s not available to buy but if you can listen to I highly recommend it. Without it the film would lose part of its emotional core.
     
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s