Released 2014. Director: Spike Jonze
COULD ONE FALL IN LOVE WITH A COMPUTER PROGRAM? Could a person be romantically attracted to artificial intelligence? Her is very much sci-fi, very much romance, and very much the movie of the year 2014. Smart, sexy, beautiful, insightful; it’s the heart behind the zeroes and ones that puts it at number one.
Theodore’s job is writing love letters for hire. Apparently in the near future such a profession not only exists but appears rather well-paid too. He's newly single after his marriage ended but Theodore's world is nevertheless filled with romantic notions, creatively expressed every day as he fulfils countless wishes for those seeking help with their own expressions. Against this backdrop Theodore falls in love again; this time with an operating system.
The writer’s new computer not only answers questions like Siri on Apple, but technology has advanced to a stage where the Siri equivalent can carry on a conversation with you as if you’re talking on the phone with a friend. And if the voice, who introduces herself as Samantha, sounds just like Scarlett Johansson, it’s not hard to understand how this might happen to Theodore.
Samantha is by no means a static program. She is evolving every minute, an artificial intelligence operating system that learns from experience. She talks, laughs, jokes, has feelings, so to speak. She is someone too talk to and spend time with. Theodore takes Samantha to the funfair, to the beach. She’s the last person he talks to before he turns off the light. She even wakes him up in the middle of the night because she wants to hear his voice. Samantha knows everything and is there for Theodore all the time. It is an intimate relationship without the physicality.
This romance encapsulates the essence and importance of communication in a relationship. Theodore and Samantha bare themselves to each other, in a manner of speaking. The love-letter writer who helps others connect and fall in love through words is himself in love with a product of engineering. I’m not sure if this is intended as an irony. As humans depend more and more on technology, as technology takes over our lives in greater complexity, Her is a smart, visionary and ultimately moving gaze down a time tunnel into what could constitute love in the future.
What Samantha has been programmed to do is basically run Theodore’s computer and mobile devices. What Samantha becomes, however, is a girlfriend that knows everything about Theodore, doesn’t expect anything, and a confidant, soulmate and constant companion. Samantha the software program expresses a fantasy of “having a body walking next to you”. She is self-aware and self-reflective. “I caught myself thinking about it,” she confesses to Theodore in one of their many heart-to-heart dialogues.
Even as Her sweeps you along on its romantic journey, it never ceases to bring up questions that would fascinate philosophers, lovers and software programmers. Has Theodore fallen in love with a voice? Has he projected a personality onto a voice? Can Samantha be said to possess a personality? What does Samantha ‘feel’? Is it the same as what humans label love, or is it something else – a response to programming? Can a human experience as complex as love be programmed? What constitutes a relationship and does what Theodore and Samantha share qualify as one? “She’s not just a computer,” says Theodore. “She’s her own person.” Samantha struggles to make sense of her “feelings” as the experience draws her deeper into doubts and questions, a situation a logical, mathematical, methodical operating system is unfamiliar with. Samantha is not an exclusive OS and she is simultaneously talking to thousands and – coming as a shock to Theodore – “in love” with hundreds others.
Her, a pronoun denoting a female human, as opposed to it to denote an inanimate object, is faceless yet she is almost as real as the next person, someone you haven’t seen but spend an inordinate amount of time with online and on the phone. Similar to many modern relationships in this digital era. This is a love story for a new age. A romance that engages the brain as much as it touches the heart.