Thursday, February 13, 2014

Film Review: Her (2014)

The new film from hipster genius Spike Jonze is a dark meditation on the relationship that we are all developing with our ‘smart’ technology.  Like all the best sci-fi, it is set in a vague not-too-distant future, whilst firmly satirising the present world of 2014.

Theodore (Joaquim Phoenix) is a lonely divorcee who lives in a slightly futuristic Los Angeles and works for a company that specialises in writing bespoke love-letters for paying customers.  He lives alone in a beautiful skyscraper apartment with a habit of playing immersive video games that are projected onto his wall in glorious proper 3-Dimension.

After learning of a new adaptive and artificially intelligent operating system that becomes available to organise people’s lives, he purchases and installs it into his computer.  After turning it on for the first time, he quickly learns that it wants to be called Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).  Samantha quickly develops a personality and they slowly become friends, as Theodore uses an earpiece to speak to her with wherever he is in the city.  As Theodore becomes more and more comfortable around Samantha, they begin to teach each other things they didn’t know were possible and end up in a full-on relationship…

There are so many ideas in this film it is hard to know where to start: Digital immorality; the inevitably banal application of artificial intelligence; transhumanism; the uncanny loneliness of digital communication; the hyperreality of immersive entertainment… It’s like Spike Jonze has mixed every postmodern theory textbook together until he found a dark narrative about technophilia, mortality and girl-next-door cliché.

The obvious real-life reference point to the technology in the film is the aesthetics of Apple’s iGoods (everything is curved, touch screen and talks like Siri).  Everyone walks around in the future talking into their earpieces; the distinction being no longer relevant whether they are talking to another human or simply ‘an intelligence’.

The film has a screaming liberal agenda and cinematography.  All of Theodore's friends approve of his new 'non-traditional' relationship (*cough* gay marriage *cough* *cough*), except for his ex-wife who acts as the central antagonist of the narrative.  

The world of the future might be a little more isolating and complicated but tolerance is everywhere.  The strangest scene occurs when Samantha hires a kind of sexual surrogate so that they can consummate their relationship, a surrogate that she has chosen from a huge choice of women who love the purity of man-machine relationships and want to help out...


To read the film as a warning for a potential future where humankind has become to intimate with machines is utterly naïve though: we are all already there.  What is Twitter if not an open-ended digital conversation to anyone (or thing) that is listening?  The thought-provoking nuance of the film lies in the fact that Jonze does not condemn Theodore for his relationship, but instead only for not making it work out due to his own human foibles… the future is now.

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