Friday, January 31, 2014

Why We Needed "Her"

This January, Spike Jonze released his latest film, “Her.”  Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Samantha, it has already won a Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay, and is up for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.  The story that Jonze tells is original and profound.

Feeling lonely and in the process of a painful divorce, writer Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) purchases an operating system.  Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is designed to meet every need of Theodore, and they develop a relationship.  As he grows closer to Samantha, Theodore’s attachment is unrealistic, and their interaction, though touching, he slowly loses the desire to live life beyond the confines of Samantha.  He takes his OS out on dates, and lets her experience things vicariously through him through the camera attached to her system.  She is able to respond only so much, but develops from the experience nonetheless.    

Slowly, as their relationship deepens, Samantha tries to figure out whether how she feels about Theodore is real, or just programming.  Either way, she develops more than she thought she could.  Theodore alienates himself from human contact, and doesn’t care that she isn’t real.  He has finally gained acceptance for who he is, and it is through something designed to make him feel exactly as he needs to be felt.  

I’ll be honest, though the premise of falling in love with a computer is a bit pathetic, “Her” made me tear up in theaters.  Theodore holds Samantha close to himself, and constantly says that she’s not just a computer.  If you tell yourself something often enough, you start to believe it is true, regardless of its veracity.  However, when facing the reality that human interaction is an important part of life, he realizes that Samantha isn’t what he needs if he wants to develop a real relationship.  

Amy (Amy Adams) keeps him grounded, however.  She tells him that sometimes all that matters is your own happiness, since “we are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.” Which Theodore does, by finalizing his divorce.  The signing of the papers however is accompanied by his ex-wife (Rooney Mara) telling him that Samantha is the perfect girl for him, since he doesn’t have to deal with the actual aspects of being there for someone., as even the emotional and psychological aspect is synthetic to a fault.

Which, is an excellent point.  Samantha isn’t physically present.  She is no more than a voice that reassures Theodore that he is still attractive and a wonderful partner.  This is very important, considering intimacy is no more than an illusion.  There is nothing physical about her, even though he may want her in a physical sense and be fulfilled by nothing more than experiences similar to that of phone sex.  

What is Spike Jonze really saying about the way we use technology these days with his film?  Is Theodore’s dependency relatable to us today?  To what extent are we using technology?  Should we stray from reliance on our phones? Is having the world at our fingertips detrimental to our interpersonal relationships?  Then again, can technology enhance our personal relationships?  According to “Her,” even if it is one where you fall in love with an operating system, yes.  Yes it can.  

Sure, having a smartphone is helpful for little things throughout the day.  If we need to look up directions to a friend’s house, or find out the weather to dress appropriately, our dependency is deemed reasonable.  If we need to get in touch with someone to solidify plans is exactly what phones are made for, anyhow.  The communication realm has grown more in the past ten years than it ever has.  Though many people consider anyone who sits around on their phone texting the day away anti-social, they are being more social than ever before.  However, these conversations are no more than simply a virtual exchange.  The aspect of physically being in someone’s presence is a lot more powerful than a meaningful text message.  

With the amount of technology available to us today and the fact that we can have the world at our fingertips is profound, even intimidating at times.  Even though it can help us do everything, we shouldn’t use it for everything.

The fact that Theodore completely personifies Samantha in such an intense fashion is a little worrisome for viewers.  His lack of desire for human interaction is obvious, and maybe if we become too attached to technology, the world will be graced with the presence of six trillion Theodore’s.

Don’t get me wrong reader, I doubt that the world will come to us all dating our computers.  For one thing, reproducing would be a nightmare.  How would you even engage in an actual date?  Humans aren’t wired to show affection to just one person anyhow.  We all love to be loved, but even more so we love to love.  So, we needed “Her” to bring us back to Earth and help us realize that although it is nice to have technology to rely on, falling in love with something intangible, like Samantha, is unrealistic.  Even though critics have deemed it “slightly futuristic,” we are far away from this becoming a reality.  Perhaps “Her” was just a warning of what could happen if we fell in love with the voice of Scarlett Johannson.  

Hopefully the Academy recognizes the originality presented here with a concept that makes us take a step back, saying “huh.  I wish I could have written this.”  A love story like this has been in our subconscious, and now with Jonze contemplating it, we can consider its flaws and strong points.  Leave it to Spike Jonze to explore a virtual relationship even Siri isn’t capable of.

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