The Past Is Just A Story We Tell Ourselves: Her (2013)

I am gonna keep riding this post humanism wave here on the blog, because I have been fortunate to have yet another piece of academic writing get pushed through to a new stage of revisions with the hopes of eventual publication.  Incidentally, much of the subject matter of this paper revolves around issues of cyborg identity and by extension how we gender and other bodies that themselves are not human.  As I noted earlier this is a relatively new point of research for me, but one that is nonetheless proving quite rewarding and at times challenging theoretically.  I know full and well that I would have adored Spike Jonze's Her regardless of having encountered some of this research prior, but much of it would have been purely from a sort of cinematic spectacle and comedic point of reference.    It would be quite a challenge to find a reason for me to not like the movie on those grounds alone, yet when I began to engage with the film (almost immediately) on its conceptualization and navigation of issues surrounding the post-human identity I found myself becoming even more enthralled with the film than I could have previous foreseen.  It works its way ever so cleverly around both the issues of embodiment and what it would mean for an entity with unlimited access to the known world to somehow become more sentient than a person, even one that it had grown deeply attached to in as close to physical way as possible.  The film is vibrant and abject simultaneously, painting in its lens a world that is hip and looks to be a great step forward, but also manages to show the very detachment and dissonance that could create a world where this narrative could emerge.  In this careful construction, I would argue that Her carries the same legitimacy in terms looking forward to humanities symbiosis with technology that The Matrix and Existenz did in 1999, there begin a prophetic warning.  Jonze realizes that this warning is far too late and instead takes a look at how the romantic relations of those in the world will come to fruition in light of this invariable attachment.  In this way, the film proves to be the most important romantic drama since Brokeback Mountain.  It should be rather apparent at this point that I was absolutely floored by Her.

Her follows the life of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) a man whose job revolves around writing heartfelt and emotionally charged letters for clients who want to send them to friends, lovers and relatives but cannot bother to spend the time doing it themselves.  While he is exceptional at his job, he has been recently distraught over the ending of his recent push for divorce by his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) who sees his distant nature and decidedly mellow outlook on life to be starkly opposed to her very hard and critical world view.  While Theodore is capable of maintaing some semblance of functionality at work, he is clearly suffering on the outside as noted by Amy (Amy Adams) and her boyfriend Charles (Matt Letscher).  During his travels through what appears to be a nondescript California location, Theodore comes across an advertisement for a new operation system for his computer that is equipped with artificial intelligence.  Seeing this as a curiosity, Theodore buys the software and after answering a few questions about his mother and interests, he is provided with a voice model named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) whose own outlook and desire to learn about the world and Theodore immediately becomes a thing of life-fullfilment for Theodore.  While he is initially hesitant to embrace the desires of Samantha, Theodore and his operating system become involved, at one point even carry out what is apparently a sexual encounter.  In the physical world, this drives Theodore to the final point of willingness to end things with Catherine and when Amy and Charles breakup, he is able to better support her as a friend.  Yet, when Samantha grows closer to Theodore their relationship too grows and in some ways becomes tested after the "honeymoon phase."  Theodore becoming quite frustrated when Samantha attempts to introduce a real woman into the sexual equation.  Yet, he is willing to work at finding a way for their partnership to work and is quite successful for sometime, but during a trip to the mountains, Samantha informs Theodore that she has been talking extensively with other AI operating systems, wherein her understanding of knowledge and presence are beyond his comprehension.  Furthermore, after a brief malfunction, Samantha reveals that she has been in conversation with thousands of other entities, some of which she has loved equally.  In one last conversation, Samantha calls Theodore at night to tell him that she/it loves him dearly, before the entire system goes offline.  Awaking to the broken system, Theodore is momentarily flustered, but eventually decides it is best to simply go and talk with Amy, a moment that suggest the future of a even better relationship.

Her tackles the issues of artificial intelligence, post humanism and the existential justification of life in a way few films have.  Indeed, while it is at a quick thought, I would only place Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix above this in terms of film's which tackle the issue of the artificial navigating its way into the real in highly indiscernible ways with noted success.  Wherein, the thee previous films pain such an uprising and awareness in a very dire situation, one predicated upon invasion and replacement with something newly evolved, Her notes that the divide might not happen with such force, but the emotional investment will be no less tangible.  The artificial intelligence at play in this film seems to predicate itself upon becoming attached to figures who are already in the emotional dumps as it were, susceptible to a emotional replacement that does not necessarily factor into the most Darwinian of logistics.  Here, Theodore navigates towards the entity of Samantha not for the physical elements, but for the replication of comfort and human connection she somehow purports to offer.  Indeed, it is made expressly clear that this is not a replication of the human form and certainly not a simulacra of the human, because there is never a physical entity to which Samantha becomes attached, although there is an incredibly brief moment in the "break up" scene that could be deemed Theodore's own physical manifestation of Samantha.  This looking for human contact by removing the contact element becomes even more curious when one considers that figures like Theodore make incredible use of video games as a form of escapism, while Amy makes video games for a living, aspiring to be a documentary filmmaker all the while.  The games themselves monotonous, Amy's creation simply being a mom simulation, while Theodore is fixated by a game that looks tantamount to The Myth of Sisyphus in 3D.  At no point do they realize the harm or detachment at play in such a world, because they are so fixated on their individual realities, in so much, as it would suggest that the attachment to artificial intelligence, is not one where fear of mental superiority a threat, but that said fabrications

Key Scene:  The love scene is seriously something refreshing in the use of cinematic language, if only for the ways in which it made the audience collectively react.

This is in theaters.  It is a theatrical film.  Seek it out accordingly.

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