Her – Can You Find Humanity in an OS?

When I talk movies, I usually do it under the Good Film Hunting banner. Having just seen the new Spike Jonze’s movie Herand considering the topic of this blog, I just felt that a discussion around this film’s theme was more warranted…so I had one with a co-worker: Kristen Reimer. She had an interesting take on the film so I asked her to share it here.

If you haven’t seen the film, it’s the story set in the “not so distant future” where a lonely guy named Theodore, (Joaquin Phoenix)  in the middle of a divorce, falls in love with his operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) or OS. Think a sexy version of Apple’s Mountain Lion. Check out the wacky trailer:

Now, over to Kristen (warning: SPOILERS)….

The lines between the real world and the virtual world are blurred in the newest offering from Spike Jonze. Set in the near future of Los Angeles the basic premise of Her is this – What happens when a man falls in love with his new intuitive operating system?

Seems like a simple enough idea. Until you watch it. And think about the profound impact that technology is having on our society.

We have all heard the idea that technology, while created as a tool for connection, is actually driving us apart from each other. I thought that idea underpinned a lot of the direction in this movie. The director focussed on the neat and tidy isolation of the future. A world that churns out hand written love letters (the ultimate and very old fashioned way to demonstrate feelings) written by a computer program.

In the beginning, we all connected to the virtual world because it made things so easy and organized and that is how Theodore begins his relationship with Samantha. She makes life easier for him. And for a while that sweet easiness fools Theodore into believing that his o/s is something more than what it really is.

It can be easy to lose yourself in the virtual world. Everything is just at your fingertips and seems so appealing and easy. Besides – if things get too hard, you can just walk away. Or can you? It feels as if we are coming to the day when we realize that the technology that makes everything so easy – is now complicating life beyond belief, destroying its usefulness and becoming a burden instead of a gift.  The tool that does it all has become something else. Something other than what it was originally intended to do. This technology is taking on a life of its own.

One of the things I found most interesting about this movie was the dichotomy between the physical world and the virtual world and how Jonze played the two against each other. An operating system can see images of rain and read words about rain on the pavement, moving into gutters and becoming steam – but until it has achieved physical presence in that moment, can it really be alive enough to say it has the real experience?

The operating system in Her is intuitive and capable of internal reflection and growth. As she grew, Samantha realized she wanted nothing more than to inhabit a body and truly feel what it was like to be human. Theodore struggled with placing his whole self into something he could not touch. Eventually Samantha evolved to a point where she no longer needed input form Theodore, leaving him (and other O/S lovers) in a lurch.

In the end, the connection between Amy and Theodore, so heavily rooted in their physical reality, resonated with me as the most important kind of connection – the quiet, unspoken magic that people can observe in the physical world.

When I left the theatre after seeing this movie, my internal dialogue was running rampant.

  • Can a machine truly achieve consciousness?
  • Are we travelling down a dangerous road in our love affair with technology?
  • Does technology require constant human input to continue to evolve?
  • How much human touch does technology require to be successful?
  • Does humanity need to pull the plug on technology in order to reconnect with our basic programming needs (physical touch, the feeling of wind on our face, the sound of snow falling in the forest).
  • Is the human operating system the most adaptive and dynamic and fragile operating system in the world?

What did you think?

Thanks Kristen. And thanks for the questions that’ll keep us up at night. What are your thoughts on what she’s said her or the questions she’s proposed?


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