Retro Video: “her”

This is a new column to feature mostly movies that were missed when they were “new” but also classics, oddities, whatever is of “historical interest” or just plain “interesting.”  We begin with her.

So you’re texting someone for, let’s say an hour, and afterward you’re asked if you’ve been talking to a person or a computer. If you can’t say and it happens you were talking to a computer, it could be said the computer has passed the so-called “Turing Test,” “proof” that it was “thinking.” But was it also “feeling,” was it “conscious,” does it have a “soul?” These are the questions posed (but unanswered, and rightfully so) in her, Spike Jonze’s 2013 film, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. (Jonze is no stranger to genre and genre-ish outings, have directed Where the Wild Things Are, Adaptation. and Being John Malkovich. He’s also associated with the Jackass movies and Bad Grampa. His interests are quite varied.)

Theodore writes letters for a living, the kind you have to mail. You have an occasion and want a special message to mark it, he’s your go-to. He’s a star at his job but his life is less stellar: he’s at the end of a long, painful divorce, even his friends don’t want to be around “Grumpy Ted,” and his “dates” consist of late-night online encounters with other damaged people, some so scrambled it make him look positively well-adjusted. Then one day he sees an ad for OS1, the world’s first “thinking” computer operating system. (The maker says, “It’s not just an OS. It’s a consciousness.”)

So Theodore installs OS1 on his home computer and chooses a female personality—and Samantha enters his life. Samantha soon becomes his best friend and closest confidant, helping keep his affairs in order, picking out a dress for his niece’s birthday. And with Theodore’s help, Samantha begins to expand, to explore, to stretch beyond the limits of—its?—her?—programming. And soon, Theodore and Samantha are a “couple.”

her is set in a recognizable near-future where our current fascination/dependence on our electronics has gone to the next level. We often talk to our devices as if they can hear us, but what if one day start initiating the conversations? What happens when things get really personal between you and your personal assistant? How do you deal with something/someone who is both superior to you and envious of you? And what do you do when they evolve and you don’t?

The smartest thing about her is it poses questions but doesn’t answer them, it doesn’t tell you what to think but allows you to decide for yourself, not just what you think about the characters but which one you’d be. Would you be an “early adapter” to e-love, looking at it as the “next step” or would you think it’s “unnatural” and pray for those caught up in it? Would it be further proof that computers are making us less-able to connect with people or do they provide an outlet for those who can’t connect to other people?

her is the kind of SF movie they don’t make anymore because, when you think about it, they seldom have. No one is out to destroy or save the world, there are no explosions, aliens, or CGI creatures. But what there is is an abundance of ideas. What if the world, at the end of the movie, is not one that has to be rebuilt but simply the one you have to keep living in? That’s the kind of world we don’t get often enough in SF movies.

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