Two years ago, Siri, Apple’s intelligent personal assistant for the company’s many platforms, was released world-wide. Since then, we’ve grown quite accustomed to delivering vocal commands to our little glowing rectangles, and to receiving almost instantaneous, natural-sounding responses.
Computers speak to us in many areas of our lives: from Siri on our iPhones, that polite little British woman on our GPS and the automated messages when we call, well, anywhere. No matter how genuine and natural their responses may seem, computers run on programming, and everything they do is calculated and according to their designated algorithm.
But enter the not-so-distant future as depicted in Spike Jonze’s Her, where the very meaning of the word “natural” has pretty much been lost. Fashion has once again run around its course and arrived squarely at 1991 business casual. The cities and beaches are bursting at the seams as a result of overpopulation, and despite the crowds, people are no longer engaged with each other.
At least, not as much as they are with the new OS1—the first artificially intelligent operating system, which is so life-like and fast-learning, people have begun to form romantic relationships with their PCs.
Her follows Theodore Twamly, (played by the wonderful Jaoquin Phoenix) a wistful and weepy writer making his living composing sentimental letters as a paid service. But Theodore is hardly as articulate in real life, and spends his down time alone in his apartment, engaging in internet porn and phone sex to escape the reality of his impending divorce.
But when Theodore installs OS1 on his computer, he’s introduced to the alluring voice of Samantha (played by Scarlett Johansson), the self-named female voice of the OS. After talking Samantha through her first few days of digital life, Theodore quickly begins to fall for the “person” living inside the computer, and enters an increasingly intense relationship with her, despite her not having a body beyond his PC and a handheld peripheral. From there, Her takes the viewer through a study of the meaning of authenticity, and the potential consequences of unlocking the key to artificial intelligence—for both humans and AIs.
It’s been a few years since director Spike Jonze made us shift uncomfortably in our seats during his unexpectedly gloomy interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are, but Jonze—still the owner of the coolest name in Hollywood—is truly in his element with Her, which acts as a cinematic warning and ode to man’s relationship with our uncanny electronic children. Composed of cozy close-ups and candid dialogue, and remarkable performances by Phoenix and Johansson—both easily deserving of awards—Jonze succeeds once again at creating an intimate and emotionally involving film experience.
At the second-day showing I attended, there were more than a few disgruntled walk-outs after some of the film’s unconventional sex scenes—particularly a several minute long scene composed entirely of a black screen and the frantic moaning of sexual passion, which is sure to divide and disturb viewers and critics alike. But it’s scenes like that which sets Her apart from most other films that deal with the post-human problem. Jonze approaches the relationship between human and AI with an honesty and tenderness rarely seen in this genre, and isn’t judgmental about it.
The film leaves the judgments to the viewers, and instead posits the questions humanity may need to eventually ask: what’s the difference between natural and artificial intelligence? What will be the social consequences of man’s growing dependency on technology? Is it possible for an AI to love? And most importantly—can an AI achieve happiness and authenticity? If those are the sort of queries that plague your brain and ignite your best philosophical debates, Her is definitely the film for you.