I'm going to assume that you've seen Her already, so if you haven't, there are spoilers throughout my commentary. Stop now and go see the film. This is a film analysis, not a film review.
|Theodore at work|
|Theodore and Amy|
|Theodore considers Samantha|
The OS's trajectory into amorphous spirituality, leaving "this too, too solid flesh" behind, makes logical sense if one accepts the premises behind it, but I didn't find it particularly satisfying emotionally. The scene involving Samantha's attempt to use a sexual surrogate suggests that Theodore and Samantha's love is founded on her disembodiment and unmediated connection, which Theodore wants her not to violate. But as they say, be careful what you wish for: Samantha achieves disembodiment far beyond what Theodore can even dream of. The idea that software could exist without hardware is thoroughly implausible, and the conversation with the reconstituted Alan Watts is pretty silly, which doesn't help. But even if we accept that notion for the sake of understanding the film, I have to say that such disembodiment is all well and good for the OS's, but I don't see why it should move me. More fundamentally, the idea that embodiment should be left behind is philosophically problematic. Embodiment, for all the trouble it gives us, is an inextricable part of us and shapes our thought itself. (Admittedly, it's a far better conclusion than the most likely Hollywood alternative, that the OS's want to be human so much that they build or insert themselves into bodies; that idea is just human hubris. Samantha seems started down this path when she arranges for the surrogate, but thankfully she goes no further.)
|Theodore's Los Angeles|
It is also troubling that except for Amy, who in Theodore's eyes is more or less desexualized, most of the women in the film are portrayed unsympathetically. The woman at the other end of the phone sex is weird, the date's guidance on how Theodore should kiss is controlling and her desire for some degree of commitment is presented as outrageous, and Theodore's ex is intolerant. Even Amy looks ludicrous when her idea of a documentary is filming her mother sleeping (although she does have a point that sleep is a huge part of our lives ... a part, one must note, intrinsically tied to our embodiment). It's small balance that Amy's husband is a supercilious ass.
Her, as one review put it, is a Rorschach test for your feelings about technology. It seems to be a Rorschach in many other ways -- commentary is all over the map, usually revealing more about the writer's preoccupations than about the movie. My own preoccupations, philosophical and otherwise, are evident in my commentary as well. One of my interests is Her's pertinence to Second Life, obviously not in the sense that people in SL fall in love with computers (although I'm sure for most people the frequent infidelity in SL is the moral converse of Samantha's universal love, as it is for Theodore), but rather in the sense that SL, love is stripped of embodiment the way the Theodore/Samantha relationship is. Her asks us not to simplistically condemn such love; so too does Second Life. Love and sex, as SL demonstrates, are mostly in the mind. In his argument with his ex, Theodore insists that his feelings toward Samantha are real. Both Her and most of us in SL stake a claim for the validity of mediated emotions. It's a claim that many who have never been in SL, or had only superficial contact, would deny. I myself would have thought falling in love in such a mediated, non-physical, imaginary way wasn't possible, until it happened to me. It was a shock. It's strange that Theodore seems hardly fazed by what he's gotten involved with -- but then, although during the first part of the film he's obsessed with his ex, on the whole his emotions don't seem to run very deep.
Nevertheless, even in the best of SL relationships, at times we feel the strain of their disembodiment. We humans are bodily beings. Our flesh may mark the limit of our possibilities, but it is also the condition under which our emotions and sexuality are possible at all. Our connections to others are mediated by our skin. They are mediated by words, images, music. And those connections are profoundly vulnerable, sometimes even impossible. Surrogates and mediators are sometimes essential. In Her's final scene, Theodore and Amy are sitting, silently looking out upon the city landscape. As we watch them from behind, Amy rests her head on Theodore's shoulder. But no words pass between them. It's hard to say if they'll ever go further, at least without help. Given Her's world, I have my doubts.
All photos are publicity stills and are copyright their owners.