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A film review for the closer viewer: Her

06/09/2014

Saturday’s weather here in Wellington has been wet, cold, and generally uninviting. I took the opportunity of such ideal DVD watching weather to rent the 2013 film Her from my local video store.

Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely writer who forms an emotional relationship with his artificial intelligent operating system Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

This is a film I had been wanting to see for a while since the subject matter is timely given the rise of ever smarting technologies and the seemingly endless possibility for improvements and adaptations to computing power.

All of this change has been overall beneficial and I believe coming technologies will continue to be so but there will be changes and challenges along the way. Tyler Cowen noted in his somewhat dystopian Average is over, the challenge for humans in the work space will be in not competing with computers but instead collaborating with them.

There are already societal changes happening in the way people connect with one another given the now ubiquity of the social media giants of Facebook and Twitter coupled with the rise of online shopping and matching apps such as Uber and AirBnB.

Back to the film, Theodore is emotionally damaged after a panful separation with his ex wife, he writes love letters for people during the day at his job at perfect letter writing dot com but he has become much more anti social.

After booting up his operating system, Samantha is born. Samantha is a computer but a computer imbued with the intuition to respond to Theodore’s requests but also anticipate his wants and engage with him on a genuine personal emotional level.

A striking moment for me was Theodore’s surprise upon learning Samantha did not tell him “personal stuff” and such personal stuff was when she was “embarrassed”. This cut at the heart of the fundamental question of what it means to be human which the film challenged.

This revelation elevates the connection between Theodore and Samantha to a more profound emotional one. Yet they face conflict in that neither can truly relate to the other because Theodore is fully human but Samantha is not quite human.

In fact Samantha is more than human given her super computing power and the ability to evolve beyond her original programming which is referred to in AI and computer science as machine learning.

It is this evolution which broadens Samantha’s world and challenges her relationship with Theodore.

I think the technology which gives us access to a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips is utterly remarkable but in an interconnected world we sometimes seem to be becoming more disconnected and/or contained within our own bubble.

An interesting question to ponder and Her encourages people to think about such ideas which I think is valuable. I was forewarned about weird sex scenes but on encountering them I thought they were appropriately done. Overall I recommend this film to anyone interested in what it means to be human, what the future could look like and how we connect.


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