DM Haight

Relationships are complex. You know that. I know that. But what happens in a relationship when one of the individual pieces is not physically present? Not in the sense of long distance and present on occasion. Instead, quite possibly the longest of distances: not physically alive. What happens when you fall in love with the idea of a personality and consciousness, instead of a flesh and blood personality and consciousness?  Spike Jonze tackles this exact issue in his film Her, where a man (Joaquin Phoenix)  falls in love with an Artificial Intelligence named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).

Of course it may not be the most original idea. I mean, there’s that one episode of Futurama, “I Dated a Robot”, that deals with this exact confrontation. And, Hell, that was written, produced, aired, and syndicated over a decade ago. But Spike Jonze goes to another place with the A.I. concept, giving Samantha a soul.

I can’t lie. Within fifteen minutes I was hooked and said out loud, “I love this movie”. There’s a great charm from Phoenix that only reminds us of how mesmerizing he can be when he’s not wandering around with a big poofy beard. His interactions with Sam are so unique and pure and lovely and perfect that you want him to succeed and be with her. We watch them work through the issues of physicality and sensuality and see them begin their relationship, hot and heavy and beautiful, just like everyone’s first love should be.

The reason why this relationship comes off so pure is because of that simple reality of firsts. How can we possibly fathom what a relationship between and A.I. and a living breathing person might turn out to be? Does it start with a physical attraction like most relationships? No. Absolutely not. Unless you’re into that, which is fine–no judging here. But the physicality, the sexuality, it’s all non-existent. This isn’t Futurama: you can’t make whoopy to a computer.

Her just has the ability to raise questions, and surprisingly very few eyebrows. It asks us, if we could have the near perfect relationship we all dream about, would we be willing to sacrifice some of the essential parts of relationships to have that near perfection. I can’t say whether or not it’s fair to ask that, since Theodore (Phoenix) faces that question and finds it much harder to answer after he begins to understand that this A.I. technology has actually created a person, no matter how real/unreal they may be. It’s hard to find films that make you ask those types of questions: whether your relationship is real, whether that love you feel is real, whether that person you’re feeling that love for is real enough to receive your love. But mostly the question ends up being: can you lose someone you really only had in your mind?

In many ways Her is a very sad film, reminding us of what we’ve personally lost throughout our lives: the one that got away, the one that never was, the one that should have been, the one that ended up being. We’ve, for the most part, felt these intense peaks of passions, whether positive or negative, and we’ve all emerged from these passions different people, with clearer views of what we want out of life and what we don’t want. Her reminds us that those wants and not-wants can very often times merge within a single entity, resulting in a consciousness, a being, a lover that we can’t live with, and we can’t live without.

The tragedy with Her falls in the truth it holds for everyone. It never hurts with purpose, but it does hurt, intentional or not. And that hurt comes from asking ourselves, what is real, what is unreal, and does it even matter?


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