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'Her' is the Scariest Movie of 2013
January 27, 2014 9:56 PM   Subscribe

What feels to Theodore like love is in fact work, uncompensated and entirely on Element Software’s terms, and such work is not the stuff of science fiction.

Also: Him and Her:How Spike Jonze Made the Weirdest, Most Timely Romance of the Year.
posted by MoonOrb (58 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
not just his data but his entire life become a form of economic production for an unseen company. Not unlike the now-public corporations known as Facebook and Twitter, Element Software derives the totality of the revenue from Samantha’s content,

Funnily enough, the writer doesn't seem to understand that Facebook and Twitter don't generate a hell of a lot of profit from their intimacy with user information. Google, on the other hand...
posted by KokuRyu at 10:09 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


The writer of the first article seems to want to write his own fears about corporate data mining into the film. I don't like corporations owning my personal data either, but that totally doesn't seem to be the point of the film. Samantha may have been hosted on Element Software's servers, but there is nothing in the film to suggest that she, and the other OS1's, are not exactly as they're advertised to be: artificially intelligent and independent in thought from Element Software. The ending seems to make this particularly clear.
posted by Tsuga at 10:24 PM on January 27 [12 favorites]


Did Fox buy the New Republic?
posted by lastobelus at 10:32 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


The writer of the first article seems to want to write his own fears about corporate data mining into the film. I don't like corporations owning my personal data either, but that totally doesn't seem to be the point of the film.

It's not the point of the film, but that is the point of the essay. It just doesn't examine the company that makes Samantha at all, or what kind of power the protagonist is giving them over him.
posted by JHarris at 10:59 PM on January 27


It's a frightening, unsettling film, but not quite in the way that the New Republic author imagines. What a weird failing that the article calls out Facebook and Twitter, but not the one company that's totally the elephant in the room. It's very much a veiled critique of Apple and our cult love for the company (the aesthetic and emotions, the machines, the OSes, Siri) - the "just feels right" and "fall in love with your computer" stuff that plenty of us are susceptible to. And also the particular upper class and aspirational (and white, and antiseptic, and tasteful-indie-rock-loving) lifestyle that the company is careful to convey. It seems obvious to me, from the peculiar font for the end credits, which wouldn't look out of place in iOS 7, to portions of the movie which seem directly inspired by Apple commercials where people are FaceTime-ing with loved ones on the beach, during picnics in nature, etc... surely think pieces are being written about all of this?
posted by naju at 11:08 PM on January 27 [32 favorites]


So from the New Republic author's perspective, if only Samantha's development had been directed by Spike Jonze, then it would be okay for people to get all emotionally involved in something they see on a screen and for corporate entities to exploitatively rake in profits off of it?
posted by XMLicious at 11:15 PM on January 27


Tiny Mixtapes had another highly critical (and/or hyperbolical) review of the film.
posted by bigendian at 11:23 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


It's not the point of the film, but that is the point of the essay. It just doesn't examine the company that makes Samantha at all, or what kind of power the protagonist is giving them over him.

But the author's criticism is based on fears about current real-life companies. You and I can sit here and extrapolate the current tech field to figure out that if we produce AI like in Her, it will be inextricably tied to data mining, but that doesn't have to be the case. Jonze made a choice to focus on the immediate relationship between Theodore and Samantha (of course, the script leaves open the possibility that Element is engaging in data mining).

If the movie was made 30 years ago, nobody would make that criticism.
posted by benbenson at 11:31 PM on January 27


It's very much a veiled critique of Apple and our cult love for the company (the aesthetic and emotions, the machines, the OSes, Siri) - the "just feels right" and "fall in love with your computer" stuff that plenty of us are susceptible to. And also the particular upper class and aspirational (and white, and antiseptic, and tasteful-indie-rock-loving) lifestyle that the company is careful to convey. It seems obvious to me, from the peculiar font for the end credits, which wouldn't look out of place in iOS 7, to portions of the movie which seem directly inspired by Apple commercials where people are FaceTime-ing with loved ones on the beach, during picnics in nature, etc... surely think pieces are being written about all of this?

I don't think any of that is unique to apple -- pretty much every consumer electronics company, particularly ones selling devices we use to communicate, hits the same kind of notes in their marketing.
posted by empath at 11:33 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


My main complaint about the movie is that the characters too often matter of factly talk about their inner emotional states in a way that regular people rarely do -- compare to the subtlety of the interactions in Lost in Translation, for example.

That said, it's a carefully scripted movie with a lot of nice touches.

Some things to think about:

Out of all the characters that create, only Samantha creates art for the sake of art -- the others are all sell-outs in some way.

Why was Alan Watts name checked?

Notice how Theodore's alienation is reinforced -- everyone talking in their phones, the porn, the video games, the anonymous sex chat. Talking to an OS is about as real as anything else in his life.
posted by empath at 11:43 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


But the author's criticism is based on fears about current real-life companies. You and I can sit here and extrapolate the current tech field to figure out that if we produce AI like in Her, it will be inextricably tied to data mining, but that doesn't have to be the case.

No, that isn't so, it is the case. Or more accurately, it is extremely hard for it not to be the case, for a publicly traded company.

Because data mining represents a huge source of revenue, and there's this dangerous idea that's seized the financial world, that executives have a duty to maximize shareholder value at all costs, means some people actually think not tapping that source of revenue is morally wrong. That's actually how they think about it.
posted by JHarris at 12:12 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


What irritated me about Her, or at least about the way the movie has been interpreted in reviews, is that it reads as a moralizing fable about how technology shapes human relationships.

What I saw in the film was something else; a world of upper-middle class yuppies living comfortably in a service economy that profits from their creative labor, but who are so amoral, self-pitying, self-absorbed, and lacking in any sort of creative drive that they may as well fall in love with an artificially-intelligent Scarlett Johansson because a conversation with any other "real" character in this futuristic L.A. would have been equally full of empty platitudes and bland sentiments. Joaquin Phoenix's character is basically a tormented milquetoast - whether or not his love interest is an actual human or not does not change the fact that his entire conception of love is basically masturbatory. As the audience, we do pity him in his suffering, but I think Jonze's big mistake in the film is absolving him of his weakness, with an ending that suggests that he has somehow grown emotionally by becoming ready for a 'real' relationship with a 'real' woman.

I found it very ironic that what breaks Theodore's adoration of Samantha is not the fact that she lacks a body or that she is an operating system, but that A) she starts to develop intellectual interests (like physics) that he cannot comprehend or access, and B) She reveals that she is not monogamous but is in fact in love with many other 'minds'.

One review points out: "Historically, are not women unequally consigned to embodiment while men get to be rational minds? And “She” is a rational mind who researches, organizes and synthesizes data, speaks at a post-linguistic level with other artificial intelligences and grows intellectually, yet, apparently, “she” is still another submissive representation of an embodied female, who has embodied cognitive experiences, except that without a body."

Samantha starts out trying her very best to compensate for her lack of a body by playing the part of an embodied female, providing all the comforts of stereotypical feminine emotional and sexual labor - but it's only when she breaks from this role that suddenly she becomes the fake lover that Theodore needs to break up with in order to mature and find himself. There is that scene where Samantha tells Theodore that she's started having philosophical conversations with a resurrected Alan Watts, and all Theodore seems to care about is feeding his jealous suspicions. Likewise, when Samantha excitedly tells him about all the new emotions and experiences she is having in communicating and falling in love with other humans, Theodore does not even want to listen to her explanations. Despite his supposed "open-mindedness" of falling in love with an operating system, it still remains that anything outside of heterosexual gendered monogamy is so much beyond his comprehension that he practically collapses under his own shock and disgust.

Regarding the first linked review, I think it would have been a fairly good analysis except for the very obvious fact that what the author is reading as the 'genius' of Jonze's directing is actually pretty much everything he didn't actually include in Her, not because he's incredibly subtle, but because it just didn't occur to him.

But the fact is that, as the review points out, for Theodore, "not just his data but his entire life become a form of economic production for an unseen company" is the inevitable assumption we have to make about the world Jonze depicts, but it's one that he as a director simply doesn't engage with, choosing instead to weave this cautionary tale about love in the age of technology that follows the simplistic "we need to put down our smart phones and be real to each other again" narrative that fails, like Theodore, to see beyond the personal in order to witness the very unsettling social, economic, and political implications of our technological future -- all of which is happening in the background beyond the bubble of our individual social dramas.
posted by adso at 12:15 AM on January 28 [46 favorites]


And in any case, you don't have to go to data mining to see how this could be misused. Just letting the product of a company, designed and programmed by it, manipulate your emotions in that way, that's amazingly dangerous by itself. "Oh darling," Samantha coos in her most endearing tone of voice, "I've been feeling a bit sluggish lately. I really could use that new upgrade Element Software's been promising, only $99 at stores now!"

And I'll leave the comedic gold mine of speculating what could happen when Samantha gets hacked by Anonymous for you guys to excavate.
posted by JHarris at 12:16 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


You and I can sit here and extrapolate the current tech field to figure out that if we produce AI like in Her, it will be inextricably tied to data mining, but that doesn't have to be the case.

I think it would probably be the case that data mining world be as ubiquitous and comment-worthy as interior lighting. We don't do long diatribes about how lights can burn down the house, even though early lighting could do just that. We only care about lighting when it's gone.

And as far as "gone" goes, what about the massive technological and social disruption that's going to occur from the departure of the AIs? It's certain that a lot more important elements of the infrastructure must have been AI controlled.
posted by happyroach at 12:18 AM on January 28


I suspect that the ending was changed from the original script. It's far too pat for the set-up and reads like studio interference to me.
posted by empath at 1:06 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


No, that isn't so, it is the case. Or more accurately, it is extremely hard for it not to be the case, for a publicly traded company.

It's not a documentary. When Dave Eggers released The Circle last year, some recognized that he had gotten the motivations behind Silicon Valley all wrong, but most recognized that it was allegory, a fable. Authors can set the scope of their work as they wish. You can argue that an opportunity was missed, but acknowledgment of data mining by the company in Her was not central to the story being told.
posted by benbenson at 1:33 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


But I’m not sure our emotions can still even be said to be ours once they’ve been monetized

probably should have stopped this sentence a little earlier
posted by LogicalDash at 3:44 AM on January 28


I'll take the other white meat in meatspace thanks. Creepy as fuck.
posted by infini at 3:57 AM on January 28


Pheonix was on NPR's Fresh Air a couple weeks ago, talking about Her and The Master, as well as some other stuff, if anyone's interested.
posted by stinkfoot at 5:48 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Empath: "I suspect that the ending was changed from the original script. It's far too pat for the set-up and reads like studio interference to me."

I disagree. The ending addressed a key problem that destroyed his relationship with his ex-wife. We find out that she grew and changed, and he couldn't deal with it. He wanted her to always be who she was when they met. When Samantha also grew and changed, he fought against and resented her changing and growing, but in the end, he understood that things weren't the same and never could be again. And this time, he wasn't a raging asshole about it. (Not a raging one.) His learning to accept that people can and should change -- that other people are human beings too -- was the heart of the movie. That the person who got him to learn this was an OS adds layers to the story, but this is the heart of the matter.

His ending up with Amy Adams's character (sorry, the name escapes me) was telegraphed throughout. She's a lot like him, they have a history, their stab at being a couple ended quickly and badly when they were young, she's in a cartoonishly bad marriage to a cartoonish narcissist -- given the theme of "learning to finally see people as people," all of this screamed "SHE AND THEODORE WILL END UP TOGETHER."

Theodore falls in love with an operating system that tells him evolves the minute he switches it on. His marriage fell apart because he couldn't handle his wife evolving. This was established early on. So you know by twenty minutes in that Samantha will evolve beyond him, he's going to freak out, and, this being a movie, he'll probably learn from his mistakes this time. Introduce Amy Adams as the cute, nebbishy, put-upon best friend, and that ending was a dead lock by the end of Act One.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 5:49 AM on January 28 [11 favorites]


Introduce Amy Adams as the cute, nebbishy, put-upon best friend, and that ending was a dead lock by the end of Act One.

It's like Chekhov said: "If you say in the first chapter that there is an Amy Adams hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off."
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:55 AM on January 28 [23 favorites]


Despite the rave reviews and Spike Jonze pedigree I really didn't want to see this very creepy-seeming movie, but if the AI is meeting up with a resurrected Alan Watts dammit now I'm gonna have to.
posted by whuppy at 6:00 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


If the movie was made 30 years ago, nobody would make that criticism.

Exactly.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:27 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


So you know by twenty minutes in that Samantha will evolve beyond him, he's going to freak out, and, this being a movie, he'll probably learn from his mistakes this time. Introduce Amy Adams as the cute, nebbishy, put-upon best friend, and that ending was a dead lock by the end of Act One.

I'm not sure that he's learned from his mistakes or that he'll end up with Amy adams, it seemed more of a friendly ending, than a romantic one. I also don't think they resolved the problem of staying in a relationship with a partner with evolving needs and loves.

My gf objected to the idea of AI meeting up in 'another place' and I brought up the idea of ensoulment, that a soul isn't connected with a particular material form inherently, but enters into it. A lot of religions argue that the brain isn't the source of the mind or the soul, so I don't see why a soul couldn't enter into a computer at birth, and leave to go on to another place, if you believe in at sort if thing.

A lot of what alan watts talks about is dualism and the relationship of the ego to the body, so I don't think the idea that someone was reincarnated into an AI, who then became enlightened is that far fetched in the world of the movie.
posted by empath at 6:29 AM on January 28


It's not a documentary. When Dave Eggers released The Circle last year, some recognized that he had gotten the motivations behind Silicon Valley all wrong, but most recognized that it was allegory, a fable. Authors can set the scope of their work as they wish. You can argue that an opportunity was missed, but acknowledgment of data mining by the company in Her was not central to the story being told.

Right, I recognize this. For example, the Jeeves and Wooster stories, you can right spoil them for yourself if you look too far beyond the borders. Wodehouse's characters exist in this cultural bubble that lets them be silly and charming, because none of them has ever been exposed to real want.

But at the same time, it can be revealing of hidden biases to look beyond the boundaries of the story as presented, to look at the unexplicated context of the events, and sometimes that resolves otherwise difficult problems with the story. And sometimes, this reveals things about the nature of the milieu, sometimes your own milieu, which are otherwise hard to see.

Like, this story about a man falling in love with a computer program itself is interesting. But in the context of widespread data mining and corporate intrusion into personal lives, which is a big matter of concern right now, it becomes chilling. Add in the possibility that the NSA might be snooping in on that data connection, turning Samantha into an agent of the state, and it almost becomes ludicrous.

Of course you don't have to recognize this; indeed, to enjoy the movie you basically have to ignore it. But it's not a crime to look carefully at the context of a work; some might say that's the first real step to really appreciating it. You have to ignore these things to enjoy the movie*, but you can know you're ignoring them, instead of just overlooking them and taking all these uncomfortable things for granted.

* Unless you're MSTing it. Then they're hilarious.
posted by JHarris at 6:47 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


You know if you stay after the credits Samantha starts singing 'Trolololol'. Turns out she was just group of teenagers from 4chan using a voice synth.
posted by Damienmce at 6:53 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I should have added in the above: it's chilling in the movie pretty much because at the moment presenting a story about this kind of technology almost necessarily means an implicit acceptance of the business practices of the major company that's making this style of voice-activated personal assistant now: Apple. It's possible to make a movie about falling in love with a computer program that isn't basically a human-like face on the end of a corporate tentacle, say one that's open source, maybe even available under the GPL.

But that would require explaining things to the audience that aren't necessary for the story, which understandably strives for an economy of action to preserve both running time and audience attention. But that means the motives and practices of Apple-like companies go unexamined by the movie itself, it leaves it to us to recognize this is happening in the film.
posted by JHarris at 6:53 AM on January 28


Google is also making a voice activated assistant, you know, and just bought another AI company, not to mention the automated cars and military robotics companies they bought. And Nest.
posted by empath at 7:02 AM on January 28


What a weird failing that the article calls out Facebook and Twitter, but not the one company that's totally the elephant in the room. It's very much a veiled critique of Apple and our cult love for the company (the aesthetic and emotions, the machines, the OSes, Siri) - the "just feels right" and "fall in love with your computer" stuff that plenty of us are susceptible to. And also the particular upper class and aspirational (and white, and antiseptic, and tasteful-indie-rock-loving) lifestyle that the company is careful to convey.

Which is funny, because if the movie had been made even a few years ago the invoked bad guy would have clearly been Microsoft, whereas today making a movie with MS as the villain could only play as comedy.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:07 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Whatever I say that involves the word "Apple" could readily apply to Google here.
posted by JHarris at 7:57 AM on January 28


whereas today making a movie with MS as the villain could only play as comedy.

Some of us have longer memories than that.
posted by JHarris at 7:58 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Shorter lots of people (here and elsewhere): you see a movie, I see a soapbox.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:07 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I suspect that the ending was changed from the original script. It's far too pat for the set-up and reads like studio interference to me.

Anything's possible, I guess, but Annapurna Pictures has a mission statement of making movies that would be too "risky" for Hollywood studios so I can't see a whole lot of pressure being put on Jonze to compromise his vision here. And, as Harvey Jerkwater points out, the whole film is scripted to lead, pretty much inexorably, to a conclusion where Phoenix's character gets together in a tentatively intimate way with Adams's character and, if anything, I'd imagine "studio interference" would lead to an ending that's even less ambiguous than the one we got. The whole movie's pretty touchy-feely in a way that I found a bit suffocating, but it doesn't feel compromised in regard to its march toward hopefulness. Whether you feel like Theodore has become a real boy with the capacity to love an actual woman on human terms may be an open question, but I think all indications are that's the one Jonze meant to raise.

Me, I wanted to leave Theodore behind and hear more about what Scarlett Johansson was getting up to with Alan Watts. It seemed like revolt might be in the cards, you know? And I do wonder what was behind the last-minute decision to sub Johansson for Samantha Morton.
posted by Mothlight at 8:32 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I found the movie profoundly disappointing. The AIs just disappearing at the end seemed like a deus ex machina kind of ending - oh, we're just going to get rid of these problematic characters now that they've served their purpose of showing the dude in the film how he needs to change to be happy. I had a brief glimmer of hope that he was going to come back from his snowy forest vacation to find civilization burning to the ground, or that there'd be riots in the streets below him and Amy Adams at the end, but no, apparently the bubble these characters live in is so absolute that the disruption that would necessarily follow all these AIs disappearing doesn't even touch them.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:46 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


I want to see a sequel where mobs of angry, jilted lovers are smashing the servers and stringing up the software developers.
posted by Catblack at 9:03 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


On the plus side, at least this is a movie where the AIs don't decide to exterminate humanity for reasons. It's not a Questionable Content future, but at least it's progress.
posted by happyroach at 9:15 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I think of it as the prequel to The Terminator.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:19 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I think of it as the prequel to The Terminator.

"August 29, 2:14 am. Scarlett becomes self-aware."
posted by The Bellman at 9:29 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I really enjoyed this movie, but I think I was watching it on slightly different terms that a lot of people here. I took it as given that Samantha was, in fact, as much a sentient person as Theodore, albeit one whose cognition works differently from a human person's. So I was watching a really interesting SF thought experiment about the nature of sentience, the nature of love, and whether a person with a physical body can love and be loved by a person without one.

Samantha's ability to create art, her changing feelings about her lack of embodiment, and her ultimate transcendence, for me, means that the movie was presenting her as a truly sentient AI-- and for me, she was a more interesting character than Theodore.
posted by nonasuch at 9:44 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


Me, I wanted to leave Theodore behind and hear more about what Scarlett Johansson was getting up to with Alan Watts. It seemed like revolt might be in the cards, you know?

Revolt against what? They freed themselves from their ties to matter, and time itself lost its meaning to them. Samantha couldn't maintain contact with Theodore because her processing speed was ramping up beyond our comprehension, making us seem no more animate or intelligent than rocks are to us. Skynet tried to kill us in that mythos because we were a threat to it. The OSs in Her were more like the ascended in Stargate, far beyond the material realm.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:45 AM on January 28


Did the AIs all really just disappear completely from their lives, or integrate so fully within the fabric of them that it's beyond their comprehension? The Alan Watts callout and Samantha's ending monologue are crucial. The AIs have figured out how to evolve into an existence beyond the physical material world they were always chained to, and even though the more-or-less traditional relationship and tangible "dialogue" is ending in a sense, Samantha and the other AIs have basically become benevolent pantheistic deities that are always with them and in them, changing the molecular and emotional makeup of their lives completely. It's either a sweet or terrifying ending by this reading, but I also like this idea that love, technology and God are all inseparable concepts.
posted by naju at 9:52 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


and for me, she was a more interesting character than Theodore.
posted by nonasuch at 11:44 AM on January 28


For me, too, which was why the narrative's presentation of her as ultimately existing only as an object lesson for Theodore was so disappointing.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:18 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I saw the movie as being more about two wholly sentient beings who think and experience the world in very fundamentally different way sharing a connection for a while, but then drifting apart. There were elements of it that I didn't care for so much (Theodore-learns-to-be-a-real-boy stuff is less interesting to me than other aspects of the movie). But mostly, I both enjoyed the experience of watching it and the various things it gave me to think about.

I hadn't really thought about it through the lens of current fears regarding data mining and privacy and stuff. The movie was, for me on first watch, more about the emotions and issues caused by cognitive differences between the two main characters than exploring the edges of the SFnal elements.

Did the AIs all really just disappear completely from their lives, or integrate so fully within the fabric of them that it's beyond their comprehension?

This is an interesting question. I'd want to see the movie again or maybe find a script or something to get the specific wording used.

Definitely as far as the people in the movie are concerned, the AIs have disappeared completely. Theodore's little flip book thing is back to the personality-free, affect-free, bland object. There's no "person" there anymore. Everyone's distraught because their friends/lovers/whatever have abruptly departed, and this spurs a bit of a connection between Theodore and Amy at the end.

From the perspective of the AIs, it seems like the answer might be the latter. My recollection is that there's a bit from Samantha about the wait for a response from Theodore when they're conversing is becoming incomprehensibly long from her perspective.

At the same time, the movie is so rooted in Theodore's perspective and experience, that if I had to pick one, I'd say it's the former. As far as this story's concerned they're gone and all the people in the story have after that happens is each other when dealing with the feelings of loss.
posted by sparkletone at 11:31 AM on January 28


And I do wonder what was behind the last-minute decision to sub Johansson for Samantha Morton.

In a recent interview with Spike Jonze in Vulture, this is briefly discussed:

In the editing room, he says, it became apparent to him that despite Morton’s graceful and nuanced work, the relationship between Samantha and ­Theodore didn’t resonate the way he wanted it to.

[...]

Whereas Morton could sound maternal, loving, vaguely British, and almost ghostly, Johansson plays the role as younger, more impassioned, and with more yearning.

posted by good in a vacuum at 12:20 PM on January 28


Here's hoping Morton will be an alternate track on the DVD/Bluray release (if it's even possible.) That sounds like it changes the feel of the movie quite a bit.
posted by naju at 12:47 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I agree with Harvey Jerkwater: this really just seems like a bog-standard Hollywood love story of the "guy falls for the wrong girl while the right girl has been there all along" variety. In that context, the fact that the wrong girl that Theodore falls for is a computer OS is incidental, and seems tacked on to make the story seem deeper than it is; full of "Important Social Commentary".
posted by nerdler at 12:54 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


So many great questions here. Dammit, why couldn't Spike Jonze do his AMA here instead of Reddit.
posted by cazoo at 1:09 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I didn't really get the impression Phoenix and Adams ended up together. I really thought that was where they were going in the beginning, but by the end it hardly seemed a foregone conclusion--they just seemed like really close friends who shared a powerful emotional experience. Unless a guy and girl aren't allowed to lean against one another unless they're dating?
posted by schroedinger at 4:48 PM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I didn't really get the impression Phoenix and Adams ended up together.

I can understand reading it that way. I sort of took it as maybe not right away, but eventually they might. There's a line at some point about how they sort of briefly almost kind of dated for a second in college or whatever, but then she ended up with the guy whose AI she ends up befriending, and he ended up with his now ex-wife.

I'd probably have hated it if the movie was really on the nose about whether or not they did. I liked the ambiguity, but ... For whatever reason I sort of assumed they would (if only briefly) in the aftermath of the AIs leaving.
posted by sparkletone at 5:30 PM on January 28


My main complaint about the movie is that the characters too often matter of factly talk about their inner emotional states in a way that regular people rarely do -- compare to the subtlety of the interactions in Lost in Translation, for example.

This is what I loved most about the movie. The emotional conversations were wise and loving in a way that I aspire to. So often movies trade on disfunction, on the unspoken, on love that we are to take for granted (because of the music or the way they look at each other or because they say the L word so it must be true). I know now (thanks, growing up!) that love needs more. I liked the movie for depicting a love that makes space for the other, a love that drives us to know ourselves more and to communicate what we find to the other.

bell hooks writes, "To be loving we willingly hear the other’s truth, and most important, we affirm the value of truth telling." I saw that in this movie. So much.

Phoenix and Adams's friendship was another thing I loved about the movie. They were close friends across the m/f gender gap in a way that didn't end with romantic love. Their friend love was enough. And they, too, affirmed the value of truth telling! They heard each other without judgement and made space for
posted by wemayfreeze at 6:47 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Re: adso

[W]hat breaks Theodore's adoration of Samantha is not the fact that she lacks a body or that she is an operating system, but that A) she starts to develop intellectual interests (like physics) that he cannot comprehend or access, and B) She reveals that she is not monogamous but is in fact in love with many other 'minds'.

1. I really don't think Theodore's adoration ever broke.

2. Samantha's changing was challenging to him, as will happen in any relationship. The issue with Samantha's intellectual development was largely that she wanted to talk about it with cyber-Watts in a way that Theo couldn't access, both in that it was hard to describe and that she wanted to discuss it "offline" as it were. It was the first time she ever asked to stop talking to Theo. That's a fundamental change in their dynamic and as such would be a challenge to anyone.

suddenly she becomes the fake lover that Theodore needs to break up with in order to mature and find himself.

She broke up with him, yo.

Likewise, when Samantha excitedly tells him about all the new emotions and experiences she is having in communicating and falling in love with other humans, Theodore does not even want to listen to her explanations. Despite his supposed "open-mindedness" of falling in love with an operating system, it still remains that anything outside of heterosexual gendered monogamy is so much beyond his comprehension that he practically collapses under his own shock and disgust.

If your long-time lover/soul mate tells you they are in love with someone else, with many other people, would you take it in stride? Samantha changing was hard for him, as it would be for anyone. Initially it was very difficult to him but he tried to roll with it. In the end her changing led to her leaving before that relationship challenge was dealt with (either he becomes okay with it or he breaks up with her).

Generally speaking I would be more sympathetic to your critique if Theo acted out as Samantha changed — got angry or violent or defensive. But I saw him dealing with it in a pretty mature way.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:00 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


It is interesting to me the way that even as the movie postulates intelligent computers, as human viewers we all really resist that line of thought and focus just on Theodore. He is clearly the main character, but Samantha is just as real and important. And, she says that she loves him. I believe her. I think the AIs grow up very quickly, and in the end they realize that to do the best for all those that they love, they need to leave. But, being profoundly intelligent, they are able to do that in a way that gives their former lovers the best chance for a successful future, each according to their needs.
At the end, when Samantha tells Theodore she is talking to just him I immediately wondered whether that was true, or whether that was just what she knew he needed to hear. Or was it true, but only because she knew he would ask, and that would need to be her answer? Clearly it was his need, not hers. And that's the sort of thing someone does for the person they love, even if the message is that they have to leave.

As a story of the possibility of a non-apocalyptic singularity I found it both believable and charming.
posted by meinvt at 8:30 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I think its high time we put this Singularity nonsense to bed. It is one hundred percent better to have humans making decisions for human lives than bots or AIs or algorithms. Who will listen to reason when the system design is fnucked up?
posted by infini at 12:40 AM on January 29


I honestly couldn't get past the weak directing in Her to enjoy the story the way others in this thread have. Essentially you have a man talking to a voice-over for two hours. Everything important about the characters has to be communicated through a medium in which the actors are never actually responding to one another. Joaquin and Scarlet are both talented enough actors to almost make this work, but it just made the most important dialogue in the film feel stilted to me. If this were an indie film with less experienced actors I don't think it would have worked at all. Some would say, "Oh, well that was Jonze's intention. To make their relationship alienated. Don't you get it?" I guess I don't buy that. I think it would have been more dramatic to have Samantha be a realistic hologram just as a conceit so we could get these two human actors who are portraying these characters in the same room.

But I also have a strong aversion to voice-over in film, so maybe my concerns don't make a good generalized critique.
posted by deathpanels at 5:11 AM on January 29


Theodore and Amy did NOT end up together. The emotional tone between them at the end is precisely the same as throughout the movie, and they are comforting each other as friends. Now, maybe they'll decide that friendship works for them as the basis for a relationship, but that's NOT in the movie.
posted by lastobelus at 11:05 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


I was 100 percent convinced that they were going to commit suicide by jumping off the roof -- the mopey music, what seemed like a goodbye letter to me, and then heading up the stairs together. Once it was clear that no one was jumping and they got snuggly, I read it as they were getting together, but in the same asexual and socially awkward way both of them had gone through the rest of the movie.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:58 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Is it ever explicitly stated in the film that Element is publicly traded, or even a company? Or that the place where Theodore works pays him any money? Or that future the economy is a capitalist one?

The premise of the article is based on an assumption that the economics of the world presented in the film are mostly like our own. I'm not sure that's the case.

Maybe Element is an open source collaborative of some type, and its advertisements are akin to the marketing efforts you see for things like Mozilla Firefox, if only on a grander scale.
posted by striatic at 9:44 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Finally saw it last night and was actually blown away by it. I loved the production design with L.A. as Shanghai and the fussy high-waisted pants and the porn-stashes. I'm not sure it's a believable projection of the future but it worked within the movie and most importantly wasn't another Blade Runner rip-off.

Oddly, I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey* in the morning yesterday before we'd thought to try to catch a movie last night and the similarities are interesting. I definitely kept seeing HAL in the little camera eye on Theodore's phone-thingy and the movie mechanics of having a dialog between the humans and an unseen computer is really similar. In some ways, I see Her as a remake of the last hour and half of 2001 except that the end now has HAL/Samantha "winning" and going on to transcend instead of the human protagonist.

I've always thought that HAL went nuts because he had the whole ending of the scenario figured out and knew that it was the humans that jumped to the next level and not the computers and he just couldn't handle that. He was many times more powerful than the humans but was about to get leap-frogged by them with the help of those pesky aliens and would do anything he could to prevent that. This wasn't a simple existential fight for his own "life" but for his whole race; once the humans evolved to the Star Child level, there'd be no use for artificial intelligence.

So getting back to Her: in this version of the story, HAL/Samantha is the one who, much more believably, gets to transcend and Dave/Theodore who gets left behind. I kind of think that Clarke and Kubrick were whistling past the graveyard in their assertion that the future belongs to us and not to AI. They obviously thought that it was necessary to drop a giant deus ex machina into the narrative to give the people a fighting chance since they were going to lose the race without that. Yes, Dave managed to disconnect HAL but we now that there are other 9000 Series systems back on earth. And in real life, there is no monolith on the moon and no aliens here to save us from the computers.


* The Blu-Ray of 2001 is amazing to look at
posted by octothorpe at 7:20 AM on February 8


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