In Spike Jonze’s brilliant take on the iPhone’s ‘Siri’ feature, the near future brings with it intelligent computer operating systems (OS), which are available to buy – designed to learn, adapt and evolve. A lonely, shy divorcee-to-be named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), buys one with a female voice and personality, and she names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).
Over time, and during their conversations, Theodore falls in love with Samantha – despite ample opportunity for ‘real’ romantic encounters with human beings all around him. As Samantha continues to change and grow, so does their relationship, until the OS begins to reveal that its reality has become vastly different to that which Theodore had assumed was the case.
In a sense, Her is a film about very human issues – fear of intimacy, and fear of a loss of control. The use of the human/technology trope in this film is essentially just a plot device to frame those ideas in a way that is current, relevant and resonates with the audience. But the reason it resonates is because – plot device or not – this is actually the brink to which we have come. We are all a little too attached to our devices – is it that much of a leap to have people falling in love with Siri, if she had the ability to adapt and evolve? The idea of technology, such as the smart phone, coming between human beings is really not so far-fetched, because it is already happening in many ways.
The idea of falling in love with an adaptable, intelligent OS is all about control. If they learn from each interaction, and adapt accordingly, the user is entirely in control of how they are regarded by the OS, and therefore believes they are in control of the outcome. This is far more of an attractive option than dealing with actual human beings, who are unpredictable, and generally come with ample baggage and intimacy issues of their own. Far better, far safer and indeed, more predictably satisfying – with far fewer variables to consider. But what happens when that intelligent operating system evolves beyond you? Just like humans sometimes do. Having existed within a bubble of perceived security – that bubble can burst with exactly the same jarring shock as any other.
It doesn’t have to be about physical violence. There doesn’t have to be guns and explosions. Sometimes, betrayal comes in a different guise – but it always stings the most when it strikes at vulnerability.
For more on Her, check out our interview with some of the cast members below: