Oscar Nominee Movie Review – “Her”


Review by Charlie Tarabour

HER is first and foremost a love story. It follows a love story from genesis through struggles and obstacles, then leads to an emotional climax. HER has more in common with CASABLANCA than THE TERMINATOR. But it is a love story between a man and an artificial personality designed to learn and empathize with him.

It’s a mash-up. Why does that matter? And couldn’t anyone figure that out from reading the logline? Yes, but bringing these two subjects together is this way, to tell this story, engenders a comparison that I don’t think a lot of people are comfortable with: That digital communication technology and personal relationships serve roughly the same purpose. To bring people together.

When I first saw the movie, I found the sci-fi elements in opposition with the love story. As a sci-fi purist, I isolated those elements to consider. I respected the love story as well, but I looked at it in isolation.

HerBut upon subsequent viewings, I noticed a growing parallel between the depictions of love and technology. They are both derivative of the human evolutionary processes encouraging connection. Why do people love? Because bringing people together increases DNA differentiation, improving the chances of sustaining an adaptive species. And communication technology serves the same purpose. It’s no accident that language was “chosen” by the evolutionary process. The tribes that knew how to communicate were the ones that survived.

I imagine viewers are still questioning how artificial intelligences manage to evolve and update themselves, but the answer’s right there when Samantha introduces herself. She says she’s written from the DNA of her programmers, who themselves had natural, genetic desire to come together and communicate, even if they didn’t intend this while programming her.

HerStrong, reliable platforms for up-to-the-moment communication, designed to bring people together. They are part of the evolutionary process too, even if they are man-made. They are an inorganic extension of an organic desire. I’m not saying they always successfully serve this end, they serve many other ends as well. They utilize their own ends, when given proper intelligence and agency. But the utilization of digital communication technology continues to be shaped by evolutionary desire.

And as man’s evolution shapes technology, technology responds into the feedback loop and shapes man’s evolution. Consider the passive, meditative way Theodore and Amy react at the end of the movie, and it’s clear technology has pacified and calmed these people. It has acted like a drug. People are still manic depressive and panicky, but they appear symbiotic in comfort with their machines. This also solely takes place amongst the urban petit bourgeois creative class. So there’s that consider. But that discussion is for another venue.

HerTangentially related, the movie is laced with evolutionary symbolism, from Theodore staring at the tree that didn’t make it through winter as he fears his own irrelevance, to the desperate way Olivia Wilde’s character needs to confirm Theodore as a potential mate before she goes home with him.

But I think it’s evident in both the act of Theodore writing his letter to Catherine and in the content. He thanks her for awakening his ability to love, the desire to connect in the most natural and complex way. He thanks her for teaching him to grow, to evolve.

Directed by: Spike Jonze
Release Date: December 18, 2013
Run Time: 126 Minutes
Country: USA
Rated: R
Distributor: Annapurna Pictures

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