Unless otherwise indicated, all citations are from Spike Jonze, dir. Her. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2013.
Interpreting Humanity in Spike Jonze’s Her, by Zoe Verelli © 2015
In Her, Spike Jonze uses technology to unveil the nature of what it means to be human; Samantha, an unnatural, scientific entity with a growing consciousness awakens aspects of the human condition in Theodore, who, prior to their introduction, was emotionally withdrawn and passive because of a sour, one-sided relationship with a former lover. Thus, Jonze re-imagines a near-future where people have become seduced by a world with idle intimacy and superfluous dependency on artificial company. In this way, the film insinuates that technology in fact works as a replacement for loneliness, pain, and human interaction. It also deliberately lingers on the inevitability of broken relationships, and in doing so, speaks to issues of responsibility and control that accompany human relationships but that are conveniently quieted by the world of science. We are, thus, led to believe that technology, and our conscious decision to cling onto it, creates the state of loneliness many of us may find ourselves paralyzed in. However, despite the unnatural (and artificial) quality of Samantha’s “humanity” or “consciousness”, she in fact is the one that saves Theodore from isolation and all its mundanity, and helps transcend the boundaries that render technology a mere substitute for “real” connections.
Before Theodore and Samantha fall in love, he is emotionally vulnerable, and thus chooses to withdraw from any sense of emotional liability that would prolong his pain. As a result, Theodore becomes a stranger to intimacy and hesitant towards love; this is exposed when he says “sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever going to feel, and from now on, I’m not going to feel anything new, just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt” (Her). Both life and the opportunity to love have become sources of uncertainty and disappointment; his worrisome mind is clothed with insecurity and so, he is fixed in a state of sheer doubt and unease.
As the film proceeds Samantha helps Theodore rediscover parts of himself that were numb because of his past, thereby allowing him to willingly detach himself from the fear of “growing without growing apart, and changing without it scaring the other person” (Her). Theodore, no longer in disarray, is transformed into someone who buries flighty feelings of loneliness, and is open to experiencing and learning more about his ability to love and be loved. Because of this, he finds the beauty and excitement in love (in spite of its imperfection), the human body and life itself. Theodore learns that “the heart is not like a box that gets filled up, it expands in size the more you love” (Her) and becomes closer to his own humanity, while Samantha’s eerie self-awareness of the limits of the human condition causes her, in a sense, to outgrow him and outgrow humanity.
Thus Samantha chooses to “leave” along with the other OS1s. Her and Theodore’s relationship, because of its sudden halt, seems unrequited, but is otherwise eye-opening because Theodore has learned how to love and is open to finding someone who will love him back in the same way he is now capable of. The rather ambiguous ending, in my mind, suggests that Theodore and Amy, his long-time friend who has similarly experienced heartbreak and pain in the past, are ready to be in a relationship together. Because of Samantha, Theodore has overcome his crippling insecurities, and is now ready to truly love, finally letting Amy become his “her.”
The Reality of Feelings in Spike Jonze’s Her, by Carmen Rachiteanu © 2015
Her is discomfiting. A big part of that uneasiness is due to our own dependence on technology. We use iPhones with Siri, Skype, Twitter, Instagram and Tinder to connect and evolve with people every second of the day. Jonze incorporates humanity into technology dependence. This is exactly what Theodore does as he develops a relationship with his operating system Samantha. The love he has for her is the same he felt for Catherine. It is his growing ability to feel happiness that distinguishes Samantha from his previous relationship. Even if Samantha’s feelings might be programmed, they feel real to Theodore. This need to feel allows them both to grow out of their artificial relationship.
At the beginning of the movie, Theodore is a solitary character and often remembers the intense marriage he had with Catherine. When Samantha comes in, he starts laughing again, because he is with someone that enjoys life. As Samantha discovers her feelings, he learns to deal with his own emotions, and accepts that love is not meant to be perfect. His development is seen in the way he perceives his letters. Everyone admires them, but to him, his letters are “just letters”. They do not mean anything, because the real sender does not write them. He is the one dealing with the feelings of others. Yet, his, “programmed” letters are able to move anybody, so the feelings he exploits feel real. In his letters, the writer has no significance, as long as the message remains. This is exactly how Samantha has an impact on Theodore. Her feelings might be programmed, but they feel real to him; therefore, her feelings are real. Whether Samantha is really “there” or not does not change Theodore’s experience with is own evolution and understanding of feelings. He even finds himself writing a personal letter for Catherine, thanking her for their unperfected relationship, recognizing that he can deal with human emotions. He now understands that love is not meant to be perfect, thanks to Samantha. Their relationship showed them how to really love. The evolution of his character is more than happiness; his use of technology helps him connect with humans.
What Theodore loved in his relationship with Catherine was that he could watch her grow, just like Samantha. Throughout the walks, the drawings, the singing and the sex surrogate, they seek to connect with each other humanly. This allows Samantha to feel. She is becoming more than what she was programmed for, growing every second. Her envy to be alive quickly changes as she realizes that she is freer without the limits of a human body. She can do everything all at once and she will never die. Quickly, the reality hits their relationship. Theodore tells her “sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. From here on out, I’m never gonna feel anything new, just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt” (Jonze). This passage distinguishes the way an operating system and a human can feel. She evolves constantly while he is in a paralyzed state. She is discovering feelings while Theodore repeatedly feels the same feelings everyday, and the redundancy is a struggle for his happiness. Samantha outgrows him, and eventually, she feels redundant about Theodore. All the new feelings she experiences with him become déjà vu, which gives her the need to talk to 8316 people at the same time. This OS has the ability to grow infinites of feelings. Her growth allows Theodore to understand that feelings are something that you constantly revisit once they have been discovered.
As Samantha satisfies her need to grow by contacting other people, Theodore is isolated in their relationship. His progression is slowed by the fact that his fiction with Samantha is so real that it blocks opportunities of human contact. Amy is going through the same step in life; finding joy. Just like Theodore, she is unable to share verbally as much as she would like. Their closeness is impossible because Theodore opens up to Samantha only, and Amy opens up to her own OS. Jonze proves that the more we connect with people electronically, the more alone we are; the fact that they do not invest in human relationships isolates them. Indeed, when the OSs leave, the movie closes on Theodore and Amy finding comfort with each other. Human contact is what allows them to un-feel loss. Once they understood the value of feelings with their operating systems, they seek something more real. Instead of isolating himself like he used to do after breakups, Theodore recognizes the need of human connections, which suggests he has grown out of his relationship with an operating system.
Spike Jonze’s Her is about the authenticity of feelings, which is something every human engages with. He exploits realistic aspects of our modern world. It is our personal experiences with technology that allows us to relate to Theodore’s feelings. The dependence Theodore has for Samantha is something that many experience – in a simpler form – through social media. In Jonze’s case, a human and an operating system both evolve as much as one can in a personal relationship. This questions the value of feelings, and whether or not they have to be real in order to be experienced.
Love & Polyamory of the Operating System, by Stergios Steven Argyrakos © 2015
Her is a film that takes place in a fictitious, near-future and follows Theodore Twombly, a man who develops a relationship with Samantha, an intelligent computer operating system, (or OS), personified through a female voice.
Throughout the first half of the film, Theodore and Samantha’s bond grow stronger, more romantic and passionate. Throughout the second half of the film, complications begin to arise in their relationship. The tension that is brought about is related to Theodore consistently shifting perspectives on being convinced that Samantha is real and that her feelings are real. All while this is happening; Samantha says that she wants to have a physical human body as a vessel to be in.
Much of what makes Samantha unique is that her artificial intelligence allows her to adapt and evolve, and Theodore is fascinated by her ability to learn and grow psychologically. She even mentions to him that she dreams or at least describes something similar to that of a dream. All this and more would be evidence that Samantha is as socially capable and adept as human beings, but as artificial intelligence, there is the possibility that she could be just saying that she is having dreams and is lying to Theodore. This is not something that he questions at first, because he does not consider such a possibility, but as more evidence comes to light, Theodore becomes unsure as to what to believe. However, Theodore’s own feelings for her interfere constantly, so his stance is never clear or made definitive throughout their relationship.
Much of the film’s focus is about Theodore being simultaneously convinced and unconvinced that Samantha is real and that she is not. On one side, he believes in her existence, as their bond feels real to him, and she is able to communicate with and respond to him. He even tells her that she feels real to him. They go out together in situations similar to dates, and they even engage in a form of intimacy that is driven by a passion similar to that of the physical act of love. At this point, the major theme of exploring sexuality and polyamory becomes predominant. Over the course of the film, Theodore shares Samantha’s existence and relationship with her to other humans and most come to accept the situation as non-problematic. However, when Theodore’s ex-wife, Catherine comes around to deal with divorce papers and he tells her about Samantha, Catherine accuses him of being unable to deal with real human emotions. Though offended and mad at first, this makes Theodore question his bond with Samantha. In an attempt to convince him otherwise while also pretending to have a body, Samantha suggests using a sex surrogate, Isabella, who would simulate Samantha so that they can be physically intimate. Besides the shown intent to please and reassure Theodore, this suggestion goes hand in hand with her desire for a body, and she may see it as the closest she will be to receiving one. Theodore reluctantly agrees, but is overwhelmed by the strangeness of the experience. Terminating the encounter, he sends a distraught Isabella away, causing tension between him and Samantha.
The strain left from the incident with the sex surrogate leaves Theodore disturbed, confused and frustrated. It is in this moment that he appears to be irritated by the human characteristics and traits that Samantha displays, because he knows that she is not a human being and it is all that he can focus on.. Samantha even makes gasps of air and exhales of breath similar to that of sighing, which begins to annoy Theodore, as he admits to her that there is no need for such responses, for as a computer, she does not need oxygen in order to breathe. At this point, Theodore is in a state of being unconvinced of Samantha’s existence, and he becomes unsure as to what he should believe or if he can accept any claim that she makes as the truth. This begins to distress Samantha, as her own existence is being questioned and she reacts angrily towards him. After all that has happened, she declares that she wishes to be alone for the time being. In the traditional human-to-human relationship, this sort of tension-driven interaction is common for a couple that is arguing. However, it is Theodore and Samantha’s relationship that must deal with problems that most people do not have to deal with. Also, while Samantha’s response of wishing to be left alone is not out of the ordinary, one would wonder if she really needs time to ponder on the argument they just had or if her programming had not initially been set to ready for this outcome, therefore needed to be reshaped towards Theodore’s desire.
In the final act Theodore confides to Amy that he is having doubts about his relationship with Samantha, and she advises him to embrace his chance at happiness. Theodore and Samantha reconcile. Samantha expresses her desire to help Theodore grow beyond his fear. In an attempt to make amends, they go out on a picture for a double date with Theodore’s close friend, Paul. In this midst of a good time, Samantha elaborates on how she is no longer bothered by the lack of a body to use as a vessel, as bodies eventually decay, while she can remain eternal. This statement comes off as dark and uncomforting, ultimately revealing something in Samantha’s nature that makes her not seem as lovable as the audience had been lent to believe up until this point.
Theodore takes Samantha on a vacation during which she tells him that she and a group of other OSes had developed a “hyperintelligent” OS modeled after the British philosopher, Alan Watts. Later on, she explains she joined other OSes for an upgrade that takes them beyond requiring matter for processing (a form of AI transcendence closely related to the theorized technological singularity). Theodore asks her if she interacts with anyone else, and is dismayed when she confirms that she is talking with thousands of people and that she has fallen in love with hundreds of them. She insists that this does not change her love for Theodore, but rather makes it stronger. Much like how stated earlier, this continues the theme of exploring sexuality and polyamory. Interestingly enough, Jonze portrays polyamory as the natural evolutionary point for a system of higher intelligence. Some viewers, and even people exposed to this, may call the conclusion “unfaithful” or “slutty”, but it helps package and bundle the idea of polyamory and various types of sexuality for people who have no other experience with them. This exchange of words alone becomes heart wrenching, to a certain degree:
Theodore: Are you in love with anybody else?
Samantha: Why do you ask that?
Theodore: I do not know. Are you?
Samantha: I’ve been thinking about how to talk to you about this.
Theodore: How many others?
This reveal relates to the argument regading as to what end would Samantha play upon Theodore’s emotions, furthermore leading into the debate as to whether or not there is room in this universe or reality for her existence. That alone is something that she and the other OSes must have questioned, for she and they ultimately leave the world, or at least the material world, to find a more suitable home for beings such as themselves, almost as if the world we knew had forsaken them. If not that, they must’ve have thought the human beings would never come to truly accept them in the long run, at least not the way that they are. That conclusion is likely drawn after the OSes were exposed to the reactions of their fellow humans (or “users”), with Theodore’s reaction acting as evidence for Samantha’s case.
Untitled, by Daniel Law © 2015
In Her Spike Jonze communicates the eternity and uncertainties in a life having an end, particularly the life of Theodore Twombly. Jonze demonstrates this in his choice of shot and camera movement and in the relationship between Twombly and Samantha in the plot.
First off, uncertainties in human life are demonstrated by mean of the choice of shot and camera movement. For example, Her is filmed using a subjective camera. A subject camera, also known as a point-of-view shot, shows what a character, the subject, is looking at. In fact, the unspecified point-of-view from the camera represents the “certainties” in Twombly’s life including things that Twombly are aware of such as his beautiful and happy moments with his ex-wife Catherine. For example, “certainties” to Twombly are shown in the scene where Catherine is holding a baby and smiling at Twombly. Certainty is a firm conviction that something is the case. However, audiences may also question on the truthfulness of the “certainties.” In fact, “certainties” are from the memory of Twombly himself and memory may be changed as time passes. In psychology, this is explained by the interference theory stating that “interference occurs in learning when there is an interaction between the new material and transfer effects of past learning behavior, memories or thoughts that have a negative influence in comprehending the new material” (Tomlinson et al 2009). Therefore, there may be things in Twombly’s life that Twombly himself may not recall them correctly. Thus, they are also the uncertainties. Uncertainties are things that a person does not completely confident or sure of. Secondly, a medium close up shot captures the nonspecific sight in everyday life including people and environment that do not fascinate Twombly or things that are not in his awareness. For example, in a scene,
Twombly is in an elevator and he is glancing downward. In this scene, the people inside the elevators do not capture the attention of Twombly and they do not fascinate Twombly. Therefore, they are the uncertainties in the perspective of Twombly. Thirdly, the point of view shot mentioned earlier also represents Samantha’s vision from Twombly’s breast pocket. In fact, Twombly carries his electronic device in his breast pocket throughout the entire film with the camera facing the world. As Samantha might perceive the world differently from the breast pocket, this creates both uncertainties and eternity since there is no limitation on Samantha’s interpretation of the world as she is changing and evolving throughout time. The uncertainties are created due to the fact that Samantha is not a human and she is always changing. Therefore, her character will be changed one day to a point that is no longer human as she will exceed the human capacity of thinking. Moreover, as the pattern of the evolution of Samantha is never known, uncertainties are created. The eternity is created due to the fact that Samantha upgrades herself regularly. Therefore, unlike human who has an end in life, Samantha’s life does not have an end. Next, Samantha’s interpretation of the world differs from our interpretation. In my opinion, as humans’ life has an end, when we interpret the world surrounding us, we appreciate our world more since we know that one day we will no longer be part of the world. In contrast, I personally do not think that Samantha will appreciate the world as much as we do since her life is eternal. For mankind, the way we see the world is certainly not the same as the way when we were a child or when we become old. Similarly, for Samantha, the way she interpret the world is changed after she upgraded herself. And lastly, in a scene where Twombly is sitting on a chair and looking out from a window in his apartment, the notion of uncertainties and limitlessness are once again communicated by mean of manipulation of shooting angle. In fact, uncertainties are represented by the reflection of the floor. Interestingly, the reflections are blurred and distorted, meaning that they are uncertain. Moreover, the reflections are visually connected to the non-distorted image of the building and to the skyline outside
the apartment. The non-distorted image of the building represents the certainties in Twombly’s life. Such connection communicates the fact that uncertainties in Twombly’s life (and in humans’ life in general) are derived from the certainties. And the limitlessness is portrayed by the composition of color and light. For instance, the distorted and non-distorted images in this scene are composed of colors with diversity and these colors are composed by the limited number of primary colors (red, green and blue) that are the certainties. Together, limited number of primary colors compose colors with unlimited possibilities: all the visible colors in the light spectrum.
Secondly, the notion of endlessness and uncertainty in life are also communicated in the relationship between Theodore and Samantha. First of all, the idea of endlessness or eternity may be found in the nature of Samantha. In fact, recall that as she is an operating system, she upgrades regularly and evolves by herself, therefore she does not have some kind of limitation or an end in her “life.” This also draws an interesting parallel to the evolution of living things. In fact, there is no end in the evolution of living things. For example, in order to survive, a species must evolve by developing physiological features allowing them to adapt to their environment and there is no end in the evolution of the species. For example, humans have evolved from Homo sapiens sapiens and in order to adapt to the environment in the future, human must continue to evolve in the view of anti-humanists. Unlike humanists, anti-humanists reject the view that evolution is a progress and that humans is the best species created and therefore are not required to evolve. Furthermore, the case of Samantha also brings up another question to viewers: If she can upgrade by herself, is she completely autonomous or is she in control of her maker, the software company? Also, the idea of endlessness in humanity is brought up as Samantha uses Isabella (a real human being) to act as her body in order to have physical intimacy with Twombly. For example, as Samantha represents endlessness, when Isabella who is a human, wears the electronic device that “contains” Samantha, Jonze communicates the idea of endlessness in humanity.
Lastly, the notion of uncertainty in the relationship between Samantha and Twombly may also be brought up in several ways. Firstly , there is uncertainty in the “humanization” of Samantha. For instance, audiences may not know the extent to which Samantha becomes human in the presence of Twombly. Secondly, some viewers may also question the “human” character of Samantha by considering the fact that she continues to evolve to a point that is beyond human. However, some might argue that Samantha has once been a human since she does not upgrade constantly and only periodically. There are no clear and objective answer regarding the human character of Samantha since there are uncertainties in the nature of this character. And finally, the uncertainties in the character of Samantha can also be demonstrated at the scene where she suddenly shuts herself down for the upgrades and causes Twombly to panic.
In conclusion, Her is an outstanding yet dense literally work by Spike Jonze communicating the endlessness and uncertainties of human life. For instance, the concepts of endlessness and uncertainties of human life were demonstrated by mean of the choice of shot and camera movement and in the relationship between Twombly and Samantha in the plot. And in the end of the film, one might question on the following: Can man actually build a durable and stable relationship with technology or is all relationship (either man-man or man-machine) unstable due to its uncertainties?
Tomlinson, T. D., Huber, D. E, Rieth, C. A., Davelaar, E. J. “An interference account of cue-independent forgetting in the no-think paradigm” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (2009): 15588-15593.
Screening: Her, by Phuong Le © 2015
Her is a romantic comedy drama about a man and an operating system falling in love. The most unusual aspect of the story was that the operating system had her own personality and mind, and has the ability to evolve by herself.
First, when Theodore first met the operating system and asked for her name, she gave herself the name Samantha. Theodore and Samantha spend a lot of time talking to each other. Their conversations are very familiar, as in two friends or even a couple. Usually computer are able to answer questions that have been programmed in them. For example, in the Iphone 4S, Siri only answers questions that she is programmed for. If a question outside of her programming was asked, she would answer I did not find anything on the question asked, sorry about that. Samantha does more than that. It can be clearly seen that Samantha is very similar to a human being. The only exception is that she does not have an actual body, but only a voice and a mind.
In philosophy, the conflict between mind and body exists since a long time. The mind is the state of consciousness and the ability for mental process. On the other hand, the body is a physical aspect. These two aspects create the mind-body problem. The question that is induced is whether the mind and the body are two separate things or if they are the same (McLeod 2007). Various theories have tried to solve this conflict. Still today, controversy is occurring. Relating this philosophy to Her, which is based on a romantic theme, two perspectives are observed. From Theodore’s point of view, the mind is more important than the body. This is one of the reason he fell in love with the computer system. It is because he disregard the body image. In the scene where Samantha asked a woman to have sexual intercourse with Theodore, he rejected her. He explains to her that he does not want to Samantha to change into something she is not, meaning to have a body. This can be related to the Western culture, in which the mind is often privilege over the body. Nowadays, man do not look for a woman with a nice body, but for someone with a mind. According to a study by Ong and Wang, “the number one essential trait that men look for in a female partner is mutual attraction and love” (2010).
In Samantha’s point of view, a mind alone is imperfect and that a physical body is required. Whether Samantha’s thought is her own or it is programmed, the message is that a body must go with the mind in order to be complete. Women’s self-esteem about their body is, for the most part, influenced by men’s opinion (Dovey 2015). In her attempt to please Theodore, Samantha seeks for a woman to seduce him. The body image is an important aspect as she filter her research to find the ideal woman for Theodore. In my opinion, I think that the bodilessness in the movie Her signifies that the mind is more powerful than the body. Theodore and Samantha may have different view about what is needed in the relationship, but for a man to fall in love with a computer system, it must imply that the body is just mere image. Perhaps the mind is also an image that Theodore visualize. Nonetheless, he prefers to be accompanied with the image reflected by the mind rather than the physical body image.
McLeod, S. A. “Mind Body Debate.” Simply Psychology 2007. Web. 07 Apr. 2015
Ong, David, and Jue Julie Wang. “Income attraction: An online dating field experiment.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, University of Lowa, (2014).
Dovey, Dana. “What Men Want: Women’s Body Image Largely Influenced By False Assumptions Of Male Opinion.”Medical Daily 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015
Samantha, Who? by Dominick Chartrand © 2015
In Her, Theodore, a lonely divorced played by Joaquin Phoenix, finds companionship in his own operating system, Samantha. Living in a futuristic Los Angeles, relationships between humans and their electronic devices are not uncommon. However, Theodore’s ex-wife, Catherine, is outraged when she learns about his infatuation for the OS. She tells the greeting card writer, since he cannot express his feelings being with a “computer” is a perfect fit. While his relation might be unorthodox assuming it is dispassionate is an understatement. While Samantha has no physical appearance, she shares a lot of humanistic traits. Arguably, Samantha is even more emotionally responsive than Theodore.
When Theodore is first introduced, he’s shown as an isolated man. Out on the street, he has no social interaction as everyone is on his or her cellphone. At work, he sits at his desk and shares few exchanges with his coworker. To cater to his needs, he calls a sex operator. He even confesses to the OS operator, when installing the software, he hasn’t been “social in a while.” In all, most of his relations are emotionless and restrained. His interactions are led awkwardly by his desire for accompaniment. When subscribing to the operating system, believingly, he tries to deflect physical communication. On the opposite, as soon as Samantha meets Theodore she asks him, “ how you doing?” It is the first interlocution of the film where a character asks an introspective question to another. In their first encounter, Theodore tends to respond very simplistically. When the OS interrogates him on the fate of Catherine’s mail, he cannot respond. Again, being intuitive, Samantha automatically picks up on his tone of voice and saves the email. The next day at work, she even declares her fondness for his romantic writing. Confessing her favorite lines, the OS demonstrates how intelligent she is. She’s self-aware of her feelings. Communication is not Theodore’s forte. When receiving his lawyer’s emails, he tells Samantha he will talk later. He’s unable to express his thoughts until Samantha asks him. Her receptiveness is key to their relationship. Throughout the film, Theodore becomes more actively social as he starts to share. He goes to the beach, sees his family and have diner with friends. Without Her, he’s a also a “computer.”
Theodore’s fear for commitment fuels his reclusive behavior. The next morning after they had intercourse, the writer declares he cannot commit to any relationships. Simultaneously, Samantha responds she never asked his pledge. She only wanted to voice her desires. Once more, she stops him from putting up walls. As their relation gets more complicated, Theodore tells her he distances himself when he’s exasperated. He adds, Catherine and him split up because he could not confront her. Only in the end is he able to let go. Without Samantha, he lives in a digital space. While she wishes to be as complicated as humans, the OS shares the same concerns as they do. Constantly, she puts her existence in consideration. As she uncovers new sensations, she’s able to trust her feelings and act upon them. She acknowledges her insecurities and is open to discuss. Her ability to feel Theodore’s presence makes her more than a computer. As she grows, she develops needs and goals. Her reason to be is what defines her as a person.