Far-fetched. Ridiculous. Soon to be inevitable. These are just a few reactions regarding the new Spike Jonze film, 'Her.' When I actually first saw the trailer, I thought it was the saddest thing I'd ever seen. Yet I was intrigued by the dynamic of it. In today's world, where we are so socially and digitally connected, I feel that people are more disconnected then ever. The story is sort of sad, also sort of sweet and not-so-unbelievable at all.
Set somewhat into the future, we meet Theo, played perfectly by Joaquin Phoenix. Theo is a soon-to-be divorced man who writes emotionally stunning hand written letters to other people's loved ones (an example of true disconnection, hiring someone else to write about your most intimate feelings) at a company called BeautfiulHandWrittenLetters.com. Theo is depressed about his impending divorce, which he doesn't want, and is incredibly lonely. While he can write with incredible emotion, he laments that he wasn't able to show his wife the same in their relationship. He fills his free time playing highly advanced video games and having virtual sex through his digital device. One day while out and about, he sees an advertisement for the newest, most advanced operating system in the world, OS1, and decides to purchase it. As he sets up his OS1, he chooses a female voice named Samantha, played by Scarlett Johansson. She is programmed to be intuitive and feel emotion, so she can react to Theo's needs and wants like an actual person. Samantha becomes the one Theo tells all of his thoughts to and becomes his friend and confidante. Who wouldn't want that kind of connection with someone, or in this case, something? Someone that listens to all your hopes, dreams and insecurities, and laughs at your jokes?
The romantic relationship starts after Theo returns home from a blind date that goes terribly wrong. Samantha inquires about it, and he tells her how lonely he is, how he just wanted to be with someone to fill the hole in him. When they start to discuss their fears and feelings, Samantha reveals that she was proud that she felt annoyed earlier, that she had her own feelings, but then doubted whether or not they were real and not just programming. Samantha goes on to say that in realizing that, it really hurt. She was then angry at herself for feeling pain. "What a sad trick that is" she says. I found Samantha's take on "programmed feelings" an interesting paradigm.
Sad trick indeed. In romantic relationships, sometimes I think we tell ourselves how we are supposed to feel about someone, and it's not necessarily real. We are "programmed" in a way, especially women, to create and fall in love with an idea of who we should be with, someone who fits a checklist.
Samantha and Theo's conversation leads into him telling her he wishes she was in the room with him, so that he could touch her. She asks how he would do so and he starts to describe the different ways he would do so and then......... The next morning is a little awkward when Theo says he can't commit to anything and Samantha says she didn't ask him to. However, their relationship continues, they go on "dates," even one with another couple. Theo refers to Samantha as his girlfriend and it's clear he has fallen in love with 'her' and she with him. They have all the nuances of a true relationship, except for the absence of Samantha's physical presence. For some, this might seeem like the perfect relationship.
The parallels to traditional relationships are apparent, such as the 'commitment' conversation, when Samantha admits that something Theo said hurt her, and the little things they do for each other. The sadness is, that without a physical presence, there's something lacking. Even though virtually they can touch, and have sex and feel, it's not even a close substitute for the real thing. It's like the polar opposite of two people who are in a purely physical relationship. In the beginning, it can be amazing, but as it continues, without any emotional connection, there's something missing. While Theo and Samantha have an incredible emotional connection, not being able to physically touch, or kiss, or have actual sex can only lead to heartache. You need both to have a truly fulfilling relationship.
And therein lies the lesson that Theo must learn, and the idea that writer and director Spike Jonze was trying to get across. To become emotionally open so he can have the relationship with someone that he wasn't able to have with his wife. He tells Samantha as she's about to leave his world that he never loved anyone the way he loved her, and she says "Me too.....and now we know how."