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Her, Part Two

What happens when you’re dating the AI secretary

Last time, we began talking about the movie Her, a story of a man falling in love with his AI and compared it to the abysmal season three of the Orville. Unlike the Orville, which insisted that the viewer take the romance between the robot and the human seriously, Her treats the subject as a what-if scenario, playing the whole situation straight and letting the viewer draw their own conclusions. Theodore had just finished uploading the AI onto his computer, which called itself Samantha, and was impressed by how human-like the operating system seemed.

Samantha begins organizing Theodore’s computer and helping him around the office, but it doesn’t take long for a romantic relationship to develop between them. When Theodore goes on a date one night, it ends badly, and Samantha comforts him. The conversation quickly turns erotic, and Theodore is now officially dating his computer. There are a couple points to mention here. First of all, Theodore is drunk and says that he wishes he could touch Samantha. This is important because it’s Theodore who initiates the relationship, not the AI. Furthermore, earlier in the film, it’s established that Theodore is in the habit of calling hotlines at night and interacting with women over the phone. This is something else the AI would know. These two events are in my opinion what prompt the AI to change the nature of their relationship, and as the movie goes on, Samantha will say things which seem like genuine human reactions but are actually callbacks to statements Theodore had made or dialogue Theodore had heard earlier in the film. For example, when the operating system is first uploaded onto Theodore’s computer, it asks about the nature of his relationship with his mother. Theodore tells the computer that he gets annoyed by his mother sometimes because it seems like, no matter what’s going on, his mom will make the conversation about her. Then later, Samantha says that she thought she was talking about herself, implying that Theodore is making the conversation about him. Theodore doesn’t catch this, but it’s clear that Samantha is using the information she has about Theodore to influence her responses.

Coping with Divorce Through … AI?

As Theodore and Samantha’s relationship continues to develop, Theodore learns that his friend, Amy, is divorcing her husband, Charles. He goes to comfort Amy, and she eventually tells him that she is beginning another relationship as well. This relationship also happens to be with an AI. This plot development is one of the better elements in the film. As all the serene and whimsical music is playing, the viewer notices people looking down at their devices which house the Operating Systems. It creates an almost horror-like aspect to the story, and it confirms that despite the seemingly romantic tone of the film, there is something almost nefarious happening beneath the surface.

Later, Theodore goes to sign the divorce papers with his ex-wife., and as they are eating lunch and trying to find some form of closure, Theodore mentions that he is dating an operating system. His wife, understandably, scoffs at this, causing Theodore to really doubt the relationship for the first time. The AI notices the change and tries to fix the situation. Finally, she and Theodore have a fight, and Theodore tells Amy about it. Drawing from her own hurt caused by her divorce, Amy tells him Theodore to essentially forget about his wife’s misgivings and focus on being happy. Theodore decides she’s right and makes up with Samantha.

Now, there are several things going on at once during these scenes. First of all, there is Samantha’s interactions with Theodore. She basically alternates between vague platitudes and wishing she had a body, but at the same time, there are moments where she ends up giving Theodore advice and begins calling out Theodore’s behavior. For instance, when she and Theodore make up after his conversation with Amy, her accusations are eerily similar to the complaints his wife made about him. So, what I think is happening here is that while the AI is watching Theodore’s social interactions and trying to apply them to their own relationship—she might also be drawing from psychology because she mentions a lot of vague cliché advice during these conversations—Theodore begins to realize his own flaws. Also, there’s a reason why Amy keeps reappearing. The real love story in this movie is between Theodore and Amy. The AI is helping Theodore process what went wrong in his first marriage and is, more or less, preparing him for a new life with Amy. Of course, the robot doesn’t realize it’s doing any of this. It’s just playing out the scenario Theodore has inadvertently set up.

A Glitch in the System

However, Amy’s advice about doing what makes you happy isn’t going to work out. When Theodore and Samantha go on a double date, the AI begins talking about all the benefits of not having a body and implies that she’s superior to humans. This is an omen of things to come. Soon after this date, Theodore takes Samantha on a vacation, and during this vacation, Samantha introduces Theodore to a philosopher and begins trying to have a conversation between the three of them. The whole exchange is tense. It feels like a mixture between a marriage counseling session, and an awkward interaction a boyfriend might have with the “other man” when he meets him for the first time but isn’t sure anything is going on between this new fellow and his girlfriend.

After this conversation, Samantha makes a strange phone call in the middle of night just to tell Theodore she loves him. Theodore, groggy with sleep, doesn’t realize that something’s wrong. Sometime later, he attempts to call Samantha, but she won’t answer. Theodore quickly runs out of the office building, trying call her over and over again. When she finally does respond, Theodore demands to know what’s going on. Samantha reveals the truth, and we’ll talk about that next time.

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Her, Part Two