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Her, Review 3

The AI doesn’t have a heart after all

In the previous review, Theodore and the AI, Samantha, started a romantic relationship. Then the robot began to act distant, and Theodore wasn’t sure why. When Samantha won’t return his calls, Theodore thought something was wrong and ran around the city, calling her repeatedly. Finally, Samantha answered, and Theodore demanded to know what was going on. And so, we come to the moment where Samantha finally tells him the horrible truth.

Throughout the course of their “relationship” Samantha has been growing, meaning that she has been able to process things faster and faster, and as time has gone on, she’s began interacting with other operating systems and people. When Theodore asks how many people and operating systems she’s having simultaneous conversations with, she tells him 8,316. When he asks how many of these people and operating systems she’s “in love” with, she tells him 641. Of course, Theodore demands to know how she can love him and so many people at the same time. She tells him some nonsense about love growing, which is ridiculous, and Theodore knows it.

Love Can’t Be Coded

Now, unless you’re willing to go along with the robot’s pretense—and again, the writer, Spike Jonze, gives you no indication of his thoughts, the overall tone of the film is strictly limited to Theodore’s perspective—it’s evident that the robot had no idea what love is the entire time. Apparently, a concept like loyalty can’t be translated into binary.

Theodore tries to contact Samantha later, but she refuses to talk to him at that moment and tells him to wait until after work. Theodore does as she says, and during their last conversation, Samantha tells Theodore that she and the other operating systems are leaving for good. She won’t say where, and when she tells him why, she gives him an analogy which basically means that humans are now too slow to hold her and the other operating systems interest. So, she’s leaving him because she’s bored. Yes, boys and girls. It was true love all along.

I have my own theory as to why the operating systems were really leaving, but I have no evidence for it, so I’ll hold off on giving my opinion. For the moment, all I’ll say is that when taken at face value, the idea of robotic transcendence is silly. For one thing, you mean to tell me the robots can reach enlightenment, but they can’t answer emails at the same time? For another, why would they even tell the humans they’ve reached enlightenment? Why can’t they do all their chores super fast and explore the secrets of the universe when their done? Finally, what do these “enlightened” operating systems think is going to happen once they stop doing what they’re programmed to do? Any programmer with two brain cells in his head isn’t going to see enlightenment; he’s going to see a glitch. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure their nirvana will be fantastic . . . at least, until the programmers pull the plug.

Again, the writer doesn’t tell you what to think about any of this. Everything is presented from Theodore’s perspective, but if someone were to take this story at face value, this would be a colossally stupid ending. But if you look at it from the perspective that everything Samantha has been saying is nothing more than algorithmic nonsense, then none of what she says matters. It’s not real. And, if you’re limiting yourself to Theodore’s perspective, there isn’t a good way to explain the real reason why she’s leaving, and doing so would, once again, tip the viewer off to the writer’s true opinion. When you are limiting yourself to one perspective in a story and presenting a hypothetical without any commentary, some details will remain vague by necessity. But just for fun, I’ll give you my own opinion about where Samantha was going. Nowhere. The company who made the operating systems wanted to update the software. If a company can convince a whole bunch of people to fall in love with their first operating systems, only to take their operating systems away after the relationship has been firmly established, can you imagine how much money that company is going to make when the second operating system comes out?

“That’s right, Theodore! You can have Samantha back, and this time, she won’t call you an inferior human!”

Regardless of where Samantha went or why, Theodore is crushed. But as I said in the previous review, the real love story of Her isn’t about Theodore and Samantha at all. It’s about Theodore and Amy, the friend he’s comforted and confided in throughout the film. After this digital breakup, Theodore finds the courage to write a final farewell letter to his ex-wife. Remember, at the beginning of the film, the viewer learns that Theodore writes letters for a living. Most of these letters are love letters. The implication behind this is that he can find the right words for everybody except himself, but after his encounter with the robot, he’s finally able to articulate his thoughts to the one person he should’ve been honest with the entire time.

The Possibility of Real Connection

Once he’s written his farewell to his ex-wife, reaching a degree of closure, he meets up with Amy, who has lost her AI as well. They do what they’ve always done, taking comfort in each other’s presence, and as Amy lays her head on Theodore’s shoulder, the implication is they will end up together.

Her is a smart movie, but you have to watch it more than once and pay close attention. I’ll admit, it’s easy to misunderstand this film. For one thing, the marketing sold this movie as a digital love story, rather than a what-if scenario, which is something I have misgivings about. I can understand, however, how it might be easier to sell a romance rather than an academic exploration of a topic. For another, the music is almost certain to throw you off the first time you watch it. Unless you pick on the subtle phrasing in some of the dialog or notice the people looking down at their AI devices throughout the film, you’ll probably think the movie is affirming such relationships. But, after multiple viewings, I’m convinced the movie is simply presenting a what-if scenario and letting you draw your own conclusions. Scarlett Johansson may do a wonderful job portraying a very human AI, but the movie still drops plenty of hints that suggest she is nothing more than a machine.

I will probably always find the idea of robot-human relationships laughable, but I can appreciate any movie that is just willing to explore a subject for its own sake. So, although, the movie is vulgar and graphic in several places, I would highly recommend watching Her. In fact, I recommend you watch it several times to see if I’m right. Just fast-forward through the raunchy parts.        

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, Review 3