Theodore Twombly, an introvert writer, buys an Artificial Intelligence system to help him write. However, amazed by the AI’s ability to learn and adapt, he falls in love with it.That’s the Netflix description for the 2013 film ‘Her’
I wonder what served as inspiration for this Spike Jonze film starring Joaquin Phoenix. While for some, the premise might be bizarre/laughable, humans falling in love with AI systems doesn’t seem too futuristic or fantastical. Men in nations like China, where the gender ratio is skewed, already live with sex dolls and treat them like ‘real’ partners.
So when Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) buys a new computer system that supposedly has a ‘consciousness’ of its own, him falling in love with the operating system that calls itself ‘Samantha’, it doesn’t seem weird at all. In fact, even the film doesn’t treat it like an anomaly. Only Theodore’s estranged wife thinks it’s his way of avoiding responsibilities of a ‘real’ relationship.
Phoenix brilliantly plays a lonely man who writes letters for a living and is on the verge of a divorce. A divorce he didn’t want until ‘Samantha’ came into his life. Theodore’s loneliness & need for love is palpable in his eyes, you just want to pat him in the head and tell him “everything is going to be all right”.
But can a relationship with an AI system – one that can think for itself, that’s constantly evolving and is beyond intelligent – come without its own complications? Can it really be that easy, without any ‘real’ consequences?
And those questions make the viewer reflect on one little problem with the plot – why would an intelligent system bother being in a virtual relationship with a mildly interesting man? I thought this to myself while watching the film and then pretty much guessed what the climax would be. So the film is a little predictable but also has its ‘what the fuck’ moments.
It’s Scarlett Johannsson’s voice that breathes in life to this film, despite her Samantha being a formless entity, the AI’s voice has more life than all the characters put together in the film. ‘Her’ is a unique film, that falters a little towards the end’ Fortunately just when it’s on the verge of becoming overbearing, the director thankfully wraps it up. So while the pace is not perfect, it comes pretty close.
‘Her’ makes for a compelling watch, giving the viewer a lot to think about, especially about where human relationships are headed in a world increasingly dependent on technology. I mean, aren’t a lot of us guilty of being excited about talking with a random stranger online – because without a body, the possibilities of who they could be are infinite.
And here’s why I had pushed washing this film for all these years – because the plot sounded uncomfortably real. Having your system talk to you, sing to you, laugh with with you, even dirty talk to you – that’s the dream for asocial, lonely people.
“This is like being in a long distance forever,” I told husband, as the two of us watched Theodore romance his operating system’s voice through his phone.
“We wouldn’t have lasted in long distance forever,” he laughed.
And that’s the moral of Theodore’s love story with his operating system – virtual relationships aren’t easy either.
P.S – I published my second book ‘Love, Loss, Lockdown’. It’s a collection of short stories set against the Covid19 pandemic in India, get a copy if it piques your interest.