Saturday, February 22, 2014

I love "Her", too.

We need mirrors to see ourselves. Though what we see in the mirror is not how others see us. Our perspective warps us from truly seeing how we look to others, even though we think we see. It's a paradox; an illusion. Just like this film, "Her". 

In a way, interacting with a computer is similar to a mirror, given our evolving need for the self-affirmation it continues to provide; fostering greater solipsism and narcissism in return. This much we probably know and agree. It's cliche to state the obvious and pernicious effects of technology. 

The common and decent sense in us knows it can only end badly when a "man falls in love with his operating system". That it is pathetic and sad that the possibility of anything genuine can be fathomed. Though something stirs within you watching "Her". There is no clear moral tale. There is an ambiguity to what our ever evolving relationship with technology means; leaving so much open to interpretation.  

I won't give away too much about the film, but let's just say I found myself wondering about the computer's behavior days after watching the film. Provoking this reflection, I suppose, is what makes this film so utopic about its technological vision of the near future. The OS, played scintillatingly by Scarlet Johansson's voice (who without a doubt deserves an Oscar nod for this role), fulfills a similar function. It makes people who use her think and feel in new and surprising ways. Love, then, becomes inevitable. Does it matter if she is not real?

Since the advent of the Turing test, in the 50s, though, we are often easily fooled through the prisms of computers. The artificial pretending to be real, if done well, casts a spell on us that is only broken when we learn something is not real. We feel duped. But our reactions are genuine nonetheless. This happens often and not just with computers.  

It happens with art, tv shows, plays and literature equally. We allow a relationship to form with these other forms of artifice, but draw the line at computers. We suspend our belief and give into the make-believe, and go along with it. Often, though not always, we are deeply moved, even though we have been staring at a radiating screen; or abstract letters; or grown adults pretending to be someone else, conjuring up emotions and experiences within us. We know it's not real, but the symbolism and the message help us project into the universal realm of ideas about beauty, truth and other philosophical notions that fulfill something deep within us. 

Within this context, having a transcendent experience, happens all the time artificially. It is no surprise then, that our main protagonist, played with such vulnerable heartache by Joaquin Phoenix, forms a meaningful relationship with his operating system. If his relationship is observed carefully, diligently, we end up learning so much about ourselves, and the nature of love.

What is galling to most is that the notion here is taken a step further than most of our relationship is to artifice; into a romantic realm. We may be fulfilled by literature or a symphony, but we don't fall in "love" with it in the romantic sense. There is something sacred, pure, authentic about our relations with another human being. Ignoring all the heartache and trauma most human relations cause. We still think it's worth it because it's real. The possibility exists that we think this way about real relationships because there is no credible alternative. "Her" provides this alternative and in the process unravels so much about about what is right and wrong with us in the modern era. 

The Scarlet J. OS goes from being insecure about what she doesn't have - a body - to seeing it as a strength; relying entirely on language. And it works. I am not sure what this says about us and whether this is encouraging. We find ourselves in a new world nobody yet completely understands. The greater reflection is on the role of language in love; which one could argue is the way most fall in, sustain and regain love in the modern era. Language itself is a technology; the greatest artifice ever invented. It certainly changed our relationship with each other. As did the industrial revolution, and the women's liberation movement. Love evolves, though love remains. It is heartening that we yearn for it and look for it and need it, no matter how strange things get.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wolf of Wall Street - What Doesn't Kill You Makes You American.

This movie is America. From our fascist tendencies, to what makes us tick. To what makes us sad and repellant. Perhaps also to what makes us lovable and attractive.  It is all here, in a little of under 3 hours, a front row seat to the modern American psyche.

Is this parody, satire, or is it just propaganda? The lines blur. That's kind of the point. We have become a caricature of ourselves. 

This is not a moral tale - of the excesses of greed and addiction - for that would have been another lesser and more obvious film. Rather, a light shines on us, all of us, both the wolves and the sheep. And when looked at with a certain detachment, there is a certain humor in the absurdity of it all. 

There is a void. We all fill it with different things - if not greed, than god, or hyper stimulation or work or family or charity. Or perhaps we ignore it. There is an anxiety about the human condition that is true. This film, in not judging, in observing the pathology, incriminates everyone. It is the first film that is not just an indictment of the supposed wrong doers - but equally the society that spawns, encourages and thrives on them - and the victims themselves for their naiveté in believing in short-cuts along with the greed to get rich quick. 

And we laugh (this is a raucously funny film). Neuroscientists say laughter is a result of fear. When a fear feels imminent though not realized, and we feel assured of our safety, we release laughter, a relief, a spontaneous burst of joy. There is so much darkness here at the edge of this abyss, this film, yet we feel safe within it, even as the horror unfolds. Why? Because it's so exciting. Makes you feel so good. This way of life provides meaning and purpose to an otherwise drab existence. It's not about the money. This movie is an ode to an amoral vitality that we all worship in America. Fuck yeah!     

Jordan Belfourt, the protagonist, played to newfound majestic heights by Leonardo DiCaprio, may be a pathetic, drug addicted and exploiter of innocence - but he is alive in the arena. You are proud, repelled, awed, disgusted, attracted by him. The complex and contradictory feelings he evokes are exactly how most of us feel towards America. I am glad somebody finally captured it. And no surprise it's Marty, who has reached a new pinnacle in his film making.