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.

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