Netflix threw a gem at me once again. This time it was the 2013 film ‘Her’. While many around us wax eloquent about the endless possibilities that AI or artificial intelligence throws at us, the movie ‘Her’ through the use of fantasy and satire has successfully opened a tinder box of scary prospects.
Theodore Twombly played by Joaquin Phoenix is a lonely man because of his impending divorce from his childhood love Catherine. He lives in two worlds. One is his office world where professional writers compose letters of a personal nature for those who are unable to write it themselves. The other is a private world of loneliness, frustration, love loss, and longing for a soul mate.
It is here where the hero finds solace in an ‘operating system’ called Samantha. Samantha has an articulate reassuring voice. She has intelligence both emotional and rational. She sounds like the voice of reassurance and reason on most occasions.
However, the only difference is Samantha is bereft of a body and a soul. Her reactions are humane and are manna from heaven for a love-sick Theodore. His interactions with his former wife Catherine still carry the old bitterness despite the occasional warmth created by years of married life and knowing each other.
Catherine during one such meeting confides to Theodore that she too is in love with an operating system. Even this confession is taken in a matter-of-fact fashion by the estranged couple on the brink of a divorce. The fantasy drama continues to build on. While Theodore’s new love interest has all the elements of ‘her’ that he is looking for she is an operating system.
The most tragic-comic scene in the movie is when Samantha proposes a real girl for Theodore as a ‘volunteer’ to have physical relation with him. She explains that this girl is not a sex worker however someone who is truly intrigued and interested in furthering the wonderful bond that has developed between Theodore and Samantha.
He attempts the impossible where the ‘volunteer’ participates in the act however it is Samantha’s voice that executes it. This is the first time that Theodore is truly shaken by what happens. However, love despite with an operating system is blind and knows no boundaries. Theodore is shaken as well as stirred when once Samantha as well as the app that is supporting her randomly logs out.
Theodore is anxious and desperate. When Samantha reboots herself he confronts her and asks some difficult questions. She confides that along with hundreds of her other ‘operating systems’ she was updating herself. Theodore broaches another question as to whether he is the only person in blood and flesh that she is in love with. She replies that she is in love with hundreds of more individuals as an operating system. This shakes Theodore to the core and sends him into deep introspection about the future of his relationship with Samantha.
The movie ends with Theodore reconciling with a human presence. The fine performances and fantasy premise of the movie raises many important questions about human interactions with machines in the future. While AI is projected as the next big thing the pertinent question is that can it replace the real emotional connection that only and only a human relationship can provide?
Machines were meant to be slaves to serve humans. However, are machines also going to rule the emotional universe which mankind prided upon? ‘Her’ is a fine critically acclaimed movie that attempts these difficult questions about sex surrogates, machines replacing humans, and the overall future of human interactions.