by Brad Nelson 6/4/14
This is going to be a somewhat unusual case wherein I tell you to go ahead and watch this movie but don’t blame me if you don’t like it. In fact, there would be something wrong with you unless you engendered some distaste for it.
First, I should mention that my older brother recommended this movie and we sat and watched it together the other day. It was a blast. Even if parts of this movie suck, it’s a fun one to watch with a friend, if only to comment on the many digital insanities of contemporary culture. And if you like science fiction, if you like movies such as Surrogates (with Bruce Willis, which I highly recommend), you’ll get a kick out of Her.
Joaquin Phoenix (the bad-guy Emperor Commodus from Gladiator) plays Theodore, a man whose day job is bizarre and smarmy enough for a movie of its own (very much in tune with a film such as The Final Cut with Robin Williams). Theodore’s day job is writing letters for hire (including and especially love letters) for other people. In line with the movie, Surrogates, and aspects of The Final Cut, nothing is real. It’s all presentation. It’s all a veneer.
But for this movie, this surrogate-letter-writing is just a prop, not the main act. The main act is regarding Theodore, who is a bit lonely and emotionally needy at present. He’s near the finalization of the divorce with his wife and is heartbroken and confused. So what’s a person to do? Be consoled by friend? Drink yourself into oblivion? Maybe go out on a couple of dates with a hot blond? No. The answer is to install OS1, an artificial-personality operating system that talks to you (and learns) like a real person — and then proceed to spend your days (and often nights) talking to it as if it was your closest confidante.
And anyone who has seen the digital monkeys (often all in a row) hammering away mindlessly and obsessively on the virtual keyboards of their phones, ignoring the immediate world around them in order to talk to their somewhat surrogate world, will have absolutely no problem swallowing the premise of this movie. This is exactly where we are headed.
And thus my objections to this movie could also be said to be its main premise. But at some point, if you are anything like me, you will be yelling at the screen for Theodore to just “Shut off the damn computer!” But instead you have to watch this emotionally effeminate wreck of a postmodern girly-man indulge in every stupid emotion that comes to him. It’s not so much that he’s addicted to the computer. He’s addicted to his own desires (internal demands, really) that every bad thought be stricken from his head and every good thought and feeling be nurtured.
This is the 21st Century Wuss-Man in the making. And it’s not like there isn’t a time and place for a man to be “sensitive” and to “get in touch with his emotions.” But must he buy an operating system that practically demands that he do so all day long? At some point (again, if you are anything like me) you will be yelling at the screen “Just shut the damn computer off and go play baseball or something. For criminy’s sake, at least try to act like a man.”
So you might see that my main objection to this movie is perhaps the movie’s main point. And yet, even so, it gets a bit tiring watcing Theodore go completely girly-man always turning over his emotions, inside and out. And if he were doing so in order to get inside the pants of a real, live, warm, breathing woman, you could perhaps forgive him. But let us remember, HE IS INTERACTING WITH A FRIGGIN’ OPERATING SYSTEM!!! (Sorry for the all-caps. I lost myself for a moment there.)
And whether this OS1 operating system is just simulating a real person or it becomes a real person is beside the point of this movie. And I won’t give that away one way or another. But I will say that the resolution of this point has nothing at all to do with the movie.
So in many ways, this is indeed a strange, somewhat unfinished, film for you have those wonderful elements of the smarmy surrogate letter-writing and the question as to whether or not OS1 is (or develops into) a real person (and if so, how, and what this would mean for mankind). Instead, it’s as if for the entire duration of this movie you are put inside an isolation chamber with the most stupid, girlish, wussified man that you can think of, all while watching him fall in love with his OS.
As I told my brother, there is little danger of that happening to me, even as much as I like my computer and its OS (Apple/Mac OS X). But the truth is, you are much more likely to hear me scream, “Just print the god damn document you stupid piece of s***.” The truth is, it will be a long time coming until I fall in love with an operating system. Mostly they are just objects for scorn.
But I know full well that the premise of this movie is spot-on. If you designed an operating system that could basically cater to your every emotional need and fantasy, you’d soon see this world that is portrayed in Her in which everyone is walking around with an earbud stuck in their ear talking to air while the real world barely gets a notice….not that far from what is occurring today.
Brad is editor and publisher of StubbornThings.
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