Technology, and robots in particular, have always got something of a bad rap in science fiction. Whether they’re trying to destroy us in The Terminator, trying to imprison us in The Matrix, or going mad with power in 2001: A Space Odyssey, often they’re viewed as something to be feared.
Of course these representations are reflections of our own fears of technology. Whether it’s television, computer games, the internet, mobile phones, or Facebook all have had to undergo a rite of passage whereby they are blamed for all of societies ills before becoming a normal part of everyday life.
Her explores a potential future technology of personalised operating systems (think a more advanced version of SIRI). In it we see the lonely Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to get to terms with parting from his wife. Comfort comes from a new OS called Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) whose personality has been specifically programmed for him.
The film itself is a meandering exploration of their relationship and the impact it has on those around him. It is reminiscent of episodes of Charlie Brooker’s television series Black Mirror which took similar technological premises and tried to drive them towards their natal solutions.
The film hinges on the fact that we buy into the fact that in the future we will form friendships/relationships with artificial intelligence. If that feels far-fetched, consider for a minute the relationships you may already have with characters in on-going book, tv, or film series. Now consider that someone programmed their personalities into a game for instance. Perhaps you could talk with characters such as Han Solo or Buzz Lightyear and they would respond in a way in-keeping with their personalities.
In Her, Theodore forms more than just a friendship with Samantha, the relationship takes a romantic twist. In that sense not only does it explore our relationship with technology, but also whether it’s possible to have a relationship with someone not physically there? Again, on the surface this may seem like a ridiculous concept but the film does a great job of not allowing us to think that way, and anyone who has ever had to rely on technologies such as Skype to keep in touch with a loved one can easily empathise with the main characters’ prediciments.
Her then is that most rare of things, a film which allows space for the audience to think about the issues it is raising. Yes, it is about a man’s relationship with an operating system, but it is also about our own relationship with technology, the way technology might be driving us apart, the pain of long-distance relationships, and the pre-programmed responses we often use with one another.
It is a poetic, meandering film which trusts its audience to stay with it and take seriously often surreal and seemingly ludicrous situations. A creative, imaginative piece is definitely worth seeking out.