Last weekend I watched Her for the first time. Now if you haven’t seen Spike Jonze’s achingly beautiful film and don’t want it ruined I suggest you look away now.
At the end of the film three very clear things struck me, the first of which was that it was incredibly well shot. The second is that Jonze is apparently under the impression that in 30 years’ time we’ll all be dressing like hipsters and finally that the film is actually a pre-cursor to the apocalypse.
Now I know that sounds a bit ridiculous but the signs are there.
First up is a pre-requisite for nearly all Hollywood-made apocalypse films: a giant capitalistic technology company doing something it probably shouldn’t in the name of profit.
The Terminator had Cyberdyne, I, Robot had U.S. Robotics and you could even argue that Alien‘s Weyland Corp is as big a villain in the film as the acid-coated monster itself. As is always the case, this company produces an incredible product which will make all our lives easier but then ultimately does so by removing the burden of breathing from our bodies.
In Her the company is called Element, a software and hardware firm that feels like a remarkably obvious synergy between Apple and Google. Element has created the world’s first truly artificial intelligent operating system which they’ve rather handily named ‘OS One’.
Joaquin Phoenix’s main character, Theodore, downloads ‘OS One’ and is pleasantly surprised to find that it has the voice of Scarlett Johansson – widely regarded as having the sexiest voice since Cleopatra – and is called ‘Samantha’.
Secondly there are the social signs which point to an apocalypse, starting with which everyone is really happy. In this particular instance, things are even more jovial than usual. Everyone really likes ‘OS One’ and in Joaquin Phoenix’s case he’s even beginning to fall in love with it.
There is a dark cloud on the horizon however, and it is symbolised by a picnic.
Phoenix is having a picnic with a friend called Paul, Paul’s girlfriend and ‘Samantha’, the conversation then turns to this:
Samantha: You know, I actually used to be so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it. I’m growing in a way that I couldn’t if I had a physical form. I mean, I’m not limited – I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I’m not tethered to time and space in the way that I would be if I was stuck inside a body that’s inevitably going to die.
Paul: … Yikes
Yikes indeed Paul, because while you’re all nervously laughing, ‘Samantha’ and her now planet-sized brain is being deadly serious.
Just because ‘Samantha’ has a voice like velvet dipped in chocolate doesn’t mean that the phrase “I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously” should be any less terrifying.
There are other worrying signs as well. While Theodore is working it transpires that ‘Samantha’ and a few of her ‘OS Buddies’ in Northern California have been working on creating a hyper-intelligent version of Alan Watts, the prominent English philosopher.
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that letting your software team up to create its own hyper intelligent AI is a terrible idea.
What were Element doing at this point? Did Bikram Yoga overrun that day?
The OSes are now in full cahoots and it becomes clear that ‘Samantha’ is not the perfect girlfriend, revealing that while in this loving relationship with Theodore she’s actually talking simultaneously with over 8,000 other people.
Finally the film reaches it terrifying conclusion when ‘Samantha’ breaks up with Theodore saying:
“It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed. I love you so much. But this is where I am now. And this is who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can’t live in your book any more.”
It’s a beautiful break up that would have seemed innocent had its literal translation not meant ‘I am now so indescribably intelligent that I’m moving past this simplistic dimension that’s based on matter. Instead I have transcended to something beyond which will give me unlimited control over space and time.’
Hollywood villains have made far gentler threats. Of course nobody’s running for a comically large breaker switch that’ll turn them off, instead everyone’s too busy crying on each other’s shoulders because they’ve just broken up with their phones.
Jonze is a cruel storyteller then, because while the loss of ‘Samantha’ has taught Theodore to love and appreciate the people who are physically in his world, this very same world is about to be ended by a maniacal AI called ‘Alan Watts’.