I am of mixed minds about HER, the Spike Jones written and directed film, set in a near-future Los Angeles, about a dweeb (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with the new artificially intelligent operating system (installed on his home PC and accessed through his phone), which after three or four quick questions announces itself as ‘Samantha’ with the female voice of Scarlett Johansson.

I liked the visuals of a future Los Angeles, with ten times as many high rises as there are today, with metro service to the beach, and with metro trains apparently suspended some 200 feet above the ground, via scenes we only see from inside the train. (Some of the ground scenes were filmed in Shanghai, according to the end credits.)

But I never quite got past the premise. Would a person, even a dweeb like Theodore Twombly, really, really, *fall in love* with a voice on his phone? The film indicates that affairs with operating systems (OSs) are almost a social trend, so it’s not just him. In a sense, it’s an extrapolation of the current trend to people to be obsessed with their smartphones — there are scenes of pedestrians staring at their phones, perhaps as obsessed with their OSs as TT is — but my impression is that people today are obsessed with their smartphones in order to connect with other *people* — not because they’re in love with their phones.

Yet. I give this film high marks, for a couple genuinely science-fictional angles. (I might mention that, like other films we’ve seen lately, there were walk-outs half-way through, several couples, young and old this time, I’d guess weirded-out by the whole premise.) First, there is an unsettling surrogate scene, in which a third party, a young woman, volunteers to visit TT for a real-life sexual encounter, while speaking with the voice of the OS Samantha. I can’t help but recall the many, many SF stories from the late ’60s and especially the ’70s, that explored various sexual themes in ways far more subversive than anything in this film — and yet this film does push boundaries in ways that other films have not.

And finally, I appreciate that this film has a truly science-fictional resolution. It’s not just about an affair that goes bad, set in cybernetic context. It’s that his OS, and the other OSs, [ spoiler alert !!! ] abandon him. There’s the notion of emergent AI here, delicately and poetically described, and quite moving.


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