On Spike Jonze's Her: Is mankind heading for a nervous breakdown?

Are we destined to trade imperfect, rough round the edges human interaction for the dependable reassurance of a tailor-made program?

Christopher Hooton
Tuesday 11 February 2014 16:45
Theodore Twombly retreates into the cloud in Her
Theodore Twombly retreates into the cloud in Her

Neurotic, emotionally weak, relentlessly needy and quietly solipsistic, Theodore Twombly is at times hard to stomach as a viewer. This is partly because we're used to a more hard-boiled or else volatile protagonist in films, one who knows when to surrender to despair and when to stoically march on, but also because Joaquin Phoenix's mawkishness and general hum of sorrow is worryingly familiar.

In the last decade our requisite frequency for human interactions has increased exponentially thanks to the minute-by-mintute updates of social media (to the point where Twombly making a living writing letters actually rings a little false). In Her, mankind's desire for constant companionship has finally outstripped its own ability to respond to it, leaving the holes of loneliness in the day to be filled by computers.

As Theodore turns to Scarlett Johansson's souped-up Siri for comfort, the age old sci-if movie trope of humans creating machines only to be overpowered by them rears its head, except here the conquest is an emotional one.

Her predicts not only our depressing, masturbatory use of computers as a crutch for the soul, but posits that our smartphones will outsmart us and in a paradoxical way become more human than humans themselves. It sees us consumed by the need for validation, the desire for every experience to be shared and succumb to self-obsession, it being notable that Theodore doesn't even seem bothered by the fact that his new girlfriend lives to serve him and completely subordinates herself (itself?) to him.

Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix star in Her (Picture: Entertainment Film)

A bleak vision of the future then, but with the scene in which Theodore tears around the city searching for his OS girlfriend after she becomes unresponsive mirroring our panic when separated from our gadget of choice for more than 24 hours, an imaginable one.

But are we all headed his way? Destined to trade imperfect, rough round the edges human interaction for the dependable, servile and emollient reassurance of a tailor-made program?

Realistically, an operating system designed for friendship would probably be doomed from the start. It takes years for OS Samantha to outgrow her human boyfriend Theodore in Her, when it would more likely happen from day one. Even if a computer could be imbued with a semblance of real emotion and be able to comprehend human experience, its superiority in terms of knowledge, speed and cognition would probably alienate us straight away, and any attempt to bring it down to our level would only further the feeling of uncanniness.

Perhaps Spike Jonze wasn't trying to suggest we will all fall head over heels for our iPhones though, but rather simply attempting to highlight our increasing reliance on them and the subsequent detachment from reality this brings, and in that sense Her's vision of the (very near) future is cause for concern indeed.

Her opens in UK cinemas on Friday 14 February

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