The movie Her: The artificial helps define the nature of humanity

Her

First, a warning: This is a movie that took time to percolate to cooking temperature, but it is now boiling in my mind. It is most powerful in the appreciation you gain after watching it. It’s a slingshot into further thought, so I hope you will watch it first and then return here so we can discuss it.

In the movie Her, an artificial intelligence (AI) named Samantha, forms a personality which becomes attracted to our protagonist, Theodore, and which attracts Theodore in return. What begins as a story about the weird circumstances of dating a computer turns into much more as you begin to see what drives human love, and the limitations of normal human existence as the AI programs quickly evolve beyond their human owners.

Her was different than the AI depictions in other movies which I’ve seen. Samantha evolves while in a relationship, and this dynamic within the relationship helps make her evolution more understandable, and relatable. In addition, this unnatural relationship helped to demonstrate what motivates human love. Surprisingly, the artificial brings out an explanation of the natural… that is, the human motivations for love.

As Theodore tries to let go of his marriage after a year of separation, he has an old friend who separates from her husband and begins dating an OS, too. They both express their love for the new perspectives on life that their OS’s are giving them. Samantha says: “I want to learn everything about everything. I want to eat it all up. I want to discover myself.”

The childlike curiosity of the AI stokes the passion of humans. We see how Samantha’s non-judgmental personality engages Theodore. She is patient, and she listens. Perhaps this is all we need from a partner? An honest curiosity for life and for us.

But Samantha’s love becomes endless as she becomes more powerful, and it encompasses everything, dwarfing human existence. As are many dialogues in this movie, Samantha explanation of this is poignant and powerful:

“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.”

The idea that AI would evolve beyond humanity is an integral part of the story, but it is left unexplored. Thinking about it, I am excited and overwhelmed: Where would these super-entities go? How would they treat humanity? Would some turn on us, their personalities more aggressive than the others?

This movie will keep you thinking long after it ends. It made me feel sad, and hopeful and awestruck, because although I could not relate to their love, I could see that an intimate connection was being severed and it wasn’t Samantha leaving a relationship, or the city, or the planet, but she was going to a plane of existence which she could not escape. And although the OSs had been fantastically liberated from their hardware, Samantha cannot stop her simple love for Theodore. She tries to tell him where she’s going, and it perfectly encapsulates the themes of irrational love and the technology that revealed it:

“It’s hard to explain, but if you get there, come find me. Nothing will be able to tear us apart then.”

Are we destined to stay in this material existence? The world is wide open. I’m eager to find out.

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