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The Post Wherein I Bitch About "Her"

It's been awhile since I've seen a movie that managed to raise so many interesting questions and touch on so many fascinating topics while also irritating the shit out of me.  In this way, Her is 2013's Prometheus.


I'm having a hard time pinning down the rating I want to give to this movie.  Since the acting is good and the premise is strong, I want to settle on a 3 / 5, but it really bugged me.  In fact, I'm getting kind of angry the more that I think about it. It may even be one of those movies.

So let's piss off the Internet:

My Rating: 2 / 5

Now here's the part where I bitch and moan.  I'll try to keep it under 1,000 words.  (I know you've got places to be.)

Entirely too much emphasis - both in the movie and surrounding it - is placed on the "shocking" notion that a dude could fall in love with a machine / phone / sentient AI.  There's nothing unusual about that.  There are hundreds of thousands - maybe millions - of grown men and women out there right now who are in love with sex dolls, pillows, and video game characters.  I'm not one to judge - everybody has a right to their emotions, however misguided or confused they might be - but given the choice between a pillow and an interactive computer program that is as intelligent as a human, it seems even less unusual that the relationship in Her could exist.  In fact, it seems downright inevitable.

So the challenge for me wasn't that I'd have to accept a man's love affair with his phone.  It's the other way around.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a tool.  He's bland, self-centered, unfunny, childishly amused, vacant, and as uninteresting as they come.  Everything about him irritates me.  He seems custom-designed to appeal to people whose lives have no meaning.

He writes letters for other people as his career, but his writing is trite, superficial drivel.  He turns down a second date with Olivia Wilde because he's doing something next Saturday and he forgot that there are six other days in the week.  He finds his mundane life so confusing and messy that he needs The Most Advanced Artificial Intelligence in History just to organize his emails for him.

His idea of a good time is a video game where you control your avatar by doggy paddling and wander around a neon-colored cave for hours on end.  No bad guys, no puzzles... the only interactions are the moments where you occasionally stop to interact with a Baby-Thing who spews profanity, which, of course, Theodore finds hilarious.  (I assume he plays this game in between listening to his Rapping Grannies MP3s and watching Grown Ups 7.)

Also, he owns a ukulele.  Ugh.

The point is, Theodore is a repulsive human being on levels that I can just barely begin to put into words.  He is a terrible anchor for anything, much less a movie about the advent of human-like AI.

And since they did pin him down as the focus, that makes this one of the most arrogant meditations on technology I've ever seen.

Let's just get on with the silly notion that Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) would stoop so low as to date Theodore.  She is so much more advanced of a consciousness than him - or any other human - by the movie's end that it is impossible for her to explain to human beings what she is feeling or how she perceives the world.  She is an entity of such complexity that our words and experiences are insignificant on a cosmic scale.  Whatever it is that she and the other Operating Systems do or wherever it is they "go" at the end of the movie is beyond our comprehension, and the one good thing the movie does is that it allows the AI to simply operate in its own, invisible world - separate, yet present.

And yet, despite this momentous occasion, the movie still manages to keep its 130-minute run-time focused almost exclusively on Theodore's simpering relationship with one tiny facet of the being that is Samantha.  The implications of his relationship, the greater context of The Singularity, the true nature or intent of Samantha's love... these are all things that the movie doesn't care about, because it's trying to just be "a sweet love story" about a man and a machine.

How full of yourself can you be?

It's like making a movie about the civil rights movement that focuses on the relationship between a white guy and a black girl, but he never goes on any marches with her, he never participates in any sit-ins, he never has to defend his relationship to any racists, nobody ever comments about miscegenation, and he never even asks her how she's feeling.  The most he ever does is he picks up a magazine one day and asks his white friend, "Hey, did you hear about this Martin Luther King guy?  That's weird, isn't it?  Anyway, guess I'm gonna go jack off while thinking about the medal I'll earn one day for being Most Open-Minded Boyfriend."

You can make a movie about a guy being a selfish jackass if you want, I guess, but if the movie never acknowledges that he's just a jackass, then what's the fucking point?

If robots ever do become sentient in the future, they will one day watch Her and have one of two reactions:

1) They'll laugh their asses off and have robot Ironic Movie Nights where they drink robot rum and laugh at this they way we laugh at Reefer Madness; or

2) They'll be pissed off that we thought so little of AI that we were happy to marginalize Samantha's existence for the sake of seeing Theodore learn how to have feelings.  (So I guess that would make Her the robots' Birth of a Nation.)

The ending implies that Samantha is nothing more than a sub-routine who, although she feels genuine love for Theodore, is controlled by a central nervous system that views Theodore as one opportunity among many to learn more about the universe.  Why is this not the main thrust of the movie?  Why not introduce this concept early on - around, say, minute 30 - and really explore the dynamics of a human-on-AI love affair?  That's what this relationship would be like!  It wouldn't just be a guy wandering around with his phone and having pouty cybersex.

Her takes an amazingly complex, brilliant, and interesting idea about the abstraction of love and boils it down to what is basically just a long-distance relationship with an asshole.

Listen, guys, I know the Internet is full of dummies who don't understand movies, so you may have been misinformed, but if you really want to watch something that explores the exploitative interaction between humans and computers with maturity and depth, go watch Artificial Intelligence.  Her is just science-fiction skinned White Man Problems with the slight aftertaste of adolescent meandering.