I mean, Spike Jonze had to know this was coming, right?
I put off seeing the movie Her for as long as possible, only watching it – via an Academy screener that I obtained through totally not-illegal means – a few hours before the Academy Awards on Sunday, where it won Best Original Screenplay. I really, really wanted to see the movie sooner, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it was going to put me in a weird place emotionally.
This is, after all, a movie about an introverted, single writer living in LA who spends most of his spare time surfing the Internet and playing video games until he falls in love with his computer. To me, that sounded like less of a love story and more of a personalized cautionary tale, especially because I already spend the majority of my waking hours looking at and touching my laptop.
I spent way too much time in high school and college obsessing over the fact that I didn’t have a girlfriend, and it’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve been able to chill the fuck out and really enjoy being single. I was scared that Her would undo all of that – watching a movie about a lonely guy who resorts to dating software would throw me into a partner-seeking frenzy similar to that of an unmarried woman in her mid 30s who keeps seeing her friends’ baby pictures on Facebook.
The good news is that seeing Her didn’t make me desperate to run out and find someone to be in a relationship with – it was just a beautiful, brilliantly scripted movie that I already count among my favorites. The bad news is that now I catch myself daydreaming about dating a vivacious, hyperintelligent computer program that sounds like a beautiful woman.
It started in the first half hour of the movie. After Joaquin Phoenix first activates his Operating System (named Samantha), one of the first things she does is offer to help him clean up and reorganize his hard drive, instantaneously reading thousands of documents, archiving his best writing, and deleting all the unnecessary files.
I’ve been meaning to clean up and reorganize my hard drive since I was 16 years old, and somehow, even without a steady 9 to 5 job, I still haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve had some emotionally fulfilling relationships with women before, but none of them streamlined my file structure or sifted through 11,000 of my emails.* Advantage: Operating System.
*Maybe that’s okay, though, because there were some things on my hard drive that I definitely didn’t want them to see.
And as a Wikipedia addict, the benefits of being in a relationship with an entity that literally knows everything are hard to ignore. Who wouldn’t want to date somebody who can compose music on the fly and offer informed insight into pretty much any topic under the sun? Provided the OS in question wasn’t a know-it-all and just let its universal knowledge come up organically in conversation, I feel like we’d never run out of things to talk about – and more importantly, we would be absolutely unstoppable at pub quiz nights.
Best of all, unlike most things from science fiction that I daydream about, AI this advanced could realistically exist in my lifetime. Inventor and Google engineer Ray Kurzwell estimated that it’ll take about 15 years for us to develop the technology that would make AI like Samantha a reality. I’ll be 40 at that point, and if development keeps pace with Kurzwell’s predictions my midlife crisis is going to be bananas.
So here’s the flip side of the coin: What I’m basically describing is a relationship with a woman who I own as property, serves me like a personal assistant, and can be turned off at will.*
*I’ve discovered over the years that I’m actually extremely good at turning women off, but not in the same way, and always by accident.
Her captures the giddy, addictive feeling of falling in love better than any other movie I’ve seen. And as everybody who’s been there before knows, in those first couple of months your relationship is pretty much the most perfect relationship anyone has ever been in. The bulk of the movie takes place during that period, so of course it makes dating a computer program look like a dream come true.*
*Like a responsible movie, Her eventually does address those issues, but I can’t really talk about how without giving too much away.
Every relationship is like dating Samantha at the start – when you’re first getting close to somebody they’re full of mysteries and surprises and hidden traits and talents that seem miraculous. Of course, that all wears off down the line and then you actually have to start making sacrifices and putting in effort to make things work. (Historically that’s where I stumble.) I think Her is able to capture that so realistically because by and large it’s a movie about an ordinary relationship – there’s no Hollywood ‘meet cute’ or contrived situation where somebody has to run through an airport or make out in a thunderstorm. If Samantha were human, most of Her would be a really boring movie about two people bonding over similar interests.
So that’s how I’ve come to the conclusion that a living, breathing human being would make a better partner than cloud storage and a sultry voice. Maybe I’ll change my mind somewhere down the line, but for the next 15 years at least I think I’m just going to keep trying to make it work with women.
Truman Capps realizes that Her probably did put him in a weird emotional place after all, seeing as it made him want to date software for 48 hours.