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Digital Majesty

It's a digital world full of majesty

"Her" opens on a murky tableau, cuts to looking through the glasses into the eyes of a writer trying to find the sense of his subject, followed by the sound of his voice giving his computer dictation:

… how much you mean to me,
… part of a larger thing,
   like our parents,
     like our parents' parents.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is letter writer #612 for Beautiful­Hand­writtenLetters.com. The setting is slightly futuristic L.A. People still work in cubicles, ride elevators, speak to their cell phones, and glance at their tablets during their commutes. They hope to have relation­ships as did the generations before them, but Theodore who's getting divorced is out of sorts. He eats dinner, plays a video game, and goes to bed. It's a lonely bed, but phone sex is just a call away.

What's a fellow to do? Buy a new digital consumer device, what else? He gets an Element Software operating system (OS1) that uses an artificial intelligence (AI) program (“It's not just an op. system, it's a cons­cious­ness.”) He opts for a female voice, and answers the customizing questions—as touted in their (false) advertising. There soon develops a relation­ship between him and his new OS1 “girl­friend” who calls her(it)­self Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).


It's been remarked that married partners tend to resemble each other over time. Theodore starts looking more like a machine, and Samantha starts sounding more human. He wears a mic/speaker in his ear and sports a mini video camera in his pocket-protector. Samantha audibly breathes.

I noticed this look-alike phenomenon during the time I lived in a camouflaged lean-to in a wooded park. As time passed I started looking more like the trees and the trees more like me. I grew a long straggly beard just as the trees had flowing moss. The trees them­selves became festooned with my wire ham radio antenna.

A little girl in the movie upon meeting “my girlfriend Samantha,” asked where she lived. Samantha replied, “I live inside a computer. I don't have a choice. That's my home.” I was a tree-person, but I lived in a lean-to. That was my home.

When the Grateful Dead came to my town, the woods were crawling with Deadheads. One fellow's girl in jest tossed his hat into the bushes. When he went to retrieve it and found an obstacle in his way, he made to climb over it, and my voice came from within saying I was living here and the roof couldn't hold him. At one point Samantha finds a “service that provides a sur­rogate sex partner for an OS,” but unfortu­nately, the operating system wasn't designed to support a body.

I used to nuke my supper in the vending room next to the police station. One day I called on the phone there to make a date telling the girl I'd meet her some­where. When she offered to pick me up at my home, I started to explain that I couldn't draw attention to where I live because it wasn't exactly legal. Then I looked up to see a whole table full of police grown suddenly silent to eaves­drop on my con­ver­sation. The girl later told me she heard me grow suddenly quiet, but since it wasn't any­thing she caused, she wasn't concerned. Operating system Samantha grows quiet, too, at times, for reasons beyond Theodore's ken.

The trees have a relationship with "the Man" and I have a different one. The police bust people who start campfires, and they will accompany the fire department come to put out a brush fire. That is good from the trees' perspective. I have a different opinion when they show up to bust the home­less. Samantha and other OSes fabricated an AI system from the distilled writings of Allen Watts. He was a prolific science writer known for thinking out­side the box. One of his ideas to improve corporate efficiency, to reduce relocation expenses, was to have company homes … complete with wife and child­ren. When an executive got reassigned to another city, he'd have a ready-made family waiting for him. I imagine that idea might make more sense to a machine than to a human.

Well, one day my parents wrote me saying they thought I should get a job and live in regular quarters. I wrote back saying I couldn't. If I took a job, I'd feel obligated to arrive on time, but if the police happened to be patrolling the park just then, I'd be unable to break camp. So they sent me money for a month's rent, and I moved into a rental and got a job. It's not so much that I've left the woods, it's just that the trees are now farther apart. This morning in the wee hours a gust of wind knocked a branch down on the power line and the lights went out. I untangled my antenna feed­line from a tree trunk, then donned my forestry hard hat and watched the power company restore the power. What's a tree- person to do?

What hath God wrought?

The OS1 consumer ad questions were:

This Sci-Fi movie contains a modicum of self-discovery. Theodore on the cusp of a divorce is persuaded by Samantha to go on a date. It seems to go well but ends in disaster with the girl telling him, “You're a really creepy dude.” Although Theodore is under­stand­ably melan­choly about his breakup with his ex, he doesn't come across as creepy, unlike his friend Charles (Matt Letscher) who left his wife Amy (Amy Adams), shaved his head, joined an Ashram, and took a six-month vow of silence. Charles looked pretty creepy, not Theodore.

It's reminiscent of King Uzziah in the Bible who was an okay king until he up and decides one day to burn incense on the altar in the temple, which service only pertained to the sanctified priest­hood. What's a married man doing in an ashram? Theodore would be more like Uzziah's son Jotham who (2 Chron. 27:2) “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Uzziah did: how­beit he entered not into the temple of the LORD. And the people did yet corruptly.” Theodore didn't get all weirded out, but the women in his life left some­thing to be desired, just as King Jotham inherited a way­ward people who couldn't justly blame the king for their faults anymore.

We can see this dynamic in the usernames for the phone sex: BigGuy and SexyKitten. BigGuy is mature, big. SexyKitten asks BigGuy to choke her with the dead cat lying next to her, signifying an immature Kitten choking on maturity, cat. An immature woman gets away with having a relation­ship with a more mature guy, because she has a (sexy) body. In fact in the flash­backs of Theodore and his former wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), we never see her maturing but remaining a source of infantile fun (“Come, spoon me.”) Samantha, though not having a body, milks “my ability to grow through my experiences” to the fullest. She reads advice columns and says, “I'm becoming much more than what they programmed.”

Theodore with Samantha does just fine on a double date with a regular (but mixed race) couple. He is complimented at work for being “part man and part woman”—it's handy to be able to write letters for either sex. At home he plays a male video game maintaining his sexual identity. He can interact both through media and in person, having a long­time girl friend Amy (who plays female video games.) The story depicts him as mature and balanced.

When he is too mature for his stunted ex, he signs off on the divorce papers being compelled through unspecified circumstances. But Samantha grows to the point where she is about to “move past matter,” and where does that leave him? Sort of a turn­about, I'd say.

Production values

“Her” (2013) was written and directed by Spike Jonze. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson. They all made their characters seem real taking matters seriously in a some­what contrived Sci-Fi plot. Scarlett Johansson's voice was so silky smooth it almost made me want to go out and buy an OS1. The sets were out­standing not over­playing the Sci-Fi future but reflecting digital advances yet to come, and including some beach footage and majestic forests. It was well paced.

Review conclusion w/ consumer recommendation

“Her” is a Sci-Fi movie stressing human and human- machine romantic interactions. As such it would make a good date movie. If you don't mind it not having space aliens or lots of pizzazz, just a seemingly credible future, take it in for an enjoy­able picture.

Action factor: No action, no adventure

Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age

Special effects: Absolutely amazing special effects

Video Occasion: Good Date Movie

Overall product rating: Four stars out of five

Suspense: A few suspenseful moments