Her: Would you date a computer software?

Published: March 27, 2014
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Who wouldn't want a companion like Samantha?

Who wouldn't want a companion like Samantha? Who wouldn't want a companion like Samantha?

If I were to describe the movie Her in one word, my choice would be ‘disturbing’. I use this word deliberately because of the fact that I was actually able to relate to the movie and just this alone was frightening.

I recognised Theodore’s (Joaquin Phoenix) behaviour as irrational and somewhat ludicrous, but I understood his need; this is what scared me.

Her plays on the primal human need of intimacy. In a very poetically beautiful way, it provides the lonely and depressed Theodore with a companion who is a perfect emotional fit for him, but has a crucial flaw.

Photo: IMDb

This companion, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), studies him deeply and on analysing his character with great acuity, makes herself the ideal fit for him. Emotionally, she is perfect. It’s as though Samantha has taken a peek into Theodore’s brain and adjusted herself to be just what he wants, what he needs.

However, here’s the twist – Samantha is a highly intelligent and extremely humanised OS (Operating System). She only exists as a virtual being and has no physical form. She is, in fact, not human and is a programmed computer software that adjusts to be exactly what Theodore needs her to be.

Initially bizarre to Theodore, Samantha makes herself such a strong emotional hinge to him that he falls helplessly in love with her. He falls in love with a computer software, he falls in love with something that really doesn’t exist. The fact that she isn’t human and doesn’t have a body is of little consequence to Theodore and that isn’t what I found to be indelibly disturbing. What distressed me greatly is the fact that I can actually see this happening in the next few decades, which raises the hair on my skin.

Photo: IMDb

It hasn’t been just one time that I have been out with friends where everyone, including me, has, at some point or the other, been completely engrossed in their phones. Virtual communication has left a mark on how we interact socially and it is painfully obvious that human contact is becoming less and less important, though, thankfully, not completely void.

There was a scene in the movie, and let me issue a spoiler alert here, where Theodore has just come to the realisation that Samantha may not be solely his companion. It is then that he suddenly looks around to see many people engaging with their smart phones and the realisation sinks in that people other than just him are turning towards relationships with their OS’s.

For Theodore, it is a different sort of shock – the shock of understanding that your girlfriend is cheating on you with some 8,000 other people. For me, though, the shock was the familiarity of the scene of multiple people so deeply engrossed in their smart phones. It was as if I was looking at a fast-forward scene in real life, but I didn’t have to go very far to see it. This is what was so frightening to me.

Photo: IMDb

Not only are we technologically a mere stone-throw away from achieving the sort of breakthrough that makes Samantha a reality, it is the fact that many, if not all of us, may actually desire a Samantha in our lives that made me uncomfortable. The inescapable want and the desire for a companion that is always there regardless of the time of day or night; one that can read you like a book, tending to your wounds and lessening your loneliness, all of this is indeed enticing.

Who wouldn’t want a companion like Samantha?

Photo: IMDb

This blatant truth combined with how it could pan out i.e. seeing an artificially intelligent being gaining control over the very human that created it, is devastating. Theodore is willing to overlook the fact that his girlfriend, Samantha, isn’t even human just because he is miserably afraid of losing the only emotional connection he has.

Our need of intimacy may just be our biggest weakness.

Photo: IMDb

After the movie ended, I stared at my phone for a little bit and then proceeded to physically hold my husband and tell him that I am grateful to have him in my life. While human companionship may not be perfect because at times people are just unavailable or not who you want them to be, the fact remains that these are relationships that are real.

With the advent of gaming consoles like the PlayStation (PS4), which has features where objects are actually projected out of the screen — the need for human interaction is undoubtedly decreasing. However, after watching Her, even though the appeal of having someone akin to Samantha in my life is great, I hope that I don’t live to experience a software as crippling as the one shown in the movie.

This post originally appeared here.

Zahra Peer Mohammed

Zahra Peer Mohammed

Former Blogs Desk Head and Senior Sub-Editor at The Express Tribune. She is a business graduate from the Queen's School of Business who tweets @ZahraPeer (twitter.com/ZahraPeer). She blogs at zahrapeer.wordpress.com

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.