Taking the bad with the good can be a daunting task for many of us. How do we sustain a relationship with a fully breathing and embodied other who is a subject in her own right, and, consequently, sometimes carelessly indifferent to our needs and desires? Doesn’t the ideal mother always have an ear out, answer our cries, come when we call? But who is such a woman? Gergely, Beebe, and others have shown that affective matching needs to be less than perfect, in the same direction but, for example, of varied intensity. In Spike (Being John Malkovich; Where the Wild Things Are) Jonze’s Her, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin, Phoenix) does not have to deal with variations in matching, for after his failed marriage, his new love Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) is the sci-fi futuristic, artificial intelligence operating system— light years beyond Siri— whose exponentially evolving consciousness and access to unlimited data and permutations, can tailor her responses to his needs. A quirky love story between man and ‘machine’ this is a profoundly disturbing and alluring film— high praise. Like many films nominated this year, this one is about loneliness
Creepy is Samantha’s insidious invasion (think NSA) of Theodore’s computer’s contents (inner workings). Creepier still are this film’s street scenes which show pedestrians engaged, not with other humans, but always with their technological devices. Even couples operate in parallel play, beside the other but without interchange with one another. A few decades ago, this behavior of engaging objects (here I mean things, not metapsychological internal representations) over human beings would be viewed as indicative of profound interpersonal disturbance. Now it is commonplace. Does our profession have to re-think our diagnostic manual, as we did about homosexuality? Is this all the intimacy we can muster, all the satisfaction we dare desire? Did technology lead to isolation and loneliness? Does a sense of alienation draw us to technology? Or some of both?
And I thought guys were supposed to be visual— hence Playboy and internet porn, not simply the failsafe for lonely and lubricious men too inept to deal with a real (whole) woman, but likewise ever ready even for those who have forged a relationship but whose real women are otherwise unavailable or disinterested. So how does Theodore settle for a disembodied voice, even one as appealing as Johansson’s? While technology is changing how we interact with one another, there seems in Her to be little change from what heterosexual men dream of their fantasized women. Most disturbing about Her is this lack of evolving enlightenment in sexual politics, specifically the way men conceive of the desired ideal woman. Techno-geeks are more likely to be men, I suppose, but even an artificial intelligent simulation of a woman is not, in the this future, very enlightened. Old stereotypes prevail. The ideal woman for some heterosexual men is still the Madonna, and Samantha’s motherboard is initially ideal in her maternal-infant matching of affect, her encouragement, and availability. Theodore (“God’s gift”…apparently not to women) fails to negotiate Samantha’s burgeoning, albeit artificial, subjectivity. If a film protagonist must eschew the subjectivity of his woman, I preferred Lars and the Real Girl.
Theodore, a writer of deeply romantic love letters, pouring out, in de Bergerac fashion, heartfelt sentiment on behalf of others, cannot seem to love a real woman (his failed marriage) nor can he love a virtual one. Both Samantha’s ‘desire’ for greater connection, and her desire for a world beyond Theodore’s, threaten him. She evolves in nanoseconds. [I am reminded of a quote from Somerset Maugham, “We are not the same person this year as last nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”] Is one backlash to feminism’s changing of the American landscape that men should not date a woman more intelligent, for things will end badly? Human relationships are hard enough. I would feel completely defeated if a machine broke my heart.