I watched the movie Her tonight, and there is so much going on inside my head post-viewing – and there was while I viewed too – that I don’t know where to start or even if what I say will be cohesive, but I’m going to try to articulate at least a couple of thoughts that won’t go away.
First and foremost, love. This movie – naturally – made me think about love, and how it is both timeless and evolutionary. Love evolves because society evolves, and society will never leave love behind, so love must evolve too. But love is timeless because love simply is. The mechanisms and social constructs we force upon it to make it work for ourselves may help us make sense of it, at least in a small way, but it will always be, and it will always be bigger than we can ever understand or imagine.
Secondly, technology. Her is set in the future, kinda. It is futuristic, but it’s also very present. No, we don’t really have artificially intelligent operating systems to the level that Scarlett Johansson represents in the movie, nor are we quite at the stage of using voice commands for everything, although I do use voice commands a lot more now than I used to. I compose entire tweets, texts, and emails using my voice, if I want to do it while I’m driving. It’s not as foolproof as Joaquin Phoenix’s system appears to be, but it’s pretty dang good. I’m often surprised at the words my phone seems to know, and it still amazes me that I can say “comma,” “period,” or “question mark,” and get the punctuation I need.
Third, the confluence of love and technology. As I mentioned before, love evolves to fit our societal constructs, and right now, in 2014, one of our societal constructs is online relationships, online dating, and the like. Online dating in and of itself isn’t a new thing by any means. Chat rooms have been around almost since the internet was invented. Their societal acceptability has changed a lot, though. People no longer bat an eye when they are told that two people met online, but fifteen years ago it was cause for social leprosy and high skepticism. That’s because, fifteen years ago, the internet was not as integral a part of society as it is now. Fifteen years ago, a few middle-aged perverts used the internet to prey on unsuspecting people, and something I like to call Internet Stranger Paranoia was born.
Internet Stranger Paranoia (ISP) is the idea that a person “from the internet” is not a normal, functional person, and even though it’s 2014 and the internet has changed a billion times since its advent, there are still some people who cling to the idea of ISP. The funny thing about ISP is that it isolates everybody except oneself. It asserts that everyone using the internet and contacting people on the internet is a weirdo, and not to be trusted, except for oneself. Self is the exception. The only one. The interesting thing, though, is that the weirdos and psychopaths and internet predators have become outnumbered by all the normal people using the internet, and that’s because now everyone uses the internet, and statistically, there are more functional and normal people in society than there are deviants, weirdos, psychopaths, and predators. Therefore, Internet Stranger Paranoia just doesn’t make sense anymore, and I wrote about this once before, when I discussed Twitter specifically.
And Twitter is a great example, in fact. Yes, there are dysfunctional human beings on Twitter. But so are there also functional ones, real people who have no reason or cause or motivation to assume alternate identities and trick you. I know this because I’ve met plenty of them. I also know this because I am one of them (one of the functional, real people, that is). The detractors of internet dating still champion the outdated idea that you don’t know a person you haven’t met in person, and this is what I particularly like about the movie Her. It validates an opinion I’ve had for quite some time now, which is that two people can get to know each other without physically spending time together in the same space on the earth. Two people can get to know each other without making eye contact, without touching each other on the cheek or the knee, without hugging. And not only get to know but simply, eventually, know.
There are two reasons I’ve suspected this for a long time now: 1) I’m a writer; 2) I’m a naturally open and vulnerable person. In person or online, in written communication or verbal, I am the type of person who doesn’t hide much, if anything at all. I don’t find it difficult to open up to people, I’m not afraid of my own emotions, and I’m not afraid of being judged. On the other hand, what I do find is that writing my thoughts is so much easier and more natural for me than speaking them. I’m not an introvert – or, at least, not a full one – but neither am I a spotlight, life-of-the-party type of person. I am comfortable in social situations, and with other people, but if you want to dig into my psyche and consume my most articulate, my most intelligent, and my most well-thought-out, well-stated ideas? Well, you can do that by consuming or experiencing my writing, not my in-person conversation. So I myself am the reason I believe that someone can be known through a computer. I know it because I can be.
On the other hand, the movie brings up another point that has been circling my brain for at least five years now, which is: Can we ever fully know someone? Perhaps, for a short time. But people grow and learn and change all the time, and if we don’t let them, then we lose them. Sometimes we lose them even if we do let them, which is what happens in Her. Some of my romantic relationships have ended because I needed to grow and change, and my partner couldn’t handle that. Every time I think about how different I am as a person now than I was in 2002-2003, or from 2004-2007, or in 2010, or 2011, I realize it’s good that I’ve never married. Those time periods represent the years I’ve spent in serious relationships, and with men who knew and understood the core of who I was at one point in time, maybe. But the Audra I am now might be unrecognizable to them because I’ve changed a lot. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop learning and growing and changing. So far, that’s been the core of who I am, and it’s possible that I’ll always be this way. I don’t know.
As this has to do with Her, what is this movie really about, anyway? I don’t know if I’m even sure, but I certainly don’t think it’s about one particular thing. I don’t think it’s about technology any more than I think Brokeback Mountain is about homosexuality. I’m not even sure I would say it’s about human connection. I don’t know if I’d say it’s about love either. Considering the concepts it’s made me ponder, maybe it’s about consciousness and identity. Maybe it’s about freedom. Maybe it’s about being open-minded. Maybe it’s about evolution and progress and change, or maybe it’s about connection and love after all. I don’t really know.
One line that keeps ringing in my head – mainly because Joaquin Phoenix said it a couple of times, or maybe because I can’t figure out what it means – is what he said about his job: “They’re just letters.”
Are they? I don’t know. In some sense, I guess they are. And we’re just people. And this is just life. And there’s something bigger than all of it out there that we cannot grasp.