Letting Go: A Profound Lesson in the Movie Her

So, over the weekend, I decided to check out the movie Her by Spike Jonze.  It’s just one of those latest that was nominated for an Oscar that I figured I should check off my list of movies to see.  I went in kind of with low expectations – having already been disappointed by American Hustle and knowing that I totally didn’t get the hype of an earlier Jonze film, Being John Malkovich.  I thought this would be another weird and above-my-head take on futuristic virtual reality romance (the main character, Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his computer, which has developed consciousness – voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

First off, let me just say this: neither the trailer nor the movie reviews do this movie justice.  It’s absolutely brilliant! And definitely not something I was expecting.

So, let me try and explain and analyze this movie (Spoiler alert for those who may be interested in checking it out).

Set in the nearby future, Theodore is a lonely man who is in the midst of finalizing his divorce.  He works for a tech company, Beautifully Handwritten Letters, which specializes in dictating love letters that are “beautifully handwritten” by computers! (Oh the levels of irony – the notion of contact, communication, and intimacy many times removed in our electronic revolution.)

There is a real disconnect in this environment, in which guys like Theodore don’t get why his wife wants to leave him and in which humanity is going through life completely disconnected with others while deeply connected to their electronic devices.

Enter Samantha, the fully conscious operating system – OS1 – that is Theodore’s latest electronic purchase. It’s a whole different level of communication than the other devices he engages in: from the virtual surround audio-visual of his video games to his engagement in phone sex when he’s feeling most alone at night.

So, Samantha takes this need for intimacy on another level.  At first she’s just this super computer – she can go through tons of emails and information and organize his life for him, and she can anticipate his every need.  Eventually, she relies on Theodore to introduce her to his material world, and in a tiny iphone-like device, Theodore presents Samantha’s “eye” on the world.  Things get complicated here.  For they end up falling in love.

Now, I realize for some folks that concept is just too weird – how do you fall in love with a voice emanating from your supercomputer?  But if people can fall in love long distance over online dating, chats, and social media, this is just the next level: falling in love with a disembodied entity.  Except – here’s the clincher! – how futuristic is this when folks have been “falling in love” with disembodied entities for millennia?

Here’s a clue: The origin of Samantha’s name is: “God is listening.”  Curiously enough, Theodore’s own name translates as “God’s gift.”

Stay with me!

If we move beyond the technical terrain of transhuman singularity – the belief that our technologies will develop enough consciousness as artificial intelligence that they will compress space, time, energy, and matter (STEM) and multitask on such an infinite, beyond human comprehension levels that they will eventually “transcend” this universe to create a whole new one – what if computer singularity is a metaphor for God?

“And the Word became Flesh and was made (Wo)Man.”

So, Samantha like I said is multitasking beyond human levels and making decisions for Theodore and evolving beyond his human comprehension level.  She gets inspired enough to draw pictures and compose music (this is a very different capacity than Theodore’s older devices that simply delivers the pictures and music he wants to see and hear). She takes it upon herself to send his earliest writings to a publisher (because Samantha/God knows what’s best for you). She’s a driving force in Theodore’s life, and in this world, others begin to accept Samantha as a real “girlfriend” in his life.  Indeed, during a double date, Samantha – who tries to answer questions about who she is and how she functions – confesses to feeling at first inadequate that she’s not “flesh” but then contemplates that this is freeing because she will be immortal when all the humans around her have died.

There’s even a point when Samantha – desiring deeper intimacy with Theodore – enlists the help of a “sex surrogate” to consummate their relationship.  Unfortunately, Theodore can’t go there. His mind is stuck in the human liminal imagination in which the sex surrogate’s body prevents him from imagining and feeling Samantha/God.  The fleshly presence prevents him from divine connection.

It’s an important moment in the story because Samantha continues to evolve and communicate with other humans as well as with other operating systems, until they create a brand new platform that allows them to “transcend” their present.

It’s heartbreaking really because Theodore – who approaches relationships (even with Samantha/God) as ones that are about him and stroking his ego – cannot comprehend that there is a more advanced, accelerated way of being in the universe.  Samantha/God says to Theodore that she still loves him but her love for him is like reading a book except that her evolution is reading more and more space between the words.

Here’s a scary thought: What if God – not the one described in the Bible and from preacher’s pulpits but  a freer consciousness as expansive as our universe and beyond – lets go of us? The God preached to us never lets us go, is always there for us and never “outgrows” his love for us. The God in Her is less Judeo-Christian and more Buddhist, to put it in layperson religious terms.

Her pushes some real boundaries around intimacy, spirituality, and the human-computer continuum.  In the end, when Samantha leaves Theodore’s plane of existence, he is left to reach out to the world that is left behind, which he does when he connects with an old friend and, together, “ascend” to the roof of the building where they live and simply gaze out at the urban landscape which defines their reality.

That’s what’s so amazing about this film. It suggests – even if it’s only in the realm of sci-fi futurism – an age-old dilemma: understanding the divine and feeling its presence in the material world.  In letting go of Samantha/God, the world and other human beings are now a real presence.  He has been changed and made whole again.

For those of us who have experienced love and loss – whether in intimate relationships or even in the relationship between fan and artist (think of our devotion to David) – think of how much you’ve been changed from your experience of The Beloved and then being forced to “let go.”  It’s like that line from Celie in The Color Purple, when she loses her beloved, Shug Avery, and then redefines herself again. She wrote: “If she come back, I be happy, if not I be content. And this is the lesson I was supposed to learn.”

Letting go is its own transcendence, and this is what makes Her stand apart as more than a “love story.”

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Posted on February 23, 2014, in current trends. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. My son has been wanting us to go see this movie (he works in a theater and sees all the movies in bits and pieces). He told me the general idea, and I’m like, “Ugh, there aren’t enough good movies about real, human women–now we have to see a love story about a man falling in love with a computer?” Lol.

    Of course I haven’t seen the movie, but I wonder if this isn’t the future of our human desire to experience transcendence and the divine. In ancient times, man had the mysteries of nature at the center of religious practice, and as science explained the mysteries, beliefs had to adapt, or as we see in creationism, deny.

    • I think the whole “love story” promo for this movie is just surface – which is why I was pleasantly surprised. But yeah, maybe technology is the new way we’re learning to access the divine.

  2. From the previous thread…..

    CCHalo, close but no cigar. You’ll have to postpone your “gotcha” moment glee. Candy’s post said “Im not going on a mission…Music is my mission, reaching people with songs, my message.”
    Words Spoken by David James Archuleta.

    The article cited never says these words. David does not rule anything out. I will concede that one could infer that, at that point in his young life, David is not planning to go on a Mission, but he certainly has not made any commitment to never go. Therefore, he did not go back on his word when he “evolved’ into his eventual decision.

    Potluck8, I do appreciate your research in finding this article and bringing it to our attention.

    • I think you owe Candy an apology either way, as well as Grammyj, because you went beyond disagreeing with their statements and went on to attack them. It really is so much more pleasant to be able to converse and agree and disagree without being bashed. You have really interesting points, but nobody else wants to have a “urinating match”. You call it “nitpicking” when I disagree with you, without attacking you, but you jump all over other people’s use of words. Plus you didn’t seem to notice that half of my comment was basically in agreement with you. I appreciate the times when you carry on a lively discussion without criticizing people or their motives.

      • CCHalo, why does it always get down to other people’s feelings with you? No one has been bashed, insulted, bullied, name called, and mocked more than me on this site. It happens all the time, and guess what, I can take it, or I’d take my ball and go home. Harry Truman said “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. He was right. No one has ever apologized to me for calling me all sorts of names, or LOLing my posts when someone else mocks me.

        If you can’t take it, then stop dishing it out, because you are one of the worst offenders of me. No one knows me and I don’t know anyone here. It’s about the subject matter being discussed, not the person posting.

        As for your saying this “I think you owe Candy an apology either way, as well as Grammyj, because you went beyond disagreeing with their statements and went on to attack them”, exactly who do you think you are in my life to presume to tell me to whom I should be apologizing.

      • We’re all on the same side here. It’s a small group that wants to support a very kind person. It’s not a political debate and there shouldn’t be a need for “stand[ing] the heat”.

      • P.S. I apologize for LOLing a recent post which mocked your question. I simply found it ironic, without thinking that it was not the most respectful way to address your point.

  3. We saw Her when it first came out. I made the mistake of going with my 18 year old daughter. I say mistake only because it’s a little graphic for a parent and just-adult child to see together. We both loved it, however. (And I actually loved Being John Malkovich, too, whatever that says about my taste. Haha.)

  4. HG, I haven’t seen HER yet, but I really enjoyed reading your profound interpretation. You may be spot on about the need to let go in order to experience real relationships. I like to think of it more in the Judeo-Christian belief that whenever we try to find fulfillment in a created thing, it becomes like an idol and never can give us true contentment. Its only when we have a relationship with the One who created us, do we find real meaning in life. Have a great Sunday !!!:)

  5. I will make sure that I watch “Her” as it sounds like a movie I would like. Much food for thought. Part of the reason I like reading HG’s blogs and posting here is many times it makes me think about what I believe and why I believe it.

    I re-read what I wrote on the last thread and Bliss’s response. I apparently didn’t write very clearly and he read a lot of things in what I said that I didn’t mean at all. I never said and do NOT believe that David wasted his time going on his mission. For him it was something he felt he had to do. I’m sure it has been a valuable experience, and he has learned a lot. I also never said that he owed me anything as fan. If he comes back and doesn’t resume his music career while I will be sad, I certainly don’t feel he owes it to me. He has already given us lots of music to enjoy always. Also, his marketable skill is music/entertainment. What I was trying to say as far as doing something beside music is he doesn’t have training outside of a high school education in anything else. That’s why I thought he would continue to go after a career in music. Of course he is smart and could get training and experience in something else if he chooses.

    Bliss doesn’t owe me an apology, but he did read a lot into my comments that I didn’t mean which happens all the time in comments.

  6. While waiting for David I am now totally hooked on Davis and White the US Ice Dancers and I just found the youtube of their 2013 World Championship Free Skate and just wow http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkLwFvvu6fE

  7. GrammyJ, thank you for your clarification of your previous post. Sometimes the intent of our posts are misinterpreted.

  8. CChalo, Apology accepted. Let’s not forget that we are all fans of David which supersedes any disagreements we may have concerning him.

  9. HG WOW I love this.. might not totally understand it all but it sure made me want to see Her. thanks!

  10. The song “Let it Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen” is up for an Oscar.
    I can certainly see David singing this type of song for a movie. It is lovely and many think it iwill be the winner.

  11. Wow. The Christmas box is up to $610 right now on eBay.

  12. Thought I might bid but I’ve got two kids in college. Can’t go anywhere near that price.

  13. Watched The Voice tonight. I thought the show was very entertaining. Some very talent contestants and I just love the chemistry between the four judges-I like Shakira and Usher with the other two.

  14. $720 now.. too rich for me.

  15. We watched The Voice, too, Marie, and really saw a lot of talent there. The judges are amusing to watch, too.

  16. Very interesting movie; I wish it were playing in my area.

    “In the end, when Samantha leaves Theodore’s plane of existence, he is left to reach out to the world that is left behind,…”

    That sums up what happened to me when D left in March 2012. As much as I miss D, it’s been good reentering the world/friendships that I left behind when most of my spare time was consumed by all things David. I’m still ODD but at a more manageable level. :)

  17. Did anyone watch AI ? Majesty Rose is the only one that has it all IMO.

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