Last Saturday I went to see ‘Her’. It turned out to be the most moving experience I’ve had in a long time. The reviews had been good but I didn’t expect to feel such an intense wave of recognition. In fact, I’ve not felt so emotionally connected to a science fiction movie character since Don Keith Opper’s performance in Aaron Lipstadt’s 1982 film Android. Opper’s rendition of Max, the machine who wants to be human, was deeply empathic, and James Brown’s song ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ takes on a whole new meaning when it’s played by an android as he struggles to understand human love and sexuality. (if the excerpt doesn’t start at that place, fast-forward to 34 minutes in)
32 years later, Joaquin Phoenix’s human is willing to fall in love with Scarlett Johansson’s piece of software, Samantha, but the consequences turn out to be pretty unexpected. See the film for yourself, I won’t spoil the ending by sharing it here. Throughout, I couldn’t help thinking of Max, and how he would have been much better off with Samantha than with the human lover he dreamed of.
But I also thought of something else – my first novel ‘Correspondence’, published in 1992. Many of the themes are similar to ‘Her’. In the film, the main protagonist is a professional letter writer; in my novel, she is a ‘compositor’ who creates personalised interactive scenarios drawn from her own high levels of empathy. In ‘Her’. he falls in love with software; in ‘Correspondence’, she’s a human-turned-machine whose lover becomes a computer virus and infects her operating system so that they can be together forever.
‘Her’ is still churning round in my mind. And even more so in my heart. The film is so close to me, to who I am, to the world I understand, that I won’t forget it for a very long time.
Postscript: This Wired article by Kyle Vanhemert provides a sensitive and insightful analysis of the ways in which ‘Her’ portrays our possible near-future wired lives. Why Her Will Dominate UI Design Even More Than Minority Report.