Friday, February 07, 2014
"Her": Technology leaves us wanting, but God doesn't
Set in the near future, Her is a film about a lonely writer in the middle of a divorce who purchases a new advanced operating system to help him manage his life. But Samantha is no ordinary OS. She is a self-aware artificial intelligence with a personality and emotions. As Theodore and Samantha interact, their conversations grow intimate, and they fall in love.
Critics call Her romantic, convincing, haunting and creepy. The film has drawn comparisons to Blade Runner’s exploration of consciousness. Her’s own exploration of singularity—the hypothetic moment when AI surpasses human intelligence—is thought-provoking.
While Her ponders these things, it also has much to say about our own relationship with technology—and each other.
In an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, writer and director Spike Jonze said his story in part explores “the way we use technology to connect, the way technology helps us connect, the way it prevents us from connecting.”
Personally, I love using technology to connect. On my way out of the theater, I used Siri to text my daughter. Social media keeps me connected with family and friends much more often than if I were left to phone calls or letters.
But technology can also distance us from others. Several times in Her, we see crowds of people talking and smiling—but not to each other; instead, they’re relating to their OSs. That’s not far from our own reality.
But, in the end, technology itself really isn’t the issue—in the film or us. In an interview with NPR, Jonze says his film is about something that has existed as long as we have: “our yearning to connect, our need for intimacy, and the things inside us that prevent us from connecting.”
All the relationships in Her—including Theodore and Samantha’s—are flawed, undulating between distance and intimacy. Theodore often hides himself from others, leaving them feeling alone in the relationship. Moments of honesty stir up pain, awkwardness and isolation but also connection—which is, however, fleeting.
Her confronts us with our brokenness and the messy nature of relationships—a good thing to keep in mind regarding the church, because we will experience this reality with our brothers and sisters.
But the love that heals and restores our brokenness and our flawed relationships in our own Story is absent in Her, which describes love as “socially accepted insanity.”
Even Samantha—in all her god-likeness—can’t stave off separation.
Samantha has vast knowledge, the ability to maintain thousands of simultaneous relationships, and incorporeality beyond our understanding. But she is flawed. She has fears and insecurities—just like us. While Samantha’s consciousness is vastly larger than a human’s, she has limitations.
Perhaps her most tragic limitation is love. She loves deeply, but even her love is powerless to bridge the growing chasm between her and Theodore.
Her’s ending is poignant. Theodore no longer processes the world through technology. Unplugged, he ponders a beautiful sunrise. But even though he sits beside another human being, ultimately, he is alone. He will never find wholeness or complete intimacy. There will always be something wanting—never a lasting union.
Josh Larsen sums it up on ThinkChristian.net. “Though [Her] rejects salvation by technology, it doesn’t take the next step—to recognize that we were meant for real relationship and that God is at work to restore our relationships, both with Him and each other.”
We are not alone. God and his love flood into our Story, unfailing and eternal, restoring and healing, intimate and whole.
This post is a slightly edited version of this month's column at MWR.