Joaquin Phoenix Hollywood movie Her turns 10 is about falling in love with AI


Our daily life is influenced by Artificial Intelligence — from Alexa’s responses, Netflix suggestions, to ChatGPT and Midjourney. But is it possible to fall in love with Alexa or Siri? Spike Jonze film ‘Her’ explores similar possibilities.

‘HER’ AND ITS RELEVANCE

While there have been several Hollywood films on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in some form, none of them can hold a candle to Jonze’s 2013 commentary on human-technology dynamic, ‘Her’. Even after a decade of its release, the film remains a near-accurate reminder of how hollow our lives are and how we seek comfort in our ever-evolving devices and gadgets.

With AI quickly becoming a topic of intense scrutiny and interest in the last few years globally, the Joaquin Phoenix-starrer ‘Her’ has become even more relevant in present times.

Jonze, via his lead character of Theodore Twombly (a perfect Joaquin Phoenix), shows us how desperate we are for some kind of connection and what kind of dull ache takes over once we find ourselves without it.

In ‘Her’, Phoenix goes on to develop a romantic relationship with a Siri-like virtual assistant powered by AI, Samantha (a superb Scarlett Johansson). And rewatching Her makes one wonder, is such a connection at all possible in our near future?

FALLING IN LOVE WITH AI

AI analyst Akshara Bassi says it is unlikely that such a thing would happen even in the next decade, despite the exponential growth we have seen in technology in recent years. Speaking to IndiaToday.in, Akshara Bassi says, “AI also has stages. Broadly speaking, there are three stages. We are only in the first stage right now.”

Akshara says for such a human-AI bond to develop, there is an assumption that the machine has become sentient and is conscious and more intelligent than us. Which, Akshara says, would most likely happen in future, but only after we overcome the roadblocks.

Akshara tells IndiaToday.in, “I am not disputing the fact that machines will be more intelligent than us in the future because we humans learn in a linear fashion. Machines will learn exponentially. We have physical limitations and they don’t. But from generative (the stage at which AI is right now) to super intelligence, the journey is very long.”

There will be ethical questions, she says: “The moment a machine gains consciousness, who will call the shots? The machine. And if something goes wrong, then who will be held accountable? That will always be the million-dollar question, and till the time we don’t come up with answers, the concept of a sentient machine will remain a thing of distant future, primarily due to the legal, moral and ethical issues involved.”

Rooney Mara in a still from the film ‘Her’.

But AI, however pivotal, is just a part of the larger storyline that Spike Jonze seeks to show in ‘Her’.

The film — which turns 10 on December 18 — is essentially about human beings’ need for relationships.

OUR COLLECTIVE, CONSTANT LONGING FOR CONNECTION

“There’s definitely ways that technology brings us closer and ways that it takes us further apart — and that’s not what this movie is about. It really was about the way we relate to each other and long to connect: our inabilities to connect, fears of intimacy, all the stuff you bring up with any other human being,” Spike Jonze told the New York Times earlier when talking about ‘Her’.

Jonze attempts to show that discord in an intimate friendship between a human and his virtual assistant, who is identified as ‘her.’ It is a testimony to the director’s talent and craft that as the film progresses, even the audience begins to visualise Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha as not just a virtual assistant, but as an animated being.

‘Her’ is quite prescient in the way it shows how, eventually, humans are going to turn to machines and technology to combat loneliness, film critic Tatsam Mukherjee tells IndiaToday.in.

“A lot of it has to do with Theodore’s longing for connection. Even the profession of the protagonist is writing personalised letters on behalf of people. He is being the conduit, and he himself has a very fractured relationship, going through divorce and reliving those moments in his head as he tries to get over them,” says Tatsam.

Phoenix played the role of Theodore Twombly in ‘Her’.

Tatsam also pointed out that ‘Her’ happens to be one of those rare science-fiction films which “dignifies AI or Samatha as a character in her own right”.

“Generally, in such movies, we see a very master-servant dynamic with respect to technology and people. Samantha is a fully fleshed out person. As a result, gradually, even the viewers develop a relationship with her voice.”

‘HER’, A TALE AHEAD OF ITS TIME

‘Her’ stands out in the series of projects and films that have attempted to showcase the future in which AI has taken an almost sentient form.

In shows such as Black Mirror (which came at least two years before the Jonze film), the times to come is always painted in a dystopian dark tone, often taking an ominous shape. However, ‘Her’ depicts a more life-affirming nature of such a dynamic in which technology and people can co-exist without being threatened by progress.

‘Her’ is ultimately a stirring, uncomfortable but strangely bittersweet tonic that constantly and successfully drives home one point — people’s intense and primal need for attachment to something outside of themselves. As long as it ‘speaks’ to them.

Also starring Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Amy Adams, Her is available to stream on Prime Video and Apple TV Plus.

Published By:

Anvita Singh

Published On:

Dec 16, 2023



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