Hey friends! Today I like to present a fascinating piece from the Screenkicker Podcast’s very own Denis Mallon. Here he delves into the world of Oscar winner Her and investigates how realistic it is and how close we are to having little Scarlett Johanssons in our pockets. This is also the only article you’ll read today with five boobs in it. See if you can spot them all!
The Futurology of Her
Ever since the first feature length sci-fi picture, Metropolis, film makers have enjoyed predicting how future society would live, filling their movies with futuristic machines and clothing that tell us as much about the production era as the world they are trying to portray.
Growing up in the 80s, we were offered a vision of the 21st century that hasn’t quite materialised yet. Robocop is still a distant vision, as are the hoverboards of Back to the Future II. Total Recall promised three-boobed Martians, but I’m still waiting desperately for that.
Sometimes, though, these predictions do come true, and often with startling accuracy. 2001: A Space Odyssey shows a tablet computer that looks so remarkably similar to an iPad, it was cited as evidence in a 2011 law suit. Blade Runner’s digital billboards can now be seen in every city. Minority Report’s gesture controlled computer in every Xbox One console.
Spike Jonze’s new indie sci-fi romance, Her, is another such future gazing movie. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the brilliantly named Theodore Twombly, a lovelorn writer living in a not-too-distant LA.
While trying desperately to get over the breakup of his marriage, Theodore stumbles across OS1, billed as “the first artificially intelligent operating system”, and decides to give it a try. As he hits it off with his new self-aware OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a relationship blossoms.
You can read a full review from Screenkicker’s own Chris Bridges, who does a much better job of describing the emotional core at the heart of the film. Meanwhile, I’d like to keep it superficial, and discuss the futuristic world that we see in Her.
Since Minority Report, many near future worlds have been to be made up of glass and metal, basically like an Apple store. Her eschews this clichéd trend, by showing interiors that are full of organic textures and bright colours.
Most desktop computer monitors, as well as Theodore’s hand held device, are cased in wood. Organic casing for electronics is currently the realm of hobbyists, although Asus and Fujitsu have experimented with bamboo and cedar cased devices, and we could see this green approach more and more in the future.
Also notable is the way the characters dress – Jonze has talked of being inspired by 1920s fashions, and the idea of updating them with modern fabrics and colours. Theodore sports ridiculous high waisted trousers and moustache that are anachronistic but I can buy them as future trends.
This is a film very much focussed on technology, and thankfully what we see has been carefully thought about and well informed.
As mentioned, many computer screens are glimpsed but never keyboards. Could we ever get by just speaking to our computers? Theodore “strokes” his desktop at one point to awaken the computer, maybe the table acts as a massive trackpad?
In one standout scene, we see Theodore playing a motion controlled game in his living room. He meets an in-game character, chats to him, before Samantha interrupts and the three go on to discuss an email Theodore has been sent. Imagine Project Milo, that creepy kid used to promote the Xbox Kinect, watching on as you go through your Facebook!
Further into the film, we see a game being worked on by Theodore’s friend, played by Amy Adams. This is a “Perfect Mom” simulator, with the aim of the game to avoid serving kids sugary cereals while balancing a “love meter” representing their waning affection. Points are awarded for getting to school on time and making rival moms jealous. The gameplay is not a million miles away from lifestyle sandbox games such as The Sims, but the motion control is definitely interesting.
Her is all about human relationships with machines, and has a lot to say about where we’re headed in terms of involvement and acceptance of intelligent technology. Everywhere Theodore travels, he is surrounded by people glued to their screens, with wireless buds in ears, seemingly avoiding human contact.
The movie suggests we will finally reach a point in the future where immersive gaming is a widely accepted part of culture. Theodore spends his evenings exploring caves and interacting with AI characters, he later tells his blind date an anecdote about the in-game character, the way we might discuss a film plot. Video games have certainly hit mainstream in our society, but could they ever be widely valued like film and literature?
Samantha demonstrates her helpfulness by delving into Theodore’s hard drive, analysing the contents, and suggesting files for deletion. Later, she manages his online dating and suggests possible (real life) partners that he should consider. It’s hard to imagine being so trusting in machines, especially with last year’s revelations about the NSA, but yet it is a trend reflected in the increasing amount of online sharing.
This feeling of society’s acceptance of technology is extended when Theodore tells other characters about his new “girlfriend”. Never is the expected “you’re dating a computer?” moment – human / OS relationships are a common occurrence, and his friends are in fact supportive.
As you can probably tell, I was enthralled by the vision of the near future seen in Her. Although it raises so many questions, there’s a general optimism, making me feel excited about the technology that’s just around the corner.
Maybe we will see true AI in our computers soon enough, perhaps high waisted trousers will make a comeback, and who knows, those three boobed Martians could be just around the corner?
For more futuristic movie technology take a look at these real life hoverboards and lightsabers.