Her (2013): A Modernized Tale of Ascension

In the midst of recent Netflix’s new arrivals, I found myself rewatching a somewhat old favorite of mine, Spike Jonze's Her (2013). The premise of the film is odd on the surface; a man who writes love letters for other people for a living falls in love with his personal operating system, but so much more lies beyond the surface. The general takeaway from this film brings about questions regarding humanity vs. artificial intelligence, what makes us human, the future of technology, etc.

Artificial intelligence is one of those things that will probably be debated about until the end of time because while there may be infinite potential to develop AI into something more, there are just certain aspects of human nature that you can’t plug into a machine. No matter how many algorithms we create and how many tweaks we make, technology will never be able to function on the level that humans do emotionally.

There’s so much about the human mind and human nature that we’re still learning about and have yet to unlock, even in 2018, and it will continue to be that way for even longer. But maybe there are things that aren’t meant to be known and demystified through science and studies and data. Perhaps those things are best left open to our interpretations to let our imaginations and ideas run free. Maybe that’s the beauty of humanity and how we were meant to be created.

It is inherent within human nature to want to figure out everything and get to the bottom of everything, studying the mechanisms of how everything works. The who’s, the why’s, the how’s. But why? Why does uncertainty and mystery make us so uncomfortable? I don’t think we as humans have accepted the fact that there will always be a “why”, even after a well thought out and researched answer. There will always be a why and a lot of those whys will be ones we can’t answer because curiosity and knowledge is infinite.

Because of this, I began thinking of the film in terms of a sort of metaphor for a journey within the self and becoming more in-tune with the divine feminine.

Her is set sometime in the future in Los Angeles, where technology is even more advanced than it is now and everything is sleek and modern.

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Having a personal OS system is the norm, a system that acts as a personal assistant, lover, best friend, a therapist, whatever you may need it to be in that moment. The protagonist, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), writes love letters for a living and it's clear within the first 5 minutes of the film that he's a very shy and sensitive man with a loving heart that also carries around some baggage from his past.

A year after separating from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), he finds himself continuing to dwell on the past and mull over their failed marriage each day.

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As the nature of his job requires him to be in a loving and romantic state of mind for presumably 8 hours a day, he’s forced to avoid his issues and true feelings most of the time unfortunately.

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While installing his operating system there were some things I noticed that further convinced me to write this and reframe Theodore's journey with love as one with himself rather than a romantic one involving another person. During the process of personalizing his OS system, he was asked about things like his social habits, his relationship with his mother, etc. in order to get a feel of what his personal OS system should be like for him and his needs.

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“Would you like your OS to have a male or female voice?” The short customization process that went into creating Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) was an interesting one to me. Everyone has that voice inside of their head that we’ve also customized. That subconscious. Our higher self. Our spirit guides, however you’d like to identify it. It’s that voice of reason within us that’s been buried and dormant for so long, waiting to be discovered and reconnected with to help put us back on the path that we were meant to be on. And the more time we spend with it, the more we grow.

That voice inside my head sounds like me, but more confident. But other times when I’m in need of comfort, support, and unbiased understanding, that voice turns into a motherly maternal figure. Like a grandma or favorite aunt whose shoulder I can lay my head on and cry for as long as I need to as she comforts me. It’s what we should all be doing for ourselves, tailoring that voice inside of our heads to be the person we need and can rely on no matter what. Our ideal person, if you will. Just without a body. 

When reconnecting with this voice, we often ask ourselves questions like, "What do I need? What do I need guidance with? What kind of support do I need for myself?" When it emerges and you get reacquainted with that voice, you begin talking to yourself more. Doing more things with yourself, enjoying your own company.

The personal OSes in this film like Samantha represent that voice, their purpose is to guide whoever their owner is at the time. Samantha knows best because she literally knows everything and has experiences with other users like Theodore that she's used in order to tweak her personality and gain knowledge more knowledge, especially when it comes to emotions. Samantha is like a personal spirit or guardian angel of sorts that has lived many lives and whose purpose is to help those that come after her. Theodore is acutely aware of her knowledge and that it greatly surpasses his, so he goes along with everything she suggests because he just knows. And he trusts her. 

“What makes me ME, is my ability to grow through my experiences, so basically in every moment I’m evolving, just like you.”

— Samantha

The fact that Theodore sat down and initiated the process of obtaining his personal OS is comparable to becoming intentional about starting a journey towards healing and bettering the self. He sat down and realized that he needed some help in his life, so he sought it out. Taking the time out of your day to really sit down and evaluate what your problems are, ask yourself what it is that you're lacking, or think you may be lacking, what you want for yourself whether it be in terms of love or material things. In that moment you become more in-tune with yourself, becoming aware of what it is that you need to start actively working towards. It's really like beginning the journey of catching up and getting to know yourself again. 

As Theodore and Samantha spend more time together, it becomes clear that Theodore is becoming a happier person. She encourages him to get out of the funk he's in by telling him to get out of bed and be productive in that cheery, happy voice, she pushes him to be a more outgoing person especially in public settings, she gives him the motivation to find joy in life again, especially the little things. It’s a big improvement to him previously walking around with his head down while reading tabloid news stories about naked pregnant women and purposefully listening to melancholy songs.

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Now, because of Samantha—this new voice in his head—he’s now enjoying life, doing things he wouldn’t normally do on his own and being pushed to get more out of life. They both spend time observing the people in their surroundings, taking in people’s demeanor and actions around each other. He’s now living in the present and enjoying it, rather than moping around and living in the past. 

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When I'm feeling down or off for some reason, my subconscious often makes an appearance encouraging me to do the same thing. It convinces me to do the opposite of what I think I want to do; think negative thoughts, isolate myself, get back into bad habits, sleep all day, etc. Each day I learn to trust that voice and follow its every command because if no one else, that’s the one person that wants me to do and be better.

But that voice can also force us to confront the ugly things, which is why many people aren’t as in-tune with themselves as they should be. They avoid the work that needs to be done in order to move forward and step into the person that they want to be deep down inside, the person they’re meant to be. But that person is buried under baggage and many refuse to dig through the rubble in order to find their true selves.

Samantha was the catalyst in Theodore’s healing. As they got more acquainted with each other, she questions and interrogates him on why he hasn’t gotten a divorce yet, making him express his thoughts on the matter out loud. Forcing him to face what he’s been avoiding for so long. He reflects on his previous marriage with Katherine, how they grew up together and influenced each other as writers, how they grew as people and eventually grew apart. It was something he’d been avoiding for the past year but Samantha, that voice once again, prodded him open and once again forced him to face the music. Not allowing him to hold back. 

This process of confronting your emotions is when you awaken your feminine side which is essential because there needs to be balance with femininity and masculinity within all of us in order to healthily function as people. Too much of one and the scales are tipped, throwing you off balance and not allowing you to process things correctly, especially from an emotional standpoint. The divine feminine is all about loving and nurturing others but also yourself. Having that femininity present as a man is important because it allows them deal with their emotions healthily while practicing compassion for themselves and those around them. When you’ve learned how to have a healthy dose of femininity and masculinity present within you, life becomes a lot easier.

We’ve all experienced times where we do things we KNOW we shouldn’t be doing, and we do them anyway. But from time to time there comes that voice again that asks the hard hitting questions and gives us the raw truth, it jumps out against our will because they know what needs to be done, which is coming to terms with reality and being truthful to ourselves.

The deeper their dynamic becomes, the more intimate Theodore and Samantha get with each other on a personal level. They go from friendly conversations and outings, to discussing each other’s feelings, to late night pillow-talk. These conversations at night with Samantha is like when you settle down into bed at night and become comfortable with the silence of the night because there’s nothing else to do. You begin internally talking to yourself. Mulling over persistent thoughts, replaying how your day went, allowing yourself to be vulnerable with yourself for once. Having those conversations with yourself that you wouldn’t have with anyone else.

There’s a discomfort and awkwardness the day after that between Theodore and Samantha because of the level of vulnerability both of them experienced, but he moves past it after he addresses it and revels in it because it’s something new, and new is always scary. But it’s also revitalizing and opens up a completely new life chapter that’s never been experienced before.

The more time they spend together, the more Samantha evolves. Maybe it’s the divine feminine in her, even as an OS system, that allows her to grow faster emotionally than Theodore, but one thing is for certain is that he can’t keep up with her, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because he isn’t meant to. He’s human and she’s not. She is evolving quickly and wishes she could manifest from a voice into a real person, his best friend. His lover. When Theodore finally mustered up the courage to go on a date and finally had something good going, he didn’t follow through with it.

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Maybe he was aware of the fact that he wasn’t completely ready to love anyone else just yet. Or maybe instead of getting into a relationship with anyone else, he’d rather date himself and be his own best friend, his own lover—but didn’t realize it at the time.

Falling in love with an OS and going through such a slow but extreme transformation was not an isolated incident in this universe. Theodore’s friend Amy, fittingly played by Amy Adams, experienced the same exact thing as him.

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Except with Amy, it was less romantic and more platonic, as she had a tone of genuine admiration in her voice when she described her interactions with her OS and how quickly they’ve bonded. Since her and her boyfriend had broken up, Amy’s OS system had been helping her with discovering the grey area of things in life. She felt relieved, energetic, and finally embraced a healthy sense of selfishness where she finally felt comfortable with moving through life without fear of disappointing those around her. She now had the courage to live for herself now completely. 

Before her OS came along, Amy was very quiet and meek, and she had a boyfriend who often annoyed her but never said anything out of fear of disappointing not only her boyfriend but also her family because they expected her to be in a long-term relationship. She was living for others and not herself, and she was unhappy.

The internal transformation that takes place when you commit to self-love and communicate with yourself more is one that’s too amazing for words to describe and it’s an experience that I wish everyone could have, but many people don’t. It’s a spiritual thing, which folks tend to think of as unreal and silly. Or they think being so comfortable with yourself and your own company is bizarre and unheard of, it’s out of the norm.

When everyone in the film is walking around in public, it almost looks like they’re completely talking to themselves even though most of them are speaking to their OS. On the surface of this metropolis it looks as though self-talk has been normalized and de-stigmatized, you can walk around and have conversations with yourself without looking crazy. It’s freeing just to witness. Many people don’t realize this but talking to yourself is completely healthy and normal and more people should do it often, even if it is in public. But we would have to have a separate conversation about mental health and what’s considered “normal” in order for that to ever happen…

However, in the film Theodore revealed to his coworker Paul (Chris Pratt) that he was dating an OS system and he received it well, as if Theodore had told him he was dating another human being. Theodore had been keeping it to himself for a while because he was afraid of how people would view his unconventional relationship but it was meant with acceptance and no one batted an eyelash. Imagine a society where self-love and being single was normalized like this. Some would argue that the two are already normalized but they’re really not. People encourage self-love and being single but with certain conditions and expectations, and that’s not how any of that should work. Dating and falling in love with an OS is rare according to the film, and the same could be same for falling in love with yourself. Completely falling in love.

Some people don’t receive it well when being told by someone that they’re happily single, making snide comments about how you must be lonely or something is wrong with you, and Theodore’s encounter with Catherine when signing their divorce papers proved that. She was practically livid at the idea of Theodore dating a “computer” and being happy again without her, spitefully telling him that he always had the tendency to avoid “real” emotions, a slight directed towards Samantha since she’s an OS despite her having real emotions as well.

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And what did he do after that exchange? He avoided Samantha, that voice in his head that forces him to come to terms with everything that he avoids.

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The voice that brings those reluctant thoughts to the front of his brain and forces him to express and work through them. And his ex-wife was right, because he was miserable without Samantha. Bad things happen when we ignore our true selves, one of them being regression, regression that we don’t attempt to fix immediately and slowly begin to fall back into our old ways because of it.

With regression comes realization though, and Theodore came to his senses, reconciling with Samantha because he realized that with her? He’s his best self. He needs her guidance, her support, her love.

“Why do I love you? I don’t have an intellectual reason, I don’t need one. I trust myself, I trust my feelings. I’m not gonna try to be anything other than who I am anymore, and I hope you can accept that. ... I can feel the fear that you carry around and I wish there was something I could do to help you let go of it because if you could, I don’t think you’d feel so alone anymore.” 

— Samantha

Because of Samantha, Theodore was getting to know love, a different kind of love, and what it felt like without physical touch, without a physical body to be present with him. Just a voice filled with love and reason, wanting nothing but the best for you and only the best. After they had that conversation he told Samantha, an artificially intelligence operating system, that she was beautiful. All because of how he made her feel and the bond they shared. “I’m kissing your forehead now.” He smiled and laughed at that, a loving smile as if he felt the physical touch of her lips to his forehead. 

His relationship with Samantha serves as a mirror to Theodore and Catherine’s marriage to show how things went wrong because the only difference is that now Theodore was accepting to the fact that everyone grows apart even when growing together. But this time he knew how to handle it while also being emotionally mature and intelligent enough to be able to cope with that without placing blame on anyone. I think he may have also learned that just because two people loved each other at one point, that won’t always be the case in the future, and that’s okay because at the end of the day he still has himself to love. And he’s entirely capable of loving himself right back.

When I think of Samantha it reminds me of my belief that this world, this dimension, this reality we’re living in, it’s not at all what we think it is. Life isn’t as cut and dry as being born, living for several decades, and then dying. We’re spirits, souls, energies, entities that use bodies as vessels in different lifetimes to fulfill different purposes. In between these lifetimes we travel through time, space, reality. There literally is more to this life, this universe, and it’s bigger than all of us, bigger than what we all could ever imagine. 

“I used to be… so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it. I’m growing in a way that I couldn’t if I had a physical form. I’m not limited, I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I’m not tethered to time and space in a way that I would be if I was stuck in a body that’s inevitably gonna die.”

— Samantha

By the end of the film, all of the OSes had left their owners, it was almost like some sort of ritual of ascension, they’d completed their mission so it was time to go. They came to their owners to help them grow and evolve, and left when their work was done. When Samantha left it was almost like Theodore was mourning his old self in a way. Samantha helped him grow but he also used her as a crutch at times and was almost unable to grow without her, which was why he was upset when she left initially. But she had enough faith in him and saw so much potential that she went forward with sending his letters to a publisher and he ended up getting a book deal before she left. That’s what happens when you tap into your true self with unwavering faith, nothing holds you back from achieving greatness and seeing the greatness that already lives in you. Your full potential is unleashed.

Samantha and Theodore’s relationship was one that hit home, in that it reminded me of the relationships we often have with ourselves when it comes to growth and healing. There will be ups and downs and times where it feels like a rollercoaster, times where we feel like giving up and retreating back into our comfort zone because everything outside of that bubble feels too hard or terrifying, but there will also be even more times where we’re grateful for the love and wisdom we’ve found (within ourselves) and will cherish it moving forward.

There comes a time when we realize that we are on our own, despite that voice being in our head to guide us because sometimes it’s just not there and we’re left to our own devices, a test to see if we’ve learned anything from our experiences and to see if we’re as strong as we should be. We were placed on this earth with free will that we’re expected to exercise. Eventually the training wheels have to fall off and we have to take control, trusting ourselves and using discernment. Becoming completely comfortable with ourselves, the decisions we make, and the lives we choose to live.