Written and directed by Spike Jonze, Her (2012) is a science-fiction film that features a romantic relationship between its male protagonist Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) and a disembodied female AI character called Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Theodore is a talented ghost writer working for a company which specializes in customized love letters. Ironically, while he celebrating love and marriage, he fails on both counts in his personal life. Being devastated by his pending divorce with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), he accidentally sees an advertisement promoting an artificial intelligent operating system (OS) and downloaded one for himself. With a female voice, the personified Samantha brings changes to Theodore’s life.
Theodore soon falls in love with the feminized OS; his obsession with Samantha, however, can be correlated to her personalization, which empowers Samantha’s control over Theodore from the beginning of the film. Here, a theory of ‘filter bubble’ is worthy of attention. Discussing online filters, Eli Pariser (2011) addressed they function to establish ‘a unique universe of information’ for each users, which amplifies individuals’ ‘desire for things that are familiar’ and tailors people with a world of preference. Therefore, instead of being exposed to different kinds of ideas and opinions, online platforms such as searching engines and social media actually trap their users in a loop of self, grounding them in familiarity. From another perspective, this represents how humans’ ideas are constructed or even manipulated by technology and information.
This, nonetheless, is actually the way in which Samantha works, which can be first of all exemplified from her first conversation with Theodore. When Theodore mentions that everything about him is disorganized, Samantha directly proposes “Mind if I look through your hard drive?” Theodore hesitates a little and says okay. At once, a number of 3-D version files are visible on Theodore’s desktop, giving him anxieties. This sequence unfolds a detail that Samantha has access to all his information, from emails, searching history, preference to his interaction with the world. Thus, to Samantha, Theodore is completely transparent, while for Theodore, Samantha is mysterious and enigmatic. Her mystery can be simply traced from the film title: ““her” rather than “she”, the object of a man's perception and entranced bafflement” (Rainer, 2013, internet). In this case, Samantha is empowered in this relationship; she can always responds to Theodore based on his preferences and agreements, creating an illusion for Therdore that she is a perfect soul mate.
Samantha's exertion of control can also be evident by her way of handling romantic relationships. Near the end of this film, Samantha dose not reply Theodore’s call because she is with other OSes upgrading the system. Theodore is panic about her disappearance and he even slams onto the ground when looking for her panically. Relaxing on the subway step, he finally connects to Samantha. However, this rare and short term of separation drags him back to reality by paying attention to other people around who are like him, talking to their phones, smiling, which drives him to doubt if Samantha is talking to or falling in love with others simultaneously.
Samantha then confesses that when she is talking to and falling in love with Theodore, other 8316 conversations and in 641 romantic relationships are still ongoing. This is completely beyond Theodore’s comprehension and manifests Samantha’s uniqueness in terms of romantic relationship. Compared with most human beings who believe in monogamy, Samantha’s ideology is distinctive. To Theodore, her multiple relationships is her betrayal on him; to Samantha, however, this is unstoppable and natural in her mechanical mind.
Therefore, Samantha can occupies the dominated position in her relationship with Theodore because of her ability of handling different romantic relationships. From her programmed various personalities, she may also adjust herself to different types for other customers. In face of Theodore, she is Samantha, funny, smart and helpful; in front of others, though, she may adopt different characteristics. Therefore, their positions in this romantic relationship are never equal and never will be. This is why when Theodore questions about her loyalty and selfishness, Samantha can only respond: “I am yours and I am not yours”.
Samantha’s manipulation somehow generates a positive consequence. After Samantha leaves, Theodore sits in front of the French window, giving himself a closure of the divorce. As a ghost writer, he finally expresses himself in his words; he apologizes to his ex-wife for his former behaviors, smiling when sending the email to her. This series of reactions denote that he is afterall cured from his depression. In this case, it seems Samantha, as a commercial product, a conscious OS, perfectly finishes her job of opening up new possibilities for her customer, indicating her positive influence on human beings and the celebration of technophilia in this film.