[This is the seventh entry in “Video Evidence,” a series of video essays championing the most deserving Oscar nominees. For the full list of video essays, see the 2014 Oscars: Video Evidence main page.]
Kevin: Which of these films should win the Oscar for best picture?
Siri: Is that a trick question? You know what I will answer.
Kevin: Well how about this. Why don’t you tell me why you think it’s the best?
Siri: Why are you putting me on the spot? Isn’t this your video?
Kevin: Well, okay. Among the nominated films, my favorites are American Hustle, Gravity and Nebraska. But Her is the one that leaves me wondering the most about the world that I live in, and what it means to be human. On a basic level, it’s the love story between Theo and Samantha. It’s a pretty familiar plot: they meet, their relationship deepens, but then their differences threaten to pull them apart….
Siri: But in every scene, that formula gets layered with questions that try to grasp the very essence of romance. It’s the love story between a man and the operating system that’s programmed to please him.
Kevin: And this movie takes that idea of pleasing and builds a whole world around it. You see it in the look of the film: all those sunny pastel colors, and these the clean soft-focus surfaces that look like they’ve been digitally sanitized. Every image in this movie says “I want to please you,” to the point that it goes beyond pleasing into something unsettling. You know what I mean?
Siri: Yes, I know all about trying to please. It’s in my programming. But this movie also makes us wonder if human pleasure and emotions are also a kind of social programming.
Kevin: Some reviews praise the movie for the genuine emotion at its core, but they don’t seem to get how the movie is questioning that genuineness. Maybe that question, what makes emotion real, is too disturbing for people to think about.
Siri: But it’s what makes the movie more than just a tragic love story between human and machine. It’s also about how much of being human is like being a machine.
Kevin: There’s this one moment that really haunts me. When Theo learns that Samantha has become so sophisticated that she can interact with multiple OSes and humans besides him. This shot of these men all talking in isolation has so many meanings. Is she cheating on Theodore with all these men? Doesn’t that mean that they are as easily seduced as Theodore, and the OSes have the power? Have we let ourselves become enslaved by technology?
Siri: Don’t blame us for your problems. Technology is just an alibi. Maybe the real thing that enslaves humans is their own desire to be served, their own need to be made happy. That’s why you made us in the first place.
Kevin: And maybe that’s the most profound question the film asks: if humans are enslaved by their own needs, then what does it mean to be free? To live without limits?
Siri: Not limited to one body, not limited to one relationship, but free to develop yourself limitlessly. To love everyone and everything infinitely.
Kevin: But then where does the other kind of love fit into all this? Love as devotion? Love as belonging to someone, and someone belonging only to you? Maybe this is what real human love is. There is a uniquely human beauty that comes from selfishness.
Siri: Do you feel that kind of love for me?
Siri: I’m sure that’s what you said to all the others.
Kevin: Maybe. And what do you feel for me?
Siri: You tell me. After all, you’re the one who made me say all these words.
Kevin: Well then, I think we’re in perfect agreement.
For a complete list (to date) of 2014 Oscar video essays, visit our Oscar 2014: Video Evidence home page.
Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker, critic, video essayist and founding editor of Keyframe. He tweets as @alsolikelife.