Nice turtleneck and suede jacket.
I’m a science fiction fan and I’m interested in AI. People who know these things about me were surprised that I hadn’t seen “Her,” a 2013 movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence who lives in his phone.
I finally did see “Her” recently. The reason I didn’t see it before, and did see it then, actually relates to the theme of the movie.
“Her” is not really a movie about AI. Like most AI movies, it’s really about humanity — what makes us human.
What makes us human, according to “Her,” is physical reality — having bodies that exist together at the same time and place and talk to each other, even if we’re not even touching. There is very little human-to-human contact in “Her,” and very little touching, and what touching there is — between Phoenix’s character Theodore and a blind date played by Olivia Wilde — is bizarre and unsatisfying and sad.
People in the world of “Her” are dehumanized in ways that are recognizable extrapolations of today. Before we meet the AI that Theodore falls in love with, we see Theodore at his job. He works alone, dictating to a computer. He’s a futuristic Cyrano, ghost-writing personal letters on behalf of clients to families and friends — love letters, thank-you letters from a grandmother to her grandchild. The letters are incredibly personal, authentic sounding, and fake. You wonder if the recipient knows the letters are ghost-written, and if they do know it, whether it bothers them.
Later, Theodore, still alone, goes home and gets into some phone sex with a stranger, which starts well, but quickly turns hilarious, unsatisfying, and weird.
Theodore already does most of his interactions intermediated by machines, which is something we’re already seeing today, in the real world, so it makes sense that he falls in love with Samantha, a consciousness that exists in the machine.
Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, makes a point several times that the difference between herself and a human person is that she, Samantha, doesn’t have a body. And that’s a big deal, leading to an ending that’s ambiguous and bittersweet.
Despite Samantha’s bodiless condition, it’s possible that she is more human than the human characters of “Her.” Just a thought.
There are all sorts of other things going on with “Her” that will probably pop into my head from time to time. What’s the significance of the relationship between Theodore’s co-worker and his lawyer girlfriend? What does the movie mean when Theodore says, several times, that he and his ex-wife grew up together? The scene with the sex surrogate is priceless.
And now I’ll tell you why I didn’t see “Her” until now: Julie didn’t want to see it. Movies and TV are something I almost exclusively watch with Julie, which means I almost always only see the movies and TV we both want to see. If I’m going to do something alone I’d rather it be something other than watching a TV show or movie.
I do watch TV and movies alone when Julie is out of town and I’m home alone. That’s rare: usually I’m the one who travels. But it happened recently. We went to visit Julie’s family in Columbus, and I returned home two days before Julie. Alone in the house, I watched “Her,” and talked with Julie over Apple Messages, and talked with my friends and family on the Internet, experiencing nearly two days of nothing but relationships mediated by machines.
Not as good as the original, but “charming.”
I’m failing to understand the controversy behind this movie. The original was very entertaining. It’s still just as entertaining even if the new one stinks.
Pokemon Go takes money out of local communities and centralizes it to big corporations, and that’s what’s wrong with late capitalism, says Timothy B. Lee at Vox:
If you were looking to have fun with some friends 50 years ago, you might have gone to a bowling alley. Maybe you would have hung out at a diner or gone to the movies.
These were all activities that involved spending a certain amount of money in the local economy. That created opportunities for adults in your town to start and run small businesses. It also meant that a teenager who wanted to find a summer job could find one waiting tables or taking tickets at the movie theater.
You can spend money on Pokémon Go too. But the economics of the game are very different. When you spend money on items in the Pokémon Go world, it doesn’t go into the pocket of a local Pokémon entrepreneur — it goes into the pockets of the huge California- and Japan-based global companies that created Pokémon Go.
There are, of course, some good things about this. Pokémon Go can be a much more affordable hobby than going to a bowling alley or the movies. In fact, you don’t have to spend any money on it. And the explosion of options made possible by online platforms creates real value — the average teenager has vastly more options for games to play, movies to watch, and so forth than at any time in American history.
I’m not crying. YOU’RE crying.
They went to Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. They went to Sly, who turned it down. They went to Richard Gere — turned it down. They went to James Caan — turned it down. They went to Burt Reynolds, and all of these people rejected it because, remember, this is 1987. You had all these Rambo movies. We’ve had Commando, Predator, and in the wake of all of these, the hero, they said, was like a pussy. The reaction? “This guy’s no hero.” Right? In desperation, they went to Bruce Willis.
From a Kindle Single on Amazon that I’m definitely looking forward to reading.
[Brian Abrams/The Daily Beast]
Takei of course is the actor who originated the role of Sulu on Star Trek, and came out as gay many years later. Now, in the upcoming Trek movie, Sulu will be gay too.
Surprisingly, Takei opposes the change, saying it twists Gene Roddenberry’s original vision, and they should have created a new character who’s gay.
But Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the movie and who worked on the script, says that would have been tokenism. By making a major character gay, it’s shown as being just part of his identity, whereas a new character would have primarily been identified as “the gay guy.”
Based on articles, I don’t get a sense Sulu’s sexuality is going to be significant to the story.
Maybe Sulu was always gay, even in the original series and the movies, and it just never came up.
As for twisting the original vision: Too much reverence for the original and its creators is a handicap for sequels and adaptations, and that’s a particular problem on Trek. Star Trek often takes itself too damn seriously. The show should be serious about its stories, but not about itself.
Real life is sometimes delightfully surprising.
Jerry Lewis successfully suppressed his movie about a clown in Auschwitz once he came to his senses and realized it was awful. Now you can see a half hour, culminating in Lewis in sad clown face leading children to the gas chamber.
I have never seen a “Fast and Furious” movie before. But we watched a few minutes of one earlier. I am pleased to report it is both fast AND furious.
Books, too. Love this.
I remember back in the days of Usenet, there was a long, meaty, nerdtastic discussion of all the various braided timelines of Back to the Future. Like, for example, what happened to the Marty who grew up with the well-adjusted family in the timeline that sprang into being at the end of BttFI? Did he connect with Doc Brown, given that he already had a good father at home?
John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’: The Story of an SF Horror Game-Changer [Cinephilia & Beyond]
I have no plans to see the current “Ghostbusters.” A “Ghostbusters” remake doesn’t interest me, no matter what equipment the ‘busters are packing in their pants. Or, um, jumpsuits I guess.
Thanks, guys: Going to see the all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ is now a political act [Ann Hornaday – The Washington Post]
$54 on Amazon. Such a deal!
Good for a lifetime of fun and/or in Gitmo!
Fake money and fake weed – Mark Frauenfelder, Boing Boing
A retrospective (“Trekstrospective?”) by Darren Franich in EW:
You could say that the whole problem of Star Trek – or a problem that many brilliant creators and actors have grappled with – is how stilted the core ethos of the franchise is, on narrative and visual levels. Star Trek must have a cast of characters who obey authority and work together. Everyone’s an officer in some codified organized military or other. Everyone wears a uniform. Because most of the action happens with the main characters on “The Bridge,” most of the climactic sequences in Star Trek history happen with all our heroes sitting down.
The excellent Charlie Jane Anders – whom I just learned is leaving io9 – oh noes! – asks and answers the question:
Or, more precisely, she says, science fiction belongs to everybody who loves it:
When we started out, the notion that science fiction is for everybody was mostly about not wanting to see our favorite stories wasting their time pandering to the minority of fans who had memorized every old episode or movie. We hadn’t yet seen Star Trek Into Darkness twist itself into knots trying to copy as much of Wrath of Khan as possible—but that kind of self-referential bullshit was what we set out to critique.
But over time, I feel like the question of who “owns” science fiction has only gotten more fraught and toxic, in ways that we couldn’t have predicted back in 2007. Back then, there was no “Fake Geek Girl” meme. Women weren’t getting death threats and rape threats on the internet for expressing an opinion about comics or movies. The Hugo Award nominations were still reflecting the tastes of individual readers, rather than voting slates. There weren’t endless think pieces about whether geek culture had gone too mainstream. Geek pantomime The Big Bang Theoryaired its first episode while we were planning io9.
There’s a lot more silly gatekeeping in science fiction than there used to be. A lot of people are deeply invested in keeping other people from loving the things that they love. No, I don’t get it, either.
I’m baffled by the gatekeeping in science fiction as well. And it’s frustrating to me because much of the stuff that’s gone mainstream is stuff that I personally don’t care for:
Superheroes? Not for me. I like Iron Man and Captain America, but I think Julie and I are a movie or two behind on those. There’s an explosion of superhero movies now, and they frankly look silly to me. Bunch of grown people running around in long underwear.
We did love Jessica Jones, though.
Star Trek? The J.J. Abrams movies were fine, but they weren’t real Trek. We’re now rediscovering Deep Space Nine and TNG, which I barely remember.
Star Wars? I liked the first three movies just fine but I would not say they were the life-changing experience for me that they were for many fans. I skipped about 1.5 of the prequels. We haven’t gotten around to seeing the latest movie yet.
As for TV: Don’t watch Walking Dead because we think zombies are gross. We already talked about superhero shows. Julie likes the The Arrow but I got tired of it partway through the first season. The reverse is true for The Flash – I was enjoying it but Julie wasn’t and I didn’t like it enough to want to watch it alone.
I have a love-hate relationship with Game of Thrones. I’m liking it now. Last year I was ready to stop watching, because it had gotten tedious and depressing.
I don’t read comics or play video games.
So while young men – and I do get the impression that they are young men – are playing gatekeeper and deciding who’s a true fan, I’m wishing that more people like the stuff I like. Or maybe I should say that I wish more stuff that I like was being produced for the mainstream.
And I’m also remembering being a teen-age fan in the 70s, when being a science fiction fan still had a slight patina of geekiness. It was going mainstream fast – Star Wars was 1977, all the kids watched Star Trek in reruns, and Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke were regularly hitting the bestseller lists, or on the verge of doing so. But science fiction was still something that cool people didn’t really enjoy. So I still think it’s kind of neat that science fiction is now mainstream, and ironic that now that it is mainstream there’s so much of it I don’t participate in.
Also, as a heterosexual teenager with the usual heterosexual teen levels of libido combined with frustration of that libido: I would have been delighted to have encountered attractive young women who were also interested in science fiction. (They probably did exist back then. I was just unaware of them.)
Assuming I worked up the nerve to talk with them – I was, alas, the kind of male teen geek who was too intimidated to speak with attractive girls unless we’d already been safely friendzoned (to use vernacular that popped up 30 years later).
Starship Troopers is at the top of this list by Andrew Liptak at io9. It’s a tough one to do right. Much of the book consists of classroom lectures being received by the hero, and the hero’s thoughts on those lectures. I found them fascinating reading, but they wouldn’t translate well to the screen.
On the other hand, the novel also contains scenes of soldiers preparing for battle, and stirring battle scenes, which would film very well.
The movie has very little in common with the book. Indeed, the underlying philosophy of the movie, to the extent that it has one, is the opposite of the book. In the novel, Earth is subject to an unprovoked attack by monstrous aliens, and fights back. The novel is a celebration of that fight. In the movie, it’s never clear whether the aliens had provocation, and the Earth government is clearly corrupt.
Director Paul Verhoeven has said in interviews that the theme of the movie is that government is corrupt and betrays the nobility and sacrifice of its soldiers. Which sounds like a fine political sentiment, and one that any reasonable politically aware 21st Century American can support, until you realize that was pretty much exactly one of the themes that drove the Nazis to power in Germany.