I recently watched the Spike Jonze movie Her. The plot sounded really fascinating. It’s a love story set in the not so distant future between a man, Theodore, and his operating system Samantha, a computer program that is meant to function sort of like a digital secretary. Samantha is the most human like program ever written, able to grow and think and take on personality. Samantha and Theodore hit it off as soon as Samantha is downloaded, and as their relationship becomes romantic they are forced to wrestle with questions of life, love, and personhood.
The movie invites the viewer to ask the same questions that Samantha and Theodore must face, and so I took the bait and started to wonder. What does it mean to be a human? How do you know if love is real? Is there anything intrinsically wrong about this relationship?
The movie intends to leave those question unanswered, but the more I thought about it the more I think it’s hard to miss an obvious conclusion that a person is complete only as a body-soul unity. This point was powerfully made, albeit unintentionally, in the multiple sex scenes. Theodore twice has phone sex, once with a random woman and once with his operating system Samantha, and both times it’s clear that sex without a body is incomplete, or more to the point it’s just not really sex. Later in the movie, when Samantha and Theodore recognize this shortcoming they hire a surrogate sexual partner, essentially to have sex with a body, but without a soul. This too is missing something fundamental and leads to further dismay. The movie does a fantastic job of presenting a confusing situation in all its complexity, but at end of the day it confirmed an age-old truth: a human person is both body and soul. Samantha was a wonderful character, and I felt real sympathy for her, but she was not a human character.
There was one other way in which I thought Samantha was a little less than human, and this dehumanizing quality can be found in almost all romantic movies made today. Samantha is presented as a woman without flaws, and besides the obvious hiccups that a man faces while dating a computer program, their relationship is unblemished by any of the constant challenges that remind us we’re human.
I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematography of Her and the complex questions that it asks, but it also reminded me that real human love must be spiritual and bodily, divine and earthy, ideal and real. It’s like the relationship I have with my wife. I love her with all my heart, and it’s so important that our bodies are caught up in that love, expressing it and fueling it. I also love her in part because she’s not perfect, and neither am I. We’re two people who try to love each other well and often stumble, which at the end of the day makes us human.
What do you think? What makes us human? Is the body necessary to who we are?