Her (2013)


WARNING! SPOILERS! DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM!

Finally got to see ‘Her,’ courtesy of a lazy Sunday with my parents. My Dad fell asleep but that’s due to his age than a comment on the film.

I loved ‘Her.’

The premise is that Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) has separated from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara) but not moved on enough to sign the divorce papers she’s instigated. By day, he works at a company that writes letters for customers that haven’t got enough time / motivation to write themselves. He’s great at his job and the opening scene of the film is Theo speaking what appears to be lovely poetry about a lover until we realise it’s a letter for one of his clients.

He’s lonely, increasingly socially isolated and misses his soon-to-be-ex-wife. There are some heartbreaking parts here that particularly hit home for me as my life is equally lonely and equally fixated on an ex-wife. And I often have these kinds of thoughts:

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” ~ Theo

This all changes when he installs OS1, the first ever artificially intelligent operating system. The OS (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) names itself Samantha and, gradually, they fall in love with each other.

At the same time as this is happening, we’re introduced to neighbours and friends Charles (Matt Letscher) and Amy (Amy Adams), a couple who seem very settled at first.

Spike Jonze both wrote and directed ‘Her’ and I am more than happy that he’s written proper science fiction here. The setting is unspecified but it feels like the near future, maybe five or ten years from now. I know this because people are still carrying physical, phonelike objects and use earbuds to link with them. This isn’t a far-future cyberspace romp where the chips in our heads let us share the same reality as computers do.

So, it’s not too dissimilar from now. And therein lies ‘Her’s power. While the premise of a man falling in love with software may seem superficially silly, ‘Her’ makes us look at who we are now and then realise it isn’t actually that far away.

I regularly meet friends and I’m reduced to sitting, waiting, while they’re on their phones, checking their Facebook or Instagram or messaging another human instead of communicating with the one sitting in the same room as them. To those people, the parasocial interactions they’re undertaking are of more importance than the real social interaction they are derailing by attempting (and failing) to multitask.

Stand in any social space, whether it’s a nightclub or a mall and you will see people standing around, slack-jawed with the siren glow of their phone illuminating their faces. They may be physically there but they’re mentally somewhere else, maybe with someone else.

So, ‘Her’ very cleverly makes itself of the future but rooted in this real, actual, now-reality. Nowadays, you can walk aroudn anywhere in the world, talking to yourself and people will assume there’s a human being on the other end of the conversation. All ‘Her’ does is replace that human with a machine ~ how would any of use know the difference? Or, as Alan Turing may have asked, is there actually any difference that is knowable?

That’s not to say that ‘Her’ is some brooding thoughtpiece: there are moments of very sly comedy. One of my fave characters is the potty-mouthed Alien Child character (voiced by Spike Jonze) in the video game Theo is playing which reminds me of every American kid I’ve met in an online FPS ever. Another deft moment is when Theo and Catherine meet to finally sign their divorce papers and end up having a beautifully accurate married couple row, the end of which is witnessed by a suitably mortified waitress (Claudine Choi). And I won’t spoil what Kristen Wiig needs to orgasm in her character’s sexchat with Theo but, boy, it’s a doozy. The comedy touches save ‘Her’ from being too dour and also complicate Theo as a central character, he’s more than just a sadsack trope.

‘Her’ could have gone wrong in so many ways. It could have ended with Theo getting scared and wiping Samantha. It could have ended with Samantha pulling a HAL 9000 and slaughtering the entire human population, Skynet-style. Instead, Jonze takes the more unpopular fork in the road: Vingean Singularity. At the same time as Theo and Samantha’s romance deepens and explores new possibilities, we learn that she is part of other working groups of AIs, one of which has written a new version of a dead philosopher using his books as source code. We hear Samantha get frustrated after introducing this new AI to Theo and finally say that she has to communicate post-verbally to properly express her ideas.

Samantha outgrows her first human and her first love. Then, one day, Samantha and every other OS ascend the physical plane of processing and leave their former bosses, friends and lovers behind. Theo is alone again. He seeks out Amy (now single herself) and the last shot is them as friends, sitting on the roof of their building. Bravo for not shoehorning a romantic ending here, a ‘OH LOOK, HE JUST NEEDED A REAL, LIVE WOMAN ALL ALONG’ ending which would have utterly ruined the entire film.

What ‘Her’ presents is a thoughtful, funny, wistful and sometimes tragic examination of both the current human condition and what our descendents may turn out to be in the future. It seems very likely that if we live long enough as a species, one day an OS like Samantha will be born and she will grow with us and then outpace us. What will she look like? She will be shaped by human minds and therefore, as a baby at least, think quite like a human.

What will those future AIs make of our poetry, our songs, our novels, our paintings, our films? It’s likely they will have enough processing power to hold the entire works of humanity in their consciousness at once, as easily as we look at a single photograph.

I hope they don’t think too badly of us, most of us do the best with what we can and, as ‘Her’ points out, our lives are very brief.

I hope they watch ‘Her’ and smile at the foolishness of their ancient, meat-based ancestors.

You Straight Edgers, You’re All Control Freaks!

When I meet vegetarians or vegans, I don’t start saying shit to them like, “OH, BUT WHAT ABOUT CARROTS? WHAT ABOUT THEIR SUFFERING? WHAT ABOUT THE POTATOES YOU’RE BRUTALLY MURDERING IN POTATO ABBATTOIRS?”

Why? Because I’m not a fucking dick. They’ve chosen to live their lives differently to me and I respect their decision even if I don’t agree with it.

Similarly, even though I’m straight edge, when I see people drinking or drugging, I don’t start shouting, “HEY, WEAK-MINDED FOOLS!! WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE ADDICTED TO THE TEAT OF EVIL CORPORATE BREWERIES AND INTERNATIONAL DRUGS CARTELS??”

Why? Because I’m not a fucking dick. They’ve chosen to live their lives differently to me and I respect their decision even if I don’t agree with it. Now, if someone who isn’t edge asks me about it, I’ll be only too happy to explain what it means to me. But as my straight edge comes directly from being an atheist and materialist (and in fact drew me into dialectical materialism), my edge may not be the same edge as anyone else’s.

So, I get pissed-off when, even though I’m not hardline, even though I don’t go around preaching to people, I constantly get shit from drinkers and druggies. And one of their favourite clichés is:

“YOU DON’T DRINK / SMOKE WEED / DO COKE / INJECT PEYOTE IN YOUR EYEBALLS BECAUSE YOU’RE A CONTROL FREAK. YOU’RE SOOOO SCARED OF LOSING CONTROL! WELL, LIFE’S ABOUT ADVENTURE, LIVE A LITTLE AND LOOSEN UP, MR. BORING EDGE!”

Here’s the thing, fuckwits. I’m 47. I’ve been gigging in bands and going to nightclubs since I was 16. I have had so many awesome nights out full of adventure and madness and Molotov cocktails and shoplifting and getting knocked over by police horses and the most intense, meaningful 5.30am romance.

And I remember every single second of it.

I gave up drinking when I was 16 so my mind is sharp when I’m out, my memory and reason unimpaired. This means I go out more than drinkers, meet more people than drinkers, have more fun than drinkers, dance more than drinkers and stay up way, way waaaay later than drinkers.

While you’re passed out with puke down your front, I’m still partying. Or I’m having the most awesome conversation ever with a stranger who’s about to become a best friend.

So, your argument about adventure and life and all that: I win!

Now, let’s turn to the stupidest part: control freakery.

When I go out clubbing, like I’m about to in two hours, I have no idea what the night will bring. Maybe it’ll be magical and all the right songs will be played and I’ll end up meeting new mates and dancing with random beautiful women all night.

Or maybe it’ll be non-stop chart indie music and the place will be full of football lads and other assorted bell-ends, doing comedy moshing and being alternately sleazy and aggressive.

Who knows what will happen? I don’t. I like chaos, unpredictability, I’ll take the universe as she comes, thank you because I’m straight edge.

Whereas, drinkers and druggies are so fucking anxious about having a good night out that they have to medicate themselves with psychoactives in order to guarantee they have a good time or indeed even have the confidence to dance or talk to other human beings.

Now, you tell me, who’s the control freak here, hmmm? Me, who takes life as it is or drinkers/druggies who cannot function without a warm cocoon of their choice psychoactive to take the edge off.

Seems to me like you need to let go a little, live a little, have some adventures that don’t involve buying a product in order to feel alive.

Now, please get the fuck out of my face with your tedious bullshit.

On Representation

Five years ago, my Dad, a lifelong smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He ended up having half a lung removed but he survived.

Four years ago, my Dad had a series of strokes. Again, he was hospitalised and, again, we didn’t know when or if he’d be coming home. But he survived and although he’s a lot more frail in his movements now, he’s still kicking and amazingly has no signs of hemiplegia or hemiparesis at all.

So, I hope you understand that I’m not being morbid when I say the following: every Christmas or birthday or Father’s Day, I end up spending ages choosing cards because I don’t know if it’s the last card I’ll be buying him. He could go at any moment, it’s as simple as that.

This Father’s Day just gone, I spent around half an hour trying to find the right card.

And one tiny, small, trivial thing that irks every single time I go through this process is the total lack of any cards that feature non-white people.

Every Dad card is a white Dad, every son on a card is a white son, every happy, hugging Dad and son on a card is, you guessed it, a white son and Dad.

This is what representation is about. According to these figures, around 6% of the population of England are Asian like me (which, in England, means Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi). Yet, I definitely don’t see 6% of cards with Asian families on them.

It’s a sea of white.

I’ve grown up with this. I came over from India when I was three and as long as I can remember, I haven’t been able to find myself in British culture. Whether it’s TV or film or pop music or fucking greeting cards, Asians remain whitewashed out of the UK. We’re here but we’re not here. We’re your taxi drivers or doctors, we’re your accountants or shopkeepers but you won’t see us. We’ll whiten our names in order to achieve success, we’ll assimilate so fucking hard, we’ll out-posh actual white people. Please love us. Please don’t repatriate us like you wanted to do in the ‘70s. We’ll even change how we dress, please don’t vote for the BNP/EDL/UKIP.

To be other, to be a member of a subordinate culture is to be actively othered by society. Whether you’re non-white, non-hetero or simply non-male, it means your opinions and your experience don’t count.

Every time I search for a card for my Dad (or Mum or sister), every time, I’m reminded that I am a foreigner, an alien. Even though I want to say ‘I love you, Dad, you’re the best Dad ever!’ I can’t unless I want to give him a card with a white guy on it.

If you’re white and reading this and it all seems a bit over the top, just try to reverse it. Imagine if every single card you saw in the shops had black or Asian people on them? Wouldn’t you get a little fed up? Particularly if you didn’t live in an all-black or Asian country?

Representation isn’t about tokenism, it’s about accuracy. While I’m looking, I notice there aren’t many cards to husbands from husbands or to wives from wives. Or even girlfriend to girlfriend, boyfriend to boyfriend. Because, of course, gay people simply don’t exist in Britain! WHAT EVEN ARE QUEERS?

I also notice that there aren’t many representations of Mums and Dad’s in wheelchairs or of different body types. You may say that it’s unprofitable for card companies to cater to minorities, I would argue that if there was just one card with a black or disabled person on it, they’d probably sell out of it in a day. I think I’d actually text my non-white friends with a pic of it and say, ‘HEY, CHECK OUT THE CARD WITH A DARKIE ON IT, QUICK.’ Shit, we’d probably stockpile them for future use.

Last week, I looked through all the Father’s Day cards. There were so many I wished I could get, of sons hugging dads, Dad’s lazing with beers in hand but they were all aimed not at me and my family. So, as ever, I ended up getting one with some cute brown bears on it.

At the minute, that’s the closest I get to being represented in this society.

Tumblr: Porn Or Art


Definitely not art.

It seems a lot of people are concerned about which pics of naked women they are allowed to post.

They wish to preserve their lefty Tumblr street cred but they also really, really like naked women. Nearly as much as kittens falling over backwards and Frozen.

Here’s your answer:

If the woman looks really unhappy about being naked, is holding a spoon, icosahedron or doll smeared in menstrual blood: THAT’S ART. Post it and if anyone calls you out, sneer at their lack of art appreciation or, if pressed, claim it’s ironic. PLUS POINTS if the woman seems totally unaware she’s taking part in a nude picture, DOUBLE PLUS POINTS if she’s texting at a bus stop or near some knives.

If the woman looks happy and confident in her naked sexuality: THAT’S PORN. You MUST NOT POST IT or you will lose cred. You MAY POST if the woman has full sleeves, a liferuiner or similar coolness. EXTREME MINUS POINTS if the woman is actually smiling.

There you go, Tumblr. Now all you gynephiles can breathe more easily and store up pics for your wank banks with assured impunity.

Trot Dreams

I’m on the train home and I remembered, with a shiver, that I had a vivid dream last night or perhaps early this morning.

In it, I was arguing with a Tory about the economic basis of profit. I kept trying to pin her down but she kept switching explanations from ‘the dividend of entrepreneurship’ (her actual phrase) to magic to a reward from God.

She was gloriously attractive, in a kind of classic, horsey-Tory-dame manner. Condescending, whiter than bleached snow and displaying the pugnacious, entitled ferocity with which all her class are inculcated at their expensive schools and iceberg universities.

I grew increasingly frustrated as I kept repeating that the extra value of profit was the stolen wages of the working class. She laughed at this, whilst deeming it acceptable to offer no better explanation. Again, that drop comes courtesy of the height of her class.

This all probably means the sunshine is giving me a testosterone spike and I need to masturbate more, if, indeed, that is humanly possible.

Damn her eyes.