Her, the new film by Spike Jonze, is a beautiful meditation on love, friendship, artificial intelligence, regret, virtual reality, surrogacy, time, gaming, grief, embodiment, self-creation, community, and the only half-acknowledged weirdness of falling in love with your computer’s operating system.
[WARNING: MEDIUM-SIZED PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW…]
It’s a prose-poem, akin to Wim Wender’s classic film Wings of Desire, set in a beautifully designed and photographed near-future-world, with pitch-perfect acting from Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and a disembodied Scarlett Johansson. It would keep an undergraduate philosophy class going for a twelve week seminar and beyond.
Two theological points struck me that were probably unintended by the writer/director. First, the fact of communicating on a daily basis with disembodied persons is an ordinary part of the Christian life – as we pray to the saints and angels; as we speak to them; as they help and support us; as we look forward to being with them in heaven (I’m not including Jesus and the Virgin Mary here on the list of ‘disembodied persons’). And as we pray for those who have died and gone before us. The communion is real, even if the communication is not as clear as the microphone in Joaquin Phoenix’s ear.
Second, there is a crisis moment when Phoenix/Theodore realises that Scarlett Johansson is not just talking, simultaneously, to thousands of other people, but is also in love – personally, deeply, uniquely – with many hundreds of them as well. And she has to explain – which he doesn’t get – how her love for all these others does not in any way undermine the profound and personal love she has shared with him.
It’s the old question about whether parents love all their children equally (but in different ways), or whether their love is somehow ‘diluted’ by being dispersed. And it’s the even older question of how God can love and care for us personally, how we can have a genuine relationship with him that is somehow reciprocal (although not equal), if he is also having the same kind of relationship with perhaps seven billion other people and countless hosts of angels.
Without being too confessional, I can certainly say that my prayer in the chapel this morning took on a slightly different hue. I was much more aware of others praying at the same moment throughout the world, and of the mystery of how God’s relationship with each one of us is still uniquely personal.