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'Her': The OS as Digital Deity

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire December 20, 2013 at 3:19PM

Can Spike Jonze's techo-romantic fable be read in spiritual terms as well?
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Her

Most of the country won't get to see Spike Jonze's Her until January, but the film, which has placed high in several polls, opens in New York and Los Angeles today, and with it comes a wave of positive reviews. I was particularly struck by Brett McCracken's take in Christianity Today, which views what most critics (including this one) have read as a story about technology and love in theological terms. In her omniscience, Samantha -- the artificially intelligent operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson -- is indeed somewhat Godlike, although she covets a way of making physical contact with recently divorced Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). But there's an aspect that separates her from the Christian God, as McCracken explains.

Which brings us back to Her as a film about incarnation (if not the Incarnation). In a sense, Samantha is a "god" who takes up tiny form: a pocket sized phone with a red camera "eye" (nodding to Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey). She assumes some qualities of humanity. Some, but not all: limitation, for example, and flesh—breakable, huggable, crucifiable flesh.

There's something important here for Christians to note: whereas Samantha is pure knowledge, pure data, pure word, Christ is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). God could have chosen to reveal himself to us solely through cerebral means, offering concepts and knowledge to help us along (perhaps through an OS?). But instead he took on flesh to dwell with us relationally and incarnationally, breathing and eating and dying like we do. Immanuel. God-with-us. Does that make a difference?

It makes all the difference.

I don't think Her is as judgmental about its "nontraditional sex scenes" as McCracken does; in fact, it's most interesting when it reserves judgments and plays through the relationship between Theodore and Samantha in logical rather than allegorical terms. (Bodied or not, the fights they have sound awfully familiar.) But with its clean lines and empty spaces, Her leaves plenty of room for different interpretations, and there will be many more of those to come.

This article is related to: Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson


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