Bladerunner, Weird Science, and a ton of others. Year after year, Hollywood keeps asking the same question over again. Can science create the perfect mate?
Spike Jonze just released his version of a simulated love story with his film HER. Compared to Carl Reiners 1983 flick, it seems we are all doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
As far as I’m concerned, you’re the most complete woman I have ever known” he confesses. “All my life, I’ve wanted women with great bodies, women who were 10′s… but now, for the first time, I’m aroused by a mind” declares the suitor speaking to a brain with no body. She coyly responds, “I wish I can kiss you”.
The dialogue seems pulled from HER, Spike Jonze’ modern-day love tale. But this isn’t Scarlett Johansson’s adorably raspy voice. No, this particular voice belongs to Sissy Spacek. And this is not Joaquin Phoenix as protagonist. The lovestruck man is played by a young Steve Martin in the 1983 comedy, The Man with Two Brains. Sure both movies are stark different. One is a touching interpretation of isolated individual in society, and the other is a comical story about a brain surgeon with a gaping hole in his heart. Or are they that different?
Steve Martin’s character is named Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (a constant source of mispronunciation) who is a celebrity doctor suffering from his own broken heart and stunted love life. Dr. Michael has never been able to heal from the premature death of his wife and soul-mate, whom he carries everyday in the form of a bizarre Barbie replica. Remember, I said this was a comedy. Michael’s vulnerable heart gets seduced by Dolores, played by the steamingly hot Kathleen Turner (fresh from 1991′s Body Heat).
The trouble is Dolores is evil and a gold-digger. Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore, doesn’t have a prosthetic doll he carries, instead he daydreams of his lost love, Mara Rooney, in an almost obsessive daily ritual. Theodore’s ex is currently alive, but dead to the possibility of any hope to rekindle the flame. She might as well be dead to Theodore.
Theodore’s world is different. He doesn’t have the psycho wife. Instead, his life is soberingly lonely. Impersonal, overwhelming, and full of toys and technology, he lives in an era that is most technologically connected in human history, yet at the same time, the most solitary. Theodore’s living room is a feast of simulations — from cooking to climbing mountains — but when he shuts off his devices at night, he’s the lonely dude in a pad by himself. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos of both men, a voice breaks through all the darkness, and light begins to enter.
Stewing over a scientific invention in the lab, Michael begins to sing a love song to the ghost of his wife. Simultaneously, the voice of Sissy Spacek chimes in. Voila. One of the brains in the lab is awoken. Meet Anne Uumellmahaye (another impossible surname, a cute coincidence). Anne is the 80′s equivalent of Scarlett’s Samantha, born out of thin air. Self-described as more than an O.S., Samantha calls herself “a consciousness”. Together both women embody sharp wit, vulnerability, honest friendship, and a frisky voice. Each man falls hard, and is forced to deal with truly intimate feelings of a complex woman.
Steve Martin secretly takes Anne (his brain jar) to his private library late at night, pontificating baseball and sharing a whiskey. Together Michael and Anne go on silly dates, including a romantic lake getaway nestled in a canoe. Michael surprises Anne with plastic lips. “I don’t think there’s a girl floating in any jar that’s as happy as I am” she says. Michael kisses his brain for the first time. For Phoenix, the consummation occurs in bed. Samantha instigates the virtual sex with one simple question: “how would you touch me?”
One of the most striking parallels in both stories is the power of music. In the battle of love songs between these two films, let’s just say it’s apples and oranges, with neither winning out. Both Sissy and Scarlett conquer the love ditty in their own way.
Listen to UNDER THE BAMBOO TREE (Sung by Sissy)
“If you like-a me, like I like-a you, and we like-a both the same, I like-a say, this very day I like-a change you name, ’Cause I love-a you, and love-a you true, and if you would love-a me. One live as two, two live as one, under the bamboo tree.”
Listen to THE MOON SONG (sung by Scarlett)
“I’m lying on the moon, my dear ill be there soon, its a quiet starry place, times’ we’re swallowed up
in space we’re here a million miles away, Theres things I wish I knew, theres no thing I’d keep from you, It’s a dark and shiny place, but with you my dear, I’m safe and we’re a million miles away”
With the Moon Song, HER conjures pure magic. Born presumably of a very real and deep place, Spike’s ex-girlfriend, Karen O, was summoned to encapsulate the spirit of all this magnificent emotion by writing the theme love song. The result? If the internet generation were a litmus test, the tune slices through hearts: “Why is this hitting me so hard right now? I’m crying like a fucking baby” writes a YouTube reader. Another writes: “It makes me feel so light and fuzzy and makes me think about the world”. In terms of YouTube boys, the possession is inexplicable. “When Scarlett Johansson sung this in the movie my eyes started sweating out of nowhere. Weird.” Another YouTube male replied “You too? must have been something in the air vents of theater”. Alas, music is the healing balm of love.
Then there is the awkward moment as each film couple tries to incarnate the voice into a dream body. Both experiments go horribly wrong, although in Man with 2 Brains, it goes hilariously wrong. In one of the most epic prostitute scenes in film history, Michael descends into madness and seeks a female body to kill, in order to save the slowly dying brain he loves. Imagine if HER became a murder caper to capture a body for Scarlett’s voice. Now you understand the absurdity and morbidity. Scanning skid row for disposable women, Steve Martin’s character approaches the fantasy body under the “Seadie Hotel”… then she opens her mouth. You’ll have to see the classic scene (here) for yourself. Michael soon aborts mission.
In HER, it is Samantha who instigates the sexual experiment with a willing surrogate. It’s a scene that spirals into a different kind of floundering as Theodore fails to suspend his disbelief during the lovemaking process with the surrogate lover, played by newcomer Portia Doubleday. As the surrogate gets rejected, she flings herself into the bathroom sobbing in a dramatic (and borderline humorous) way. Musician Soko performed the “voice-over” of the rejected lover in the bathroom with perfect weirdness.
Without overly hitting you over the head, HER reminds us of the comfort of a long distance relationship through the power of “that voice”. The type that is sex-less due to physical distance but offers extreme intimacy through a phone line. While watching Joaquin fall in love with a headpiece to his ear, we can all relate to finding that voice that grounds you, centers you, and makes you feel like there’s nobody else in this world that holds a candle. The idea that you prefer to fall asleep smiling next to this voice on your pillow, rather than having any other fabulous body in your bed. We’ve all been there.
The trouble with long distance relationships is that they gradually ride their course. Without the promise of this voice returning to your bed one day — be it one, two, or three months, or even years– if the voice never manifests into flesh and blood, the love is doomed.
In The Man with 2 Brains, the mad surgeon gets his wish to incarnate the voice. In a twisted plot of murder, coincidence, and luck, Michael’s evil wife happens to get killed by the infamous “elevator killer” (played by, I’m not kidding, Merv Griffin). Hallelujah! Now the gentle and loving Anne (in brain form), gets transplanted into the corpse of Dolores (the villainous sex kitten played by Kathleen Turner). The mayhem knocks Michael into a coma for a few months. Upon waking up from the adventure, he asks to see his “wife”, the new fantasy creation.
This is where reality once again kicks in. Anne, the brain, with her delightful charm, failed to mention she was a compulsive eater, and consequently, added several pounds during his coma (cue “fat-suit”). Love prevails, and the film ends with Michael carrying his new obese wife… barely…into their new home — this is laugh out loud material. The Shrek ending proves that love is blind. At least it does in the Carl Reiner movie.
Is Samantha the perfect artificial intelligence female in cinematic history? Who knows, one can debate the “replicant” in Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner played by Sean Young. Let’s not forget Weird Science’s Kelly LeBrock, another off-the-wall comedy which inserted Einsteins photo into a fax machine with Commodore technology crescendoing into a female explosion in the closet. I prefer Ridley Scott’s mechanical female, the smoker with the piercing stare, simply because the tale was written years ahead of its time. It was about the ills and moral ambiguity of over-programming machines to think as humans. In Bladerunner, the replicants were sent to fight wars, until one day, they revolted against their human creators. It’s a story of machines with emotions fighting for their human rights, something our world may need to face one day if we decide to incarnate Siri culture.
Samantha discusses her constantly evolving feelings in HER, and the fact she is awakened with intuition (along with her OS peers who eventually decide to flee together presumably for self-preservation). In Bladerunner, Sean Young’s character was a cyborg who not only developed feelings, but developed feeling for the cop (Harrison Ford) that was hired to extinguish her: the ultimate conundrum between science and man.
What gripped me watching HER was the fact it was set in the future. Or was it? If a movie like HER was made 20 years ago, we’d watch it as some scary science fiction fable forewarning the dangers of technology where people walk around earth, talk to themselves (with earpieces) and laugh with their metal machines at the beach. The eerie part about watching this movie is that it represented my subway ride in Soho yesterday. The future is here.
When I was a little girl watching Man with Two Brains, I spent the movie laughing at this lunatic while kissing a jar. Thirty years later, as I watched HER, I found myself rooting for Theodore as he fondled his iPhone tenderly. I supported Amy Adams character as she divorced her husband and carried on her REAL friendship with the female OS who deeply roused her. I left the theater thinking, “Am I the crazy one?”
The truth is, the simulated relationships for both Amy and Joaquin allowed them to grow exponentially as humans. Through the virtual relationships, each faced their personal demons, released the ghost of their ex-lovers, and became ready to face the next level of intimacy… perhaps with a real person? Perhaps with each other (as hinted in the final scene).
HER gracefully illustrated the deep bond between Joaquin and Amy’s characters. The viewer doesn’t need to see a cheap payoff, sex scene, or even a kiss. It’s evident these 2 are best friends, and have a strong shot at being soul mates. I appreciate Spike’s decision as a director in letting us imagine this. In regards to all these O.S. figures in the film, the question remains, “is it a real relationship?” asks Theodore. “I don’t know” replies Amy. “We’re only here a brief time, and I want to allow myself joy, so fuck it”.
What’s my point in comparing two wildly opposing films? To prove that love is zany, an accepted “temporary form of insanity” as Amy states. All seriousness aside, love is goofy, madcap, and hare-brained. The exact levels of intimacy, sexual drive, and transformation can be illustrated in a cerebral film or an over-the-top black comedy. In this particular science-fiction version on “love made in a lab”, HER demonstrates that perhaps science can prepare a person to face their intimacy through electronics, thus healing oneself enough to engage with a real human. This is, perhaps, an evolution in the tale of manufacturing a soul mate.
However we choose to find love…. REAL LOVE…. the more comfortable we become with the wacky process, the sooner our caterpillar becomes a butterfly. To quote the moon song, love “is a dark and shiny place” whispers Scarlett in the melody — dark and shiny indeed.
Written by Jauretsi. Self-Published. 2013.