There's a moment in the film, Her when Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) realizes that the relationship he's having with his new operating system is not exactly a private experience. Within the short span it takes for him to fall in love with his sexy AI system, the phenomenon of engaging in a non-human relationship is trending. It's only while paying attention in public, that he discovers AI love has become a socially accepted norm for many people. He was just too lost in his own moment to notice.
Imagine so many lonely souls quickly willing to transition to this kind of experience, even if it is based on a summation of their archived data. Director Spike Jonze paints a future that looks visually similar to life today, letting us know that more people may become this lonely before we know it. It is a strange but believable scenario.
When we step back from the narrative of this film, and look at the present moment, we default to the consensus that we are still a good number of years away from this phenomenon. But the truth is that Her was released in 2013, and a lot has changed since then.
Digital love is no longer a topic of science fiction. Even if we can't see it, this digital reality is already happening. Instead of dreading a mass descent into this strangely automated space, we should look at our 'now' point. What is our collective experience during this transition?
Many of us don't want to face these questions. Some of us just don't care to ponder the future, and prefer to look at the past for comfort. Others think too intensely about the future, and anticipate a dark, bleak age ahead. But what about those of us who are versed in meditation, and focus on the whole of the present moment?
As beautiful as that practice is, the sensation of meditation is meant to occur through the vessel of the body. Can the body translate the waves of transition while we are mindfully capturing it? I won't count that out as a possibility, but how in the world does one patch into the undertow of the collective consciousness?
Is there a way to locate this psychologically? What if we simply study our habits on social media? That seems like a good start, but that's not really a genuine, holistic representation of our actual experiences. Even as developments in big data allow us to study an impressive array of online behavioral metrics, how can we study what is changing inside us internally? Maybe one day a tool will be invented that can harness the sprawling chaos, and compare our physical experiences against our digital ones.
Until that day, I will turn to the realm of movies to draw more insight from. After thinking back to the futurist vision of Her, I'd like to compare it with another film that offers a perspective on time. Jim Jarmusch's, Mystery Train is a uniquely crafted narrative that was an indie success back in 1989.
In many ways, Mystery Train represents a vision of a faded, analog past that many Americans still immortalize. It moves at a fittingly nostalgic pace, as it follows a series of three vignettes amid a ghost town ambiance in Memphis, Tennessee. The most prominent theme is the revolving myth of Elvis Presley, which is as subjective a topic as a trip to Roswell, New Mexico.
I re-watched this film recently and it seems that at only 20 years old, it may already move too slowly for today's average viewer. However it has a special existential quality that is really worth experiencing. Instead of focusing on the usual conflicts that drive narrative scenes, Jim Jarmusch is more interested in showing the spaces in between the main scenes of action:
As the characters in the scene above move through the iconic ghost shell of Memphis, they symbolize a new generation walking through an expired one. At the same time the foreign strangers contrast the American town, they are also immersed in the mythic aura of Graceland.
What I find interesting is that throughout the film, once the characters arrive at their destination, time just seems to stop. Only as the camera moves us across the landscape, does the viewer dial into the idea of time passing.
So what is more interesting? The present time, or the journey between times? The dynamics of love and human relationships are part of our constantly evolving state of transition. Perhaps if we look inward, we can find new meaning in the spaces in between.