Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Unflesh and unblood

Brad Miner reviews Her and segues into the “technisation” of love, to borrow from Berdyaev. Excerpt:

The world left to Theodore and Amy seems so small. It reminded me of the end of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), a movie I saw as a kid and that scared and saddened me. Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is exposed to a strange cloud and begins losing weight. But also height. He shrinks until he realizes he’s probably heading towards atomic size and then oblivion, which gives him peace, because, as he says, to God “there is no zero.”


In Her, all the characters have turned in on themselves, and having done so they turn away from others and, of course, God. I don’t know if Spike Jonze would read that sentence and nod or frown; nor do I care. I’m disinterested in what a director means to “say,” and know only what I see on screen. The consensus at the film-review website Rotten Tomatoes is that Her is “sweet, soulful, and smart,” to which I can say, well, one out of three ain’t bad.

Smart the film is. And it may suggest sweetness to some that Theodore’s artificially intelligent lover awakens in him all the emotions he ought to have felt and expressed to his ex-wife (Rooney Mara) or might come to feel for Amy. But it’s the kind of treacle withdrawn pre-teens might mistake for sweet.

And if ever a film was soulless, Her is it. Part of the conceit is that when Theodore “comes out” about his virtual girlfriend nobody bats an eye. No doubt the courts would consent to their marriage, as no doubt also to a union with a unicorn if that were the object of Theodore’s desire. Memories of his failed marriage haunt Theodore, as well they might, since, as imperfectly spontaneous as it was, that marriage was possibly his only chance at actual happiness. Indeed, a message of Her might be that there’s no such thing as virtual happiness. Definitely no virtual salvation.

Her is a film well worth seeing, although if anybody comes away thinking it’s the “feel-good” movie of the year, that person should head straight to Confession, because the world of Her really is a nightmare.

“Sweet” can be a euphemism for “pathetic.” Without a real woman to adore and take the focus off himself, Theodore’s “relationship” with his operating system is no different than humping robots or anonymous phone sex.

To solve the problem of intimacy with his virtual girlfriend, Theodore hires a “surrogate” to give physical presence to the operating system’s affection for him. This treads on familiar territory. In the age of modern love, all kinds of surrogates are being tasked to complete traditional roles that some couples cannot physically perform themselves, most notably childbearing. But Her does not explore the dynamics of having a child with an operating system, falling short of being truly forward thinking. Give it 10 years, and audiences will be more receptive.

Not completely unrelated, in Public Discourse, Alana S. Newman decries the reproductive technologies racket:

Gay male couples are the Number One demographic to be targeted by American surrogacy agencies. This is for several reasons. For starters, partnered gay men are wealthier than any other demographic, earning an average of $116,000 per year per household, which is $21,500 more than the average heterosexual household. Secondly, LGBT individuals and couples are under great social pressure to have children. Their parents want grandchildren. Their friends and colleagues still connect marriage with child-rearing and begin inquiring about plans for parenthood soon after same-sex ceremonies. And some are pressed to acquire children for the sake of the LGBT agenda and the promotion of a la carte families. Children are the latest statement accessories.

There were several disturbing moments at the conference—like the explanation of a UK case where a married woman went searching online for a sperm donor and ended up having a physical, romantic relationship with him. She became pregnant and insisted that the baby was conceived naturally, demanding child support. The man insisted that the pregnancy was achieved via artificial insemination and denied any responsibility toward the child. Meanwhile, the woman’s husband agreed to care for a child conceived artificially, but was not willing to care for a genetically unrelated child conceived through sexual intercourse. The 300+ attendees thought this scenario was hilarious, and the legalese PowerPoint muck was suddenly sliced through with laughter.

The child’s adoptive father wanted the child if it was the product of artificial insemination by a stranger, but he didn’t want it if it was the product of his wife’s sexual congress with said stranger. I understand his feelings towards his cheating wife, but we’re talking about the life of a child!

Are there no adoption agencies where these people are? Adoption is cheaper and more humane than bringing children of dubious parentage into the world.

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