Saturday, 1 February 2014

'Her' & The Evolution of Online Romance

'Love is crazy. Love is a socially acceptable form of insanity.'

'You always wanted a wife without the challenge of wanting to find someone... its perfect.'



Her, though nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards is not the type of movie that will win any prestigious prizes. It is not a film with a significant political message, nor does it have a happy ending. Marketed as a quirky romance, the heart of the film is angry and disaffected. As more and more people turn to the internet for dating there is a particular emotional resonance throughout the movie that will appeal to lots of people. Her may be set in the not too distant future, but it is very much film of its time.
Theodore is a lonely man in the final stages of his divorce. When he's not working as a letter writer, his down time is spent playing video games and occasionally hanging out with friends. He decides to purchase the new OS1, which is advertised as the world's first artificially intelligent operating system, "It's not just an operating system, it's a consciousness," the ad states. Theodore quickly finds himself drawn in with Samantha, the voice behind his OS1. As they start spending time together they grow closer and closer and eventually find themselves in love. Having fallen in love with his OS, Theodore finds himself dealing with feelings of both great joy and doubt. As an OS, Samantha has powerful intelligence that she uses to help Theodore in ways others hadn't, but how does she help him deal with his inner conflict of being in love with an OS?
Her is perhaps the very definition of a critical darling with respected film critics giving it near universal acclaim. The film has been on their radar since 2012, when noted film critic, Mark Harris tracked the film through pre and post-production, in amongst storyline tweaks and casting changes. Her seems a natural fit for the cinefile who loves to over intellectualise, but this film has stayed with me during a four week period, and through two viewings for other reasons.

I have been involved in three online relationships. In my early 20s, I had never experienced any form of relationship, let alone one conducted online, so I thought such relationships had the advantage of 'looking past' my disability, where a desirable female would have the opportunity to get to know me first (and possibly fall in love) before I revealed my worst characteristic at a time of my own choosing.

The only thing the two parties can rely upon in an online relationship is their words. This is a double-edged sword, words can either act as the most profound form of love, or act as the mostly deadly weapons with which to vanquish the most stable relationship. Her makes clear throughout the movie that Samantha never was, and never will be human. However, the same rules apply for her and Theodore as they did to me and my objects of affection. For this reason, the film catalogues the joyous, sexy, happy, painful and bloody carnage of my past online relationships in all their complexity.

Loneliness.

In order to even comprehend the possibility of starting an strictly online relationship, both parties have to be desperately lonely, whether they admit this to themselves (and each other) or not. Typically, one that considers an all verbal relationship will be introverted, and more often than not have severe psychological and emotional issues underlining this tendency. This dooms the relationship before it begins.

Blank Canvass

The one advantage that an online relationship has over all others is that you can project the best version of yourself onto others. If your partner tells you about an interest that you are vaguely ambivalent about, you can type the subject into Google and act like you are an expert. Yes, this is considered to be lying, but you just want her to like you as much as you like her. You can also avoid topics that are too emotionally uncomfortable with a witty retort and the right choice of emoticon.

Isolation By Choice

The apex of the honeymoon exists when she is the only person in the known universe. Conversation on largely superfical topics lasts several days, even weeks or months. You begin to approximate physical intimacy, and at the time this satisfies you because you have tunnel vision and think that she is the only girl who sees you for who you are and vice versa. Those little white lies are meaningless. You neglect your other friends and family. When you do see them conversational topics consist of her alone. These people tell you to be careful with your heart, but you have developed myopic hearing.

Comfort

The two parties supposedly know each other intimately by now. Well past the honeymoon stage, the only thing they have in common is routine, and the relationship is reduced to stilted conversation about menial topics that provide no insight into feelings or emotions. You begin to wonder in the back of your mind where the spark went, but you tell yourself that the medium is the problem and not the personalities.

The Unveiling

In an attempt to salvage a decaying relationship, you encourage your friends to interact with her. To make things easier, you may invite them into your online conversations so your sliences aren't quite so prolonged. Your friends being the good people they are tell you that they really like her, but they secretly (and justifiably) have conversations behind your back where your judgement is openly questioned. You begin to crave real physical intimacy and feel your approximation is nothing but an elaborate charade.

Trust Eroded

The silences kill you, where each quiet minute feels like a bomb going off in your chest. Only now you begin to realise there is a serious problem.  Discussions turn into arguments and she is not online when you are. Upon her return, you ask her where she has been, and she tells you. You think she is lying, but it doesn't matter if she is or not. You imagine her getting drunk at the local bar, half the world away, hooking up with her 'best friend'. And there right then the trust is gone. There is nothing left to salvage.

The End

On reflection, you don't deal with the problems that arose and you don't learn important lessons because it wasn't real anyway. You never kissed her, never fucked her. 'I love you' was just a sentence you kept repeating when there was nothing left to say, it had no real meaning. You look her up months later, only to find out she was doing the same thing with some other guy the whole time. This does not hurt because you are not surprised in the least. You are in the same place only with your heart a little more hardened. And you are lonely.

Maybe the next time won't be as bad?

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