Is Spike Jonze Warning Us Not to Fall in Love with Machines?
In this intriguing video essay for Fandor, Chloé Galibert-Lainé investigates the possible meanings behind on-screen relationships between humans and robots, stating that they could potentially represent the struggle between the duality of reality and dreams.
Man vs. Machine is a very common trope in cinema, and has been for virtually all of its history. (One of the earliest, and most famous, examples of this is Fritz Lang's 1927 dystopian sci-fi film Metropolis.) But Galibert-Lainé's study focuses specifically on how director Spike Jonze sets the stage for his characters to battle between their stark realities and the idealism of their dreams. Their weapon of choice? Artificial intelligence.
The connection she makes between Being John Malkovich and Her is really brilliant, because when we think of artificial intelligence we think robots and machines, but puppets and operating systems are used in the same way -- in these films at least. Craig Schwartz (BJM) and Theodore (Her) are both struggle with their clumsy existence in the world, and their primary means of escape is through reenacting and creating situations that they control, giving them the chance to have positive social and emotional experiences.
The boil it down a bit more -- the characters in these films crave intimacy, but find it difficult to find it within traditional social interactions with humans.
It's especially interesting to watch how these "artificial" relationships fall apart. If we take queues from Jonze, it's safe to say that they do so because of a disassociation with reality -- with humanity. In Being John Malkovich, Malkovich's body is just a puppet, while in Her, Samantha is just an operating system -- both used, designed, and programmed to fulfill the needs and desires of whomever controls them. They both become vessels to make the controller's dreams come true. They both become the controller's escape from the real world.
(That actually sounds a lot like filmmaking.)
So, if the intelligence with which one falls in love is artificial, does that make the love innately artificial? Can you really love something you control completely? Well, if films like Being John Malkovich, Her, and Lars and the Real Girl say anything about it it's -- no. Not really. Our flawed, dirty, imperfect reality always trumps our flawless, unblemished, perfect dreams.