I recently saw the movie Her with Joquin Phoenix and it really got me thinking. Rough cut of the movie line: it’s a love story, about a man and a Operating System (OS). But past that simple description, it asks us to take a look at how we narrowly define love and on a deeper level, what is ‘real’. Culture seems to have the job of creating norms and rules about things that aren’t always easily definable. Love can be simply defined, but it also has intangible qualities that are much more difficult to quantify. It requires us to put language to feelings. Reality is equally as hard to nail down.
love [luhv] noun
- a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
- a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
- sexual passion or desire.
- a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
(used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, my love?
reality [ree-al-i-tee] noun
- the state or quality of being real.
- resemblance to what is real, a real thing or fact.
- real things, facts, or events taken as a whole; state of affairs: the reality of the business world; vacationing to escape reality.
Philosophy of Reality
- something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive.
These are probably good definitions, but are these definitions really the totality of these complex words? What does love feel like? Does love happen in reality or is it a construct of our minds? How do you know it’s a “true love,” rather than a superficial “I’m so in love with ice cream” kind of love? And who am I to judge if you’re not really so in love with ice cream? In turn, what is Reality? What does it mean that Reality exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive? What are the nuances of a feeling real? Is there a better way to love? Or a worse way? Do we attempt to make these deep philosophical ideas into black and white issues, easily defined, to fit in the boxes we like, so we can be comfortable? While I understand that our cultural perspective does define these concepts, under what perimeters should love or reality be defined for anyone, given that few of us are from the same exact culture?
In Her, a man falls in love with a computer operating system (OS). The OS is a learning, thinking, questioning, and growing being. It has a great personality, but for most of us, it’s not what we think of as a “real person,” and therefore we might wonder, is he having a real relationship? There were several places in the movie that I felt myself cringe when he talked about his girlfriend, and then explained she was an OS. Yet the love felt real, at least to the man, and for me, the movie stretches the idea of what constitutes real love anyway? At what point is love “real,” or valid? Do we limit other peoples emotional lives when we foist our cultural judgements, our contextual thinking, and perceptions of reality of right or wrong doing, onto their reality? Who gets to decide for everyone anyway? Given that so many people are lonely and learning to love is powerful to our lives, why would we stop love from existing in any form that doesn’t harm anyone?
The movie also explores the idea of what make any of us real. Is the OS real? As in a sentient personhood sort of real? Is the OS more real than say a Corporation, which in the US we have given personhood and now Corporations have the rights of a real person, even though I’m pretty sure that Corporations don’t have souls. This is a similar question that was asked in the movie Blade Runner, At what point is something ‘real’? More human than human was the sales pitch for the Replicants. We could create ‘people’ but they had no rights, no souls, they weren’t real independently from our need or use of them, the Replicants were commodities. Yet they evolved over time to have feelings, physical and emotional, and memories, and relationships, and they wanted ‘more life’ and to be considered real. And, even today it’s amazing how many people have cyber relationships going on in virtual worlds? Real people are behind the avatars, but they often haven’t met in the reality we call meeting ‘in person’, yet they can really know each other and they talk, have friendships, and dare one say even fall in love sometimes.
What if love and reality are big things, so big that we can only ever see a tiny bit and we think we’re seeing the whole thing, but the whole thing is so vast that there is no way from our small place in the universe to see it all? What about that? From this perspective of vastness, it may just be that we probably know next to nothing. And, we create cultural constructs of our knowledge and try and make the whole vast infinite universe fit in our tiny little boxes. I am reminded of a line from the movie Lion in Winter, “I know, You know that I know, and I know that you know that I know, we are a very knowledgeable family…” But, the line might have been more true if we just said, “I don’t know, you don’t know, I don’t know what you know and you don’t know what I know, and we are all just making stuff up all the time pretending to be knowledgeable, it’s what our family does.” That would have been funny. In fact that’s the only thing I know is true… really.