Her (2013) and the legacy of Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?

In a discussion of the lasting cultural impact of the Philip K. Dick novel, Noah Berlatsky wrote in an article for Salon that Jonze’s 2013 film, Her, takes the anxieties of Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? and “extrapolates our present omni-wired society into a kind of techno-utopia, where mediated digital connection expands upon and enables ever more empathic humanness”.

A brief extract of Berlatsky’s article follows below.


Forty-five years after “Androids” was published, “Her” is here to tell us that [the worries inspired by Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?] were way, way overblown. Jonze’s future is not a hell; on the contrary, it extrapolates our present omni-wired society into a kind of techno-utopia, where mediated digital connection expands upon and enables ever more empathic humanness.  The main character, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), works at a dot-com composing meaningful, beautiful letters for others on commission, encapsulating the essential feelings of a relationship for those too tongue-tied to do it themselves. Even more to the point, Theodore falls in love with an AI operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), who is characterized specifically by her intuition and consequent talent for emotional intimacy. Technology is not dehumanizing, but rather ultra-humanizing.

This humanization, or extension of empathy, isn’t just about accepting robots as human; it’s about accepting, and embracing, all kinds of difference. As such, it can be seen as demonstrating, and celebrating, the social progress made since Dick’s downbeat novel. In “Androids,” the human-like robots are figured in part as marginalized minorities, marked as different, the better to despise them, loathe them and hunt them down with the sanction of the government and, to a large extent, of the novel itself. The fear and hatred of the other is mixed up, too, with Dick’s complicated, but definite, misogyny. Rachael Rosen, an android, sleeps with Deckard to manipulate him, her calculation and emotional remoteness fitting neatly into noir cold bitch stereotypes. Seeing androids as truly different and inhuman, then, becomes a way for the novel to process difference — whether of race, class or gender — as evil or dangerous.


The full article was published 19 Dec 2013 on Salon.com and can be read here.

Join us on Monday 4th December at the School of Optometry for our own discussion of the new Blade Runner film, its predecessor, and the Philip K. Dick novel from which both films draw their inspiration.

Tickets are available through Eventbrite.

(Image credit)

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