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May 19,2020

by Efrén Poveda García

SAMANTHA-SIDDHARTHA

Unless you are too scatter-brained or just arrived from another planet, you should know that, since Ms Rona came to visit, we at the Miista team have tried to focus on the opportunities, inherent to every crisis despite tragedy, for constructive attitudes and reflections. Particularly, we’ve dealt with what we might call mental, social and political health, with the conviction that the three of them are interconnected in multiple ways

Her poster

Apart from crazy IG stories with positive vibes (I didn’t participate in their making, so I can say they are amazing), Miista has been broadcasting live workshops with artists and several other friends to help us all stay sane and boost our creativity to make each day an opportunity for self-expansion and self-discovery. In case you missed any of them, they are all in our IG. Furthermore, we have used our journal as a space for reflection on what’s going on. Just go there and take a look at our latest posts!

On April 3, below the title “Don’t Know What to Do? Know Thyself!” I explained (part of) my views on meditation and on how good it could be to take advantage of this hiatus of social distancing and indefinite postponement of our Tinder dates to look into ourselves even though not through thinking, but through focused, non-judgemental contemplation of our emotions. A bit later, we were lucky enough to enjoy a live meditation session with Vanessa Hong and yoga teacher Tony Lupinacci. As you know, dear reader, there’s nothing I like more than diptychs and triptychs, and I was inspired during the meditation session to “close” for now our immersion into this practice and its associated world views with a piece on the movie Her, by Spike Jonze.

Tinder

Yes, Her. It may seem totally unrelated with mindfulness, yoga or meditation, but it is actually the opposite. The fact that many viewers who loved the film didn’t grasp what I consider its main points and just see it as “a long Black Mirror episode” usually strikes me. This is why, believing as I do that movies can be a tool for learning, I’d like to share my interpretation with you. It won’t be complete, though, for I will make this article as spoiler-free as possible so that whoever hasn’t seen the movie yet can watch it after reading this without knowing key plot twists in advance.

It would be wonderful, by the way, to receive responses (critical or not) with your own views on the film. Miista loves direct contact with the Miista community!

CLOSE BUT DISTANCED, DISTANCED BUT CLOSE

From the very beginning, Her introduces us into a society the members of which either have problems to express their feelings or are prolonging relationships that should have ended long ago. Theodore’s job (Theodore is the main character, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix) is no more, no less than composing “handwritten” letters that will be sent to people whom his clients love or pretend to love.

No wonder those living in futuristic LA find it difficult to share their emotions with others. Most of them probably aren’t even able to recognise them. Too much rush, too much subway depersonalisation, too many people, too many airpods, too many visual stimuli from big screens and from the little ones in their hands and pockets. Sounds familiar? (More on this: “Cabin Fever,” March 29, 2020, Journal)

As Theodore’s job proves, there’s plenty of examples of couples which, living together, aren’t united by love or don’t share their lives anymore. Perhaps they never did. This is going to be very important to understand the messages in the film. But there is also much room in this story for authentic “closeness,” that in which you share meaningful moments with someone you love — moments which foster vitality, reinforce inner peace and create a feeling of expansion whether or not that someone is sitting beside you (indeed, I think the saturation of social distancing with negative meaning is too simplistic).

By and large, there are two major convergent themes in Her as I see it, and despite the usual claims, neither of them is the possibility of engaging in close relationships with artificial intelligences in a near future. Such possibility, which is the starting point of the plot’s machinery, seems to me an excuse to speak about other things.

“I LOVE YOU SO MUCH I’M GONNA FUCKING KILL YOU”

First, this is a story about attachment — the attachment that holds together people who should have parted ways time ago. And about the resistance attachment entails when it comes to accepting that a relationship is over or must be radically restructured. As a consequence, this is also a story about acceptance and letting go.

It is usual to confuse attachment with love or to experience a mixture of both, not only in romantic relationships. When I write attachment, I am thinking of its meaning in so-called Eastern philosophies like Zen, Taoism or certain schools of Hinduist thought. Attachment is the feeling that we depend on something or someone in an existential way, that is, that we need that person, object, worldview, job, status, conviction, emotion, plan, habit or desire in order to keep going on in life (unconsciously, the ultimate goal of attachment is survival). Attachment is caused by fear. Fear of abandoning your comfort zone (fear of the unknown), fear of loneliness, fear of failure, fear of losing some kind of status (pride), love as possession (fear of not having someone to alleviate a painful void within or to counterbalance our insecurities). These are only some examples.

Fear

And those fears spring from a primordial fear. The horror, wonderfully described as Angst by Martin Heidegger and visually represented by Munch’s Scream, inherent to a feeling that I would call incompleteness, for we attach to things in the attempt to compensate our lacks.

I am still installed in the existential neighbourhood of the mind, where incompleteness includes the acceptations of agonising vulnerability, helplessness and guilty, shaming imperfection. In short, incompleteness could be described as not being enough. But don’t forget: in an existential way. Not being enough in crucial aspects of live. Incompleteness is represented, for example, in Plato’s Banquet and by the ideal of romantic love and better HALVES (more on the toxic logics of love in “Rosalía’s El mal querer. Love as Lack, Love and Death, the Wounds of Masculinity,” this Journal). On the other hand, in Abrahamic religions, the perfection of self-sustaining, self-contained almighty gods makes humankind in our inability to control our life circumstances and our subjection to randomness, divine wrath and the dangers of nature incomplete in the sense of imperfect, imperfect by contraposition (have these gods been given the attributes that humans felt we lacked?). Incompleteness as imperfection is represented as nowhere else in the notion of original sin. Incompleteness as vulnerability (being subject to incontrollable circumstances), in J.M.C. Turner’s paintings (disasters, violent nature, tiny human figures) and in every bleeding Jesus nailed to a cross please compare with smiling Buddhas and the ideas the we are one with “god” (prominently in Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism and Taoism).

Turner

Such horror makes us wish for permanent securities that provide the impression of being in control, of being safe, of completeness. Throughout Spike Jonze’s film, we will find examples of desperately searching for permanence in the area of romantic love attention to the blind date sequence! as well as examples of not assuming that a relationship is over, starting with Theodore’s job (as said above) and his resistance to sign his divorce papers, continuing with his best friend Amy’s relationship.

It is important to make clear that the type of dependency I’m addressing by bringing attachment to the dissection table is emotional in kind. While it is biologically true that we all depend on a broad range of material items and living things, I am not referring here to “objective” facts, nor of a merely rational recognition of such dependence. I am talking of feelings. That of lacking something primordial and that of the desperate need of compensating that lack just like a one-legged person needs crutches to be able to walk. But in this case lack and need happen in the realm of emotions, in the realm within us. Actually, a one-legged person can perfectly need crutches as an “objective” fact without feeling incomplete or in need.

Attachment to our partners can easily result in attitudes of control towards them. We can become jealous, emotionally blackmail them, demand things they can’t give us. Impeding their flourishing, killing them softly. Or we can take the opposite attitude of letting ourselves be controlled to satisfy them. In both cases, there’s fear of the changes in the other (am I going to be abandoned?). I think, however, that a combination of both behaviours in each person is the most common situation.

All of this is wonderfully exemplified by Theodore’s relationship with his estranged wife Catherine. I suggest paying great attention to every word about her as well as to everything she says because, frankly, it’s gold!

ACCEPTANCE

Following the aforementioned philosophies, Her warns us about the possibility that intimate closeness may with time become distancing: “It was exciting to see her grow and both of us grow and change together. But that's also the hard part: growing without growing apart or changing without it scaring the other person.”

Yet, the film doesn’t approach the topic with pessimism. It tries to convey the message that the unpredictable evolution of relationships needn’t be a devastating problem. Nothing in life remains the same forever and we should accept it. If we want to be happy, we must accept it. Growth (precisely, a kind of change) is what brings us closer to happiness, but if we cling to how things were in the past, we will stagnate and, like John Dowland, in darkness dwell.

As the third act of the film makes plain, acceptance means lovingly embracing change and, therefore, letting things and people go when it is the right time. It is a source of peace and vitality, contrary to inner resistance and recalcitrance, struggles that consume energy and embitter one’s experience. It mustn’t be mistaken for resignation, a way of giving up without recognising the need of change. Resignation treasures resistance and the pain that comes with it while, at the same time, tries to feel them the less possible, even though they are there in the fringes of experience dying it with dissatisfaction. In resignation there’s attachment and, as a matter of fact, resignation becomes something to which one is attached. It may even become a cornerstone, an internal alarm filling us with fear in order to protect us from disappointment.

Theodore

Neither is acceptance a synonym of detachment. On the contrary, Zen or Taoism encourage us to submerge in experience and live it to the fullest. Something (living every moment to the fullest) that can only be done in the absence of attachments, in the absence of resistance, in the absence of fear. Have you heard of the importance of presence in Zen, yoga or meditation? When there’s no fear, you really are “present” in the present moment. When there’s fear, you’re hurt and angry at the past as well as worried about what’s to come. Your attention is directed elsewhere.

When we first meet Theodore, we find him in detachment mode, but not entirely. Detachment is something one can pursue or tend to, but it can never be realised completely. We all long for something, especially love and recognition. In fact, nearness to detachment is usually a mechanism triggered by resistance or resignation. Theodore is a grey guy who refuses socialising and hides in his cavern-apartment to play video games and watch porn. He obviously feels safe in there, but also miserable because his seemingly detached attitude derives from a strong attachment to a marriage that is already broken: “I still find myself having conversations with her in my mind. Rehashing old arguments and defending myself against something she said about me.” He is stagnated. There’s no progress in him. No change for the better.

When he buys an operative system to have conversations with, he is, at first sight, trying to alleviate his self-produced loneliness while avoiding the emotional risks implied in “real” relationships. But once he’s given the choice of determining the program’s gender, he starts to unconsciously use it to substitute his wife, to substitute one attachment with another. The fact that the program is, so to say, tailor-made, is a plus. He definitely won’t have to face the emotions he shrinks from. Or will he?

“You know, I can feel the fear that you carry around and I wish there was... something I could do to help you let go of it because if you could, I don't think you'd feel so alone anymore.”

HEY! WHAT ABOUT SAMANTHA?

Theodore… What a meaningful name, don’t you think?

It is true that a great part of the story revolves around Theodore’s attachments and grief, but it is also true that Samantha (the, up to now, unnamed operative system) exemplifies the feelings of lack (of a physical body), imperfection and fear of losing someone. Most importantly, she represents acceptance and love experienced as overabundance (“…the heart's not like a box that gets filled up. It expands in size the more you love”), overabundance as the opposite of lack (“Maybe that would have filled this ti-... tiny little hole in my heart, but probably not...”).

Gif 1

In this context, true love is defined by wanting both your happiness and self-fulfilment and those of the other, which means being willing to let loose the other person, or to let them go if at least one of you is halting the other’s growth (when the relationship no longer contributes to the happiness of at least one of its members, but has deteriorated in a way that trying to maintain things equal will only cause pain).

Love enhances vitality and joy, attachment brings pain. However, just like Jack in Lost, we’re not good at letting go.

THE OTHER GREAT THEME AT LAST!

“The raft is needed, but the raft is not the other shore. An intelligent personwould not carry the raft around on his head after making it across to the other shore.” - Thich Nhat Hahn

Well, the second great theme in this movie is, like I said, intimately related with the first one. I like to call it “the progress of intelligence,” which is not the same as “the progress of artificial intelligence.” 

I won’t expand on it. Much better if it’s you who makes the discoveries. Instead, I will leave some hints.

This topic is much more metaphysical than the first one despite their centuries-long interwovenness and mutual dependence. One of the keys to grasp it is the moment in which philosopher Alan Watts is mentioned.

Dust

Alan Watts was the most influential author dedicated to introduce what we call Eastern philosophy in Western culture, starting with Zen.

Please, dear reader, pay attention to the spaces — the void — between words and dust particles and snowflakes (each flake in its appropriate place, as the Zen saying goes). Pay attention to the reality beyond words.

HOMEWORK

1. I strongly recommend a careful reading of the Quotes section on Her’s page at IMDb after watching the movie. There you will find a catalogue of elements from Zen: - Lots of fear, attachment, resistance, dissatisfaction, acceptance and love - The “beginner’s mind” (seeing everything as if it was the first time, being open to let your worldview change) - Living in the present moment: “The past is just a story we tell ourselves,” “…a photo that captures us in this moment in our life together.” - Default ruminative thinking blocking action and joy - Ego in the form of a virtual alien child - Very interesting metaphysical stuff

2. On the other hand, this is a great moment for assessing the quality of our relationships. Perhaps you, dear reader, have already done it, or perhaps there are sensations in your stomach or heart encouraging you to proceed. Those in the latter case come with me! Let’s ask ourselves: What keeps my relationships going? Is any of them sustained by inertia? Do they bring me joy? Do they contribute to my happiness? Has any of them become a matter of obligation?

Being “distanced” from so many and “close” to others due to shared confinement may be (or may have been) an awareness trigger regarding what you’re tired of and what you want in your interactions. Let’s make the most of the circumstance!

If in the process of answering these questions you find yourself in the middle of a sea of doubts, or if you feel that the state of acceptance is hard to reach, perhaps it’s time to set thinking aside. “Come on, meditate! Come on! Let’s contemplate.” Meditation is approaching our feelings compassionately, with no judgement. Letting them be, letting them loose, letting them go. Acceptance is the solution for repression. And when there’s fear there’s always repression: you don’t want to feel pain, you don’t even want to recognise it, so it remains within you — unreleased, unexpressed, trapped. 

HER AND BLACK MIRROR AND ARONOFSKY

To finish this post, I would like to suggest a total infit for your mind. Tracing specific ideas through different films is something I find very enriching, and I believe Her and The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky) to be a perfect match. In The Fountain, permanence and impermanence, resistance and acceptance, are medullar concepts, but they are approached from a more Taoist point of view. Just a warning: Don’t read the film as a combination of three stories from different ages. Philosophically speaking, that would be so non-Eastern! (Time is imaginary in these strands of thought. Acceptance keeps you in the present. The past doesn’t exist. Neither does the future.) 

the fountain-319435680-large

As an accessory and final touch, it is practically mandatory to try the trendy combination of Her with Black Mirror’s episode “Be Right Back” (the best in the show so far, if you ask me). There is quite a consensus on the idea that Spike Jonze’s movie and “Be Right Back” tell more or less the same story, and I won’t deny that completely. Their plots run parallel in crucial aspects. In both cases we find a protagonist in grief due to a recent loss. And in both cases our anti-hero gets involved in a romantic relationship with an artificial intelligence. Such structuring aspects of the plots are always mentioned when claiming that these pieces are “basically the same.” Paradoxically, the structural and symbolic parallelism between their third acts is often forgotten, which seems pretty meaningful to me. I guess it is due to the poor presence in popular culture of the concepts of attachment, resistance and acceptance as have been presented here.

Be Right Back

Most importantly, each third act conveys an additional meaning beyond those in which the two stories converge. And precisely these additional meanings are what rounds the general meaning of each film, the meaning that makes each of them worthy of existence and marks relevant differences with the other. This too has often been oversighted.

Possible causes: (1) The absence of a habit of asking ourselves what messages we’re receiving when watching movies (entertainment is usually thought to be their only function: “Is Art Useless?” February 14, 2020, this Journal). (2) The emotional pull these two stories have on viewers might prevent analysis.

And that’s a shame, because the point “Be right back” tries to make is good: Our identity in social media is a falsification. It lacks the peculiarities and imperfections that make us unique and susceptible to being loved.

The End

Accept, accept, accept, guys. Namaste.

Image Credits

Her promotional poster Prunus in Flower and Bamboo, Shitao (1642-1707)

“Tinder,” from Honest Apps 2020 series, Viktor Herz (https://viktorhertz.threadless.com/, IG: viktorhertz)

Still from Her, Warner Bros. Picture - © 2013 - Untitled Rick Howard Company LLC

Fishermen at Sea, J. M. W. Turner

Still from Her, Warner Bros. Picture - © 2013 - Untitled Rick Howard Company LLC

Gif of Samantha's interface. Source: https://wintersoldiered.tumblr.com/post/84765884805/vikander-hello-im-here

Still from Her, Warner Bros. Picture - © 2013 - Untitled Rick Howard Company LLC

The Fountain promotional poster

“Be Right Back” promotional poster

May 19,2020

by Efrén Poveda García

SAMANTHA-SIDDHARTHA

Unless you are too scatter-brained or just arrived from another planet, you should know that, since Ms Rona came to visit, we at the Miista team have tried to focus on the opportunities, inherent to every crisis despite tragedy, for constructive attitudes and reflections. Particularly, we’ve dealt with what we might call mental, social and political health, with the conviction that the three of them are interconnected in multiple ways

Her poster

Apart from crazy IG stories with positive vibes (I didn’t participate in their making, so I can say they are amazing), Miista has been broadcasting live workshops with artists and several other friends to help us all stay sane and boost our creativity to make each day an opportunity for self-expansion and self-discovery. In case you missed any of them, they are all in our IG. Furthermore, we have used our journal as a space for reflection on what’s going on. Just go there and take a look at our latest posts!

On April 3, below the title “Don’t Know What to Do? Know Thyself!” I explained (part of) my views on meditation and on how good it could be to take advantage of this hiatus of social distancing and indefinite postponement of our Tinder dates to look into ourselves even though not through thinking, but through focused, non-judgemental contemplation of our emotions. A bit later, we were lucky enough to enjoy a live meditation session with Vanessa Hong and yoga teacher Tony Lupinacci. As you know, dear reader, there’s nothing I like more than diptychs and triptychs, and I was inspired during the meditation session to “close” for now our immersion into this practice and its associated world views with a piece on the movie Her, by Spike Jonze.

Tinder

Yes, Her. It may seem totally unrelated with mindfulness, yoga or meditation, but it is actually the opposite. The fact that many viewers who loved the film didn’t grasp what I consider its main points and just see it as “a long Black Mirror episode” usually strikes me. This is why, believing as I do that movies can be a tool for learning, I’d like to share my interpretation with you. It won’t be complete, though, for I will make this article as spoiler-free as possible so that whoever hasn’t seen the movie yet can watch it after reading this without knowing key plot twists in advance.

It would be wonderful, by the way, to receive responses (critical or not) with your own views on the film. Miista loves direct contact with the Miista community!

CLOSE BUT DISTANCED, DISTANCED BUT CLOSE

From the very beginning, Her introduces us into a society the members of which either have problems to express their feelings or are prolonging relationships that should have ended long ago. Theodore’s job (Theodore is the main character, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix) is no more, no less than composing “handwritten” letters that will be sent to people whom his clients love or pretend to love.

No wonder those living in futuristic LA find it difficult to share their emotions with others. Most of them probably aren’t even able to recognise them. Too much rush, too much subway depersonalisation, too many people, too many airpods, too many visual stimuli from big screens and from the little ones in their hands and pockets. Sounds familiar? (More on this: “Cabin Fever,” March 29, 2020, Journal)

As Theodore’s job proves, there’s plenty of examples of couples which, living together, aren’t united by love or don’t share their lives anymore. Perhaps they never did. This is going to be very important to understand the messages in the film. But there is also much room in this story for authentic “closeness,” that in which you share meaningful moments with someone you love — moments which foster vitality, reinforce inner peace and create a feeling of expansion whether or not that someone is sitting beside you (indeed, I think the saturation of social distancing with negative meaning is too simplistic).

By and large, there are two major convergent themes in Her as I see it, and despite the usual claims, neither of them is the possibility of engaging in close relationships with artificial intelligences in a near future. Such possibility, which is the starting point of the plot’s machinery, seems to me an excuse to speak about other things.

“I LOVE YOU SO MUCH I’M GONNA FUCKING KILL YOU”

First, this is a story about attachment — the attachment that holds together people who should have parted ways time ago. And about the resistance attachment entails when it comes to accepting that a relationship is over or must be radically restructured. As a consequence, this is also a story about acceptance and letting go.

It is usual to confuse attachment with love or to experience a mixture of both, not only in romantic relationships. When I write attachment, I am thinking of its meaning in so-called Eastern philosophies like Zen, Taoism or certain schools of Hinduist thought. Attachment is the feeling that we depend on something or someone in an existential way, that is, that we need that person, object, worldview, job, status, conviction, emotion, plan, habit or desire in order to keep going on in life (unconsciously, the ultimate goal of attachment is survival). Attachment is caused by fear. Fear of abandoning your comfort zone (fear of the unknown), fear of loneliness, fear of failure, fear of losing some kind of status (pride), love as possession (fear of not having someone to alleviate a painful void within or to counterbalance our insecurities). These are only some examples.

Fear

And those fears spring from a primordial fear. The horror, wonderfully described as Angst by Martin Heidegger and visually represented by Munch’s Scream, inherent to a feeling that I would call incompleteness, for we attach to things in the attempt to compensate our lacks.

I am still installed in the existential neighbourhood of the mind, where incompleteness includes the acceptations of agonising vulnerability, helplessness and guilty, shaming imperfection. In short, incompleteness could be described as not being enough. But don’t forget: in an existential way. Not being enough in crucial aspects of live. Incompleteness is represented, for example, in Plato’s Banquet and by the ideal of romantic love and better HALVES (more on the toxic logics of love in “Rosalía’s El mal querer. Love as Lack, Love and Death, the Wounds of Masculinity,” this Journal). On the other hand, in Abrahamic religions, the perfection of self-sustaining, self-contained almighty gods makes humankind in our inability to control our life circumstances and our subjection to randomness, divine wrath and the dangers of nature incomplete in the sense of imperfect, imperfect by contraposition (have these gods been given the attributes that humans felt we lacked?). Incompleteness as imperfection is represented as nowhere else in the notion of original sin. Incompleteness as vulnerability (being subject to incontrollable circumstances), in J.M.C. Turner’s paintings (disasters, violent nature, tiny human figures) and in every bleeding Jesus nailed to a cross please compare with smiling Buddhas and the ideas the we are one with “god” (prominently in Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism and Taoism).

Turner

Such horror makes us wish for permanent securities that provide the impression of being in control, of being safe, of completeness. Throughout Spike Jonze’s film, we will find examples of desperately searching for permanence in the area of romantic love attention to the blind date sequence! as well as examples of not assuming that a relationship is over, starting with Theodore’s job (as said above) and his resistance to sign his divorce papers, continuing with his best friend Amy’s relationship.

It is important to make clear that the type of dependency I’m addressing by bringing attachment to the dissection table is emotional in kind. While it is biologically true that we all depend on a broad range of material items and living things, I am not referring here to “objective” facts, nor of a merely rational recognition of such dependence. I am talking of feelings. That of lacking something primordial and that of the desperate need of compensating that lack just like a one-legged person needs crutches to be able to walk. But in this case lack and need happen in the realm of emotions, in the realm within us. Actually, a one-legged person can perfectly need crutches as an “objective” fact without feeling incomplete or in need.

Attachment to our partners can easily result in attitudes of control towards them. We can become jealous, emotionally blackmail them, demand things they can’t give us. Impeding their flourishing, killing them softly. Or we can take the opposite attitude of letting ourselves be controlled to satisfy them. In both cases, there’s fear of the changes in the other (am I going to be abandoned?). I think, however, that a combination of both behaviours in each person is the most common situation.

All of this is wonderfully exemplified by Theodore’s relationship with his estranged wife Catherine. I suggest paying great attention to every word about her as well as to everything she says because, frankly, it’s gold!

ACCEPTANCE

Following the aforementioned philosophies, Her warns us about the possibility that intimate closeness may with time become distancing: “It was exciting to see her grow and both of us grow and change together. But that's also the hard part: growing without growing apart or changing without it scaring the other person.”

Yet, the film doesn’t approach the topic with pessimism. It tries to convey the message that the unpredictable evolution of relationships needn’t be a devastating problem. Nothing in life remains the same forever and we should accept it. If we want to be happy, we must accept it. Growth (precisely, a kind of change) is what brings us closer to happiness, but if we cling to how things were in the past, we will stagnate and, like John Dowland, in darkness dwell.

As the third act of the film makes plain, acceptance means lovingly embracing change and, therefore, letting things and people go when it is the right time. It is a source of peace and vitality, contrary to inner resistance and recalcitrance, struggles that consume energy and embitter one’s experience. It mustn’t be mistaken for resignation, a way of giving up without recognising the need of change. Resignation treasures resistance and the pain that comes with it while, at the same time, tries to feel them the less possible, even though they are there in the fringes of experience dying it with dissatisfaction. In resignation there’s attachment and, as a matter of fact, resignation becomes something to which one is attached. It may even become a cornerstone, an internal alarm filling us with fear in order to protect us from disappointment.

Theodore

Neither is acceptance a synonym of detachment. On the contrary, Zen or Taoism encourage us to submerge in experience and live it to the fullest. Something (living every moment to the fullest) that can only be done in the absence of attachments, in the absence of resistance, in the absence of fear. Have you heard of the importance of presence in Zen, yoga or meditation? When there’s no fear, you really are “present” in the present moment. When there’s fear, you’re hurt and angry at the past as well as worried about what’s to come. Your attention is directed elsewhere.

When we first meet Theodore, we find him in detachment mode, but not entirely. Detachment is something one can pursue or tend to, but it can never be realised completely. We all long for something, especially love and recognition. In fact, nearness to detachment is usually a mechanism triggered by resistance or resignation. Theodore is a grey guy who refuses socialising and hides in his cavern-apartment to play video games and watch porn. He obviously feels safe in there, but also miserable because his seemingly detached attitude derives from a strong attachment to a marriage that is already broken: “I still find myself having conversations with her in my mind. Rehashing old arguments and defending myself against something she said about me.” He is stagnated. There’s no progress in him. No change for the better.

When he buys an operative system to have conversations with, he is, at first sight, trying to alleviate his self-produced loneliness while avoiding the emotional risks implied in “real” relationships. But once he’s given the choice of determining the program’s gender, he starts to unconsciously use it to substitute his wife, to substitute one attachment with another. The fact that the program is, so to say, tailor-made, is a plus. He definitely won’t have to face the emotions he shrinks from. Or will he?

“You know, I can feel the fear that you carry around and I wish there was... something I could do to help you let go of it because if you could, I don't think you'd feel so alone anymore.”

HEY! WHAT ABOUT SAMANTHA?

Theodore… What a meaningful name, don’t you think?

It is true that a great part of the story revolves around Theodore’s attachments and grief, but it is also true that Samantha (the, up to now, unnamed operative system) exemplifies the feelings of lack (of a physical body), imperfection and fear of losing someone. Most importantly, she represents acceptance and love experienced as overabundance (“…the heart's not like a box that gets filled up. It expands in size the more you love”), overabundance as the opposite of lack (“Maybe that would have filled this ti-... tiny little hole in my heart, but probably not...”).

Gif 1

In this context, true love is defined by wanting both your happiness and self-fulfilment and those of the other, which means being willing to let loose the other person, or to let them go if at least one of you is halting the other’s growth (when the relationship no longer contributes to the happiness of at least one of its members, but has deteriorated in a way that trying to maintain things equal will only cause pain).

Love enhances vitality and joy, attachment brings pain. However, just like Jack in Lost, we’re not good at letting go.

THE OTHER GREAT THEME AT LAST!

“The raft is needed, but the raft is not the other shore. An intelligent personwould not carry the raft around on his head after making it across to the other shore.” - Thich Nhat Hahn

Well, the second great theme in this movie is, like I said, intimately related with the first one. I like to call it “the progress of intelligence,” which is not the same as “the progress of artificial intelligence.” 

I won’t expand on it. Much better if it’s you who makes the discoveries. Instead, I will leave some hints.

This topic is much more metaphysical than the first one despite their centuries-long interwovenness and mutual dependence. One of the keys to grasp it is the moment in which philosopher Alan Watts is mentioned.

Dust

Alan Watts was the most influential author dedicated to introduce what we call Eastern philosophy in Western culture, starting with Zen.

Please, dear reader, pay attention to the spaces — the void — between words and dust particles and snowflakes (each flake in its appropriate place, as the Zen saying goes). Pay attention to the reality beyond words.

HOMEWORK

1. I strongly recommend a careful reading of the Quotes section on Her’s page at IMDb after watching the movie. There you will find a catalogue of elements from Zen: - Lots of fear, attachment, resistance, dissatisfaction, acceptance and love - The “beginner’s mind” (seeing everything as if it was the first time, being open to let your worldview change) - Living in the present moment: “The past is just a story we tell ourselves,” “…a photo that captures us in this moment in our life together.” - Default ruminative thinking blocking action and joy - Ego in the form of a virtual alien child - Very interesting metaphysical stuff

2. On the other hand, this is a great moment for assessing the quality of our relationships. Perhaps you, dear reader, have already done it, or perhaps there are sensations in your stomach or heart encouraging you to proceed. Those in the latter case come with me! Let’s ask ourselves: What keeps my relationships going? Is any of them sustained by inertia? Do they bring me joy? Do they contribute to my happiness? Has any of them become a matter of obligation?

Being “distanced” from so many and “close” to others due to shared confinement may be (or may have been) an awareness trigger regarding what you’re tired of and what you want in your interactions. Let’s make the most of the circumstance!

If in the process of answering these questions you find yourself in the middle of a sea of doubts, or if you feel that the state of acceptance is hard to reach, perhaps it’s time to set thinking aside. “Come on, meditate! Come on! Let’s contemplate.” Meditation is approaching our feelings compassionately, with no judgement. Letting them be, letting them loose, letting them go. Acceptance is the solution for repression. And when there’s fear there’s always repression: you don’t want to feel pain, you don’t even want to recognise it, so it remains within you — unreleased, unexpressed, trapped. 

HER AND BLACK MIRROR AND ARONOFSKY

To finish this post, I would like to suggest a total infit for your mind. Tracing specific ideas through different films is something I find very enriching, and I believe Her and The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky) to be a perfect match. In The Fountain, permanence and impermanence, resistance and acceptance, are medullar concepts, but they are approached from a more Taoist point of view. Just a warning: Don’t read the film as a combination of three stories from different ages. Philosophically speaking, that would be so non-Eastern! (Time is imaginary in these strands of thought. Acceptance keeps you in the present. The past doesn’t exist. Neither does the future.) 

the fountain-319435680-large

As an accessory and final touch, it is practically mandatory to try the trendy combination of Her with Black Mirror’s episode “Be Right Back” (the best in the show so far, if you ask me). There is quite a consensus on the idea that Spike Jonze’s movie and “Be Right Back” tell more or less the same story, and I won’t deny that completely. Their plots run parallel in crucial aspects. In both cases we find a protagonist in grief due to a recent loss. And in both cases our anti-hero gets involved in a romantic relationship with an artificial intelligence. Such structuring aspects of the plots are always mentioned when claiming that these pieces are “basically the same.” Paradoxically, the structural and symbolic parallelism between their third acts is often forgotten, which seems pretty meaningful to me. I guess it is due to the poor presence in popular culture of the concepts of attachment, resistance and acceptance as have been presented here.

Be Right Back

Most importantly, each third act conveys an additional meaning beyond those in which the two stories converge. And precisely these additional meanings are what rounds the general meaning of each film, the meaning that makes each of them worthy of existence and marks relevant differences with the other. This too has often been oversighted.

Possible causes: (1) The absence of a habit of asking ourselves what messages we’re receiving when watching movies (entertainment is usually thought to be their only function: “Is Art Useless?” February 14, 2020, this Journal). (2) The emotional pull these two stories have on viewers might prevent analysis.

And that’s a shame, because the point “Be right back” tries to make is good: Our identity in social media is a falsification. It lacks the peculiarities and imperfections that make us unique and susceptible to being loved.

The End

Accept, accept, accept, guys. Namaste.

Image Credits

Her promotional poster Prunus in Flower and Bamboo, Shitao (1642-1707)

“Tinder,” from Honest Apps 2020 series, Viktor Herz (https://viktorhertz.threadless.com/, IG: viktorhertz)

Still from Her, Warner Bros. Picture - © 2013 - Untitled Rick Howard Company LLC

Fishermen at Sea, J. M. W. Turner

Still from Her, Warner Bros. Picture - © 2013 - Untitled Rick Howard Company LLC

Gif of Samantha's interface. Source: https://wintersoldiered.tumblr.com/post/84765884805/vikander-hello-im-here

Still from Her, Warner Bros. Picture - © 2013 - Untitled Rick Howard Company LLC

The Fountain promotional poster

“Be Right Back” promotional poster