Posthuman Love Affairs in Spike Jonze’s "Her"

Seminar Paper, 2021

12 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents


1 Analyzing differences and similarities between human to human and human to machine-relationships
1.1 Communication
1.2 Intimacy

2 Negative psychological and social consequences of human-machine relationships

3 Conclusion

4 Bibliography


Living in the 21st century, human-machine relationships do not seem far-fetched. With dating sites like Tinder and Lovoo, traditional dating has changed for humanity in the last decades. With Instagram, Facebook, and Co., long-distance relationships are more common than they were the generations before. Traditional dating patterns have changed in many ways. With the development of modern technology, communication habits are based on phone calls, video chats, and messaging apps and sending each other posts via social media. In his science-fiction drama Her (2013), Spike Jonze goes further to say that a romantic relationship between an operating system and a man is possible. In a futuristic setting, the protagonist Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself grieving over the separation from his ex-wife. As Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) appears in his life, she can connect with him. A posthuman love story between an operating system and a human being is the topic of the film. The following research paper aims to discuss the futuristic love story in Her. The first part analyzes differences and similarities between human-human and human-machine relationships, highlighting essential parts of a functioning bond. Next, it examines the long-term negative effects of such relationships. Finally, the paper concludes with final thoughts on future research on Her. The love story of Theodore and Samantha proves posthuman elements and is therefore worth observing and questioning based on different factors of psychological intimacy.

1 Analyzing differences and similarities between human to human and human to machine-relationships

1.1 Communication

Good communication is an essential part of every successful romantic relationship and, therefore, worth observing on this matter. Being able to have certain topics to discuss with the loved one and to be able to talk about one’s interests, beliefs, fears, etc. is a key factor for a long-lasting relationship. Poor communication can result in lack of intimacy and passion for each other. Hence, both parts are not attracted to one another anymore and the relationship fails to last. What is defined as communication? Although there are different opinions amongst scholars in the linguistic field, the majority relies on certain stages of communication. Friedemann Schulz von Thun, a German psychologist and a professional in intra-, and intercommunication studies put forward the so-called “Four-Sides model of communication”.

The above-mentioned model consists of different semantic elements as well as the sender and the receiver of the message. The main argument that Schulz von Thun supports is, that the sender has four ways to express a sentence and with the right emphasis to convey the meaning. The receiver has four ways of understanding that message. The model can be interpreted as follows:

1. Factual information: What the sender informs about (data, statements, news).
2. Appeal: An attempt of the sender to influence the receiver to act in a certain way.
3. Relationship: Personal view about the receiver and how the sender gets along with the receiver.
4. Self-revelation: Information about the sender given to the receiver. (Schiffer 2017)

When comparing the model to the art of communication between two members of a romantic relationship, all points are needed to convey one’s message and receive it. However, there are also hidden messages that one can only show the opposite with non-verbal communication. For instance, body language is an intrinsic factor in non-verbal communication. Facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, touches and tone of voice can convey messages, especially different kinds of feelings. In fact, amongst some of the Major World Religions like Islam and Judaism, two members of a romantic relationship are prohibited from touching one another and, therefore, are recommended to get to know each other via different sorts of communication. This topic brings up another compulsive quarrel - Would human-machine relationships work, if it speaks against one’s faith? Members of a religious group in modern times, still tend to search for a partner who has the same origin and the same belief and if the partner happened to be a robot, would they assume that the machine had the same belief? In the case of the latter point, the human would take a God-like position. Creating a partner for oneself by transferring one’s mental characteristics, beliefs, fears and ideas of the true soulmate.

To understand how the relationship between Theodore and Samantha works, it is worthy to compare their way of communicating to the Four-Sides Model. From the first scene with the OS1, it becomes clear that Samantha can speak as a real person would. The device can introduce itself like a real person - it evolves with every word it speaks and every information it receives. For instance, before Theodore and Samantha connect, he has to undergo a few questions, which are also part of the first conversation in real-life dating. Hence, it Is correct to argue that Samantha is programmed to give Factual Information. Besides, she tells Theodore about personal issues, for instance, that she is insecure about the fact that she cannot appear physically in his life. She also tells him how she is programmed and how she differs from humans. Thus, Self-revelation is also present. Likewise, she admits she loves Theodore and that she is attracted to him. Throughout the film, they have deep conversations about Theodore’s former wife Catherine and the partly traumatizing separation from her that he had to endure. Constantly suffering from recalling the moments with Catherine, he has been unable to find happiness in his life. However, with Samantha, he views his time on earth from a new angle. This can also clearly be observed from a cinematic point of view - When Theodore is talking to Samantha, the colors of the screen appear brighter. The background is not blurry or faded, but in the same focus as Theodore. Also, his facial expressions and auditory sounds make for a change. Samantha seems to be the only person that can help Theodore to leave his past behind as she tells him that “the past is only a story we tell ourselves”. After hearing this, he is willing to sign his divorce papers with Catherine. As the latter point proves, the last part of the communication model, Appeal, is also part of their conversation.

Contrary to expectations, there can be found significant communication strategies in the movie. Even though Samantha is not a real person, she can carry out a conversation like a human. Due to her intelligence factor, which goes beyond human nature, she evolves constantly and does not differ from a real woman in any other way than not having a body. Theodore shares his grieving with her. His facial expressions and tone of voice also prove of conversations that one would have with a real person. To sum up, it can be said that the human-machine relationship in the movie works, because the Four-Stage Model of communication is entirely present. The auditory and visual factors also aid to make the film more vivid, as Samantha is not a real person and there is a lack of a dialogue partner.

1.2 Intimacy

The second part, which plays an essential role in a functioning relationship is a certain amount of intimacy. A major part of people has their way of showing and receiving it. On the one hand, it can lead to distancing from one another when the two parties want different types of intimacy. On the other hand, it leads to open communication, honesty, and value through sexual activities. For the sake of the paper, it is worthy to analyze the physical intimacy between Samantha and Theodore and to observe how the relationship lacks it.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Posthuman Love Affairs in Spike Jonze’s "Her"
Klagenfurt University  (English Department)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
posthuman, love, affairs, spike, jonze’s
Quote paper
Farisa Chamajewa (Author), 2021, Posthuman Love Affairs in Spike Jonze’s "Her", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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