JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

1. Claudia Springer, Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1996), 27 and 84. [return to text]

2. René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, Fourth Ed., Tr. Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), 18-19

3. For a description of the historical context in which Descartes’ ideas arose, see, for example, Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World (New York: The Free Press, 1925), Chapters 2 and 3.

4. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act III, scene i, lines 56 – 89.

5. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, Tr. Justin O’Brien (New York: Everyman’s Library 1942), 495.

7. See, for example, Keith M. Johnston, Science Fiction Film (London and NY: Berg, 2011), 114, who argues, contrary to Cornea in Science Fiction Cinema, how we are still in the midst of a “second golden age” of science fiction movies. The first such age, according to both critics, was in the 1950s. See, for example, Cornea, Science Fiction Cinema, Ch. 2 (“The Science Fiction Films in the 1950s”).

8. During the filming of the movie Samantha Morton (and hence the name “Samantha”) acted as the voice of the OS One. In post-production, however, director and writer Spike Jonze substituted Scarlett Johansson for Morton. Jonze has shed little light on this substitution, commenting, for example, only that “it was only in post production, when we started editing, that we realized that what the character/movie needed was different from what Samantha and I had created together. So we recast and since then Scarlett has taken over that role.” Kyle Buchanan, “Exclusive: Scarlett Johansson Replaced Samantha Morton in Spike Jonze’s New Film, Her,” Vulture, June 21, 2013, http://www.vulture.com/2013/06/spike-jonze-replaced
-samantha-morton-with-scarjo.html
,
downloaded on December 2, 2014.

9. Her screenplay, 51. The entire screenplay for Her can be found online at
http://www.simplyscripts.com/2014/03/02/
her-best-original-screenplay-spike-jonze/
that was downloaded on December 2, 2014.

10. Numerous writers have discussed these distinctions between science fiction and horror films. See, for example,Barry Grant, “’Sensuous Elaboration’: Reason and the Visible in Science-Fiction Film” in Alien Zone II: The Science Fiction Cinema (London: Verso, 1999), 17-25, and Bruce Kawin, “Children of the Light” in Film Genre Reader IV (Milwaukee, WI: Limelight Editions, 2004). Vivian Sobchack in Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 55-63, adopts a different approach, proposing that these two genres form a continuum from science, on the one hand, to magic and religion, on the other. In formulating her view, did Sobchack have had in mind Arthur C. Clarke’s “third law” relating to scientific development, namely that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?”

11. Of course, there are – or at least were—cultural differences between films made in different countries. For example, in contrast to the US-produced The Day the Earth Stood Still, the same general plot about a flying saucer from outer space, a robot and an alien when re-enacted in a British, low budget film, Devil Girl from Mars (1954), becomes an examination of gender and sexual reproduction in a country which had only recently lost during World War II much of its population and found itself nearly bombed into an earlier, more primitive age. Likewise, in contrast to The Matrix, the Canadian-produced eXistenZ (1999) depicts the same confusion between reality and computer simulated reality, but its characters fail to escape the labyrinth in which they find themselves, expressing only confusion at the film’s end: “Hey, tell me the truth. Are we still in the game?”

12. Ironically, Dr. Tyrell, the creator of the replicants and the owner of Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner expresses that very view when he observes: “Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. ‘More human than human’ is our motto.”

13. For an analysis of this shift from heavy machinery to computer electronics and the resulting, still unsettled gender war, see Springer’s Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age, who quotes, at 5, Frederic Jameson’s distinction between these two different eras in his seminal essay “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”(1984), reproduced in Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991).

14. The sweet sentiment of Samantha’s observation that love is not a box that gets filled up admittedly conjures up Forrest Gump’s famous—and clichéd—sentiment that “my momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.’"

15. Her screenplay, 104.

16. “With his new movie her, …Jonze creates the splendid anachronism of a movie romance that is laugh-and-cry and warm all over, totally sweet and utterly serious.” Richard Corliss, Time Magazine, October 12, 2013
(“Spike Jonze’s her: Falling in Love With the IT Girl; Joaquin Phoenix is the lovelorn guy with a dreamy OS in this gorgeously sweet romance”),
http://entertainment.time.com/2013/10/12/spike-jonzes-her-
falling-in-love-with-the-it-girl/

“Though set in the future, Her is a timely, soulful and plausible love story.” Claudia Puig, USA Today, December 18, 2013 (“Joaquin Phoenix makes a connection with ‘Her’”), http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/
2013/12/18/her-review/3552853/

“’The heart's not like a box that gets filled up,’ [Samantha] tells Theodore. ‘It expands in size the more you love.’ This beautiful film conjures with feelings, wondering all the while whether you need to be human to have them.”Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2013 (“’Her’: A Beautiful RAM Rom-Com”),
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424
052702304367204579267860766225746

All of these sites were downloaded on December 2, 2014. [return to page 2]

17. That theme is explored to wholly different effect in the autobiographical Stories We Tell (2013), in which Canadian director-actor Sarah Polley both recreates events and documents the participants in her mother’s life in order to make sense of her mother (who had died over 20 years ago), her mother’s life and Polley’s place in that life. The result is a messy, multi-layered story in which Polley’s audience is allowed no easy or simple ending. 

18. Her screenplay, 47.

19. Computers and other electronic devices may one day sense and react to human emotions, as briefly described in Nick Bolton, “Devices That Know How We Really Feel,” NY Times, May 6, 2014,
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/devices-that-know-how-we-really-feel/
?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults&mabReward=relbias
%3As&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2
F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26
module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry549
%23%2Fdevices%2Bthat%2Bknow%2Bhow%2Bwe%2Breally%2Bfeel%2F24hours%2F

downloaded on December 2, 2014. Moreover, it has long been speculated that computers can readily imitate human behavior so as to be indistinguishable, when tested, from humans. “Can machines think?” is the question posed by Alan M. Turing in “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Mind 59, no. 236 (1950), 433-460,
http://mind.oxfordjournals.org/content/LIX/236/433.full.pdf+html
?sid=57a8c3fc-1d6e-4821-9674-09a8554ef3c1
,
that was downloaded on December 2, 2014. He unequivocally answers “yes.” As more than one commentator has observed, however, that artificial intelligence may pass his “Turing test”, i.e. imitates human behavior, should not be mistaken for the conclusion that artificially intelligent beings are no different than humans. They have simply satisfied the qualifications measured by the “Turing test.”

20. Her screenplay, 68. [return to page 3]

21. Springer, Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age, 37.

22. Her screenplay, 41.

23. Walter Benjamin has described “aura” in the following terms:

“…[T]hat which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.… The concept of aura… may usefully be illustrated with reference to the aura of natural [objects]. We define the aura of the latter as the unique phenomenon of distance, however close it may be. If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, that branch. …Unmistakably, reproduction as offered by picture magazines and newsreels differs from the image seen by the unarmed eye. Uniqueness and permanence are as closely linked in the latter as are transitoriness and reproducibility in the former.”

“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), that may be found online, e.g. at
http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/
philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm
,
4-5, that was downloaded on December 2, 2014. From the perspective of a leftist writer in Germany during the mid-1930s when Nazism had triumphed over the socialist ideals of Communism, Benjamin, not surprisingly, viewed “aura” and “reproduction” negatively and positively, respectively. He continued to adhere to a progressive, enlightenment view of technology.

24. Her screenplay, 24-25.

25. “Mark Lewman…was one of the triumvirate behind Dirt Magazine, the brother [sic] publication of the much lamented ground-breaking Sassy Magazine, along with Andy Jenkins and Spike Jonze. These three friends were all editors for Grand Royal Magazine as well….” “Mark Lewman,” IMDb that may be found at
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1274310/ and was downloaded on December 2, 2014.

26. Architecture frequently plays a role in science fiction films in defining contemporary anxieties under the guise of projecting humanity’s future. See, for example, the essays collected in Alien Zone II, Part II (“City Spaces”). Tellingly, the future Los Angeles depicted in Her was largely filmed in in Shanghai, and the Her screenplay, 4, describes the city as follows:

“Slightly in the future, the city’s been developed even more with massive office, apartment and mall complexes. It’s a city designed for comfort and ease. The LA basin is more crowded and dense, resembling Shanghai, with buildings as far as the eye can see. Construction cranes loom overhead.”

27. Jaron Lanier in Who Owns the Future? (New York: Simon & Schuster 2013), 211-212, identifies Alan Watts as the guru who influenced Apple’s management and marketing style. Lanier also dwells at length on the role of narcissism and abundance in the development of the computer culture. Not surprisingly, given the Lanier’s background in computer science and its commercial applications, his solution for what he describes as “siren servers” is to empower individual consumers so that they, too, may share in the monetary benefits of such data.

28. Fredric Jameson wrote on this phenomenon years ago, describing postmodernism as including, among others, the following features:

“[1] a new depthlessness, which finds its prolongation both in contemporary ‘theory’ and in a whole new culture of the image or simulacrum, [and 2] a consequent weakening of historicity, both in our relationship to public History and in the new forms of private temporality, whose ‘schizophrenic’ structure (following Lacan) will determine new types of syntax or syntagmatic relation in the more temporal arts…”

“The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”(1984), 6, reproduced in Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

29. Jean Paul Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism” (1945), that may be found online, e.g. at
http://cla.calpoly.edu/~lcall/307/sartre.pdf ,
pp. 41-42, that was downloaded on December 2, 2014.

30. While the movie is titled Her and as such underscores its gendering, interestingly, there are several online “parodies” that are named “Him,” for example,
http://www.refinery29.com/2014/01/60435/him-her-movie-parody (January 10, 2014), and
http://laughingsquid.com/him-a-parody-that-reverses-the-
gender-roles-of-the-characters-in-the-spike-jonze-film-her/

(January 16, 2014). In one instance, the “Him” is portrayed by the comedian Seth Rogan,
http://uproxx.com/up/2014/01/parody-didnt-know-needed/
In another, Philip Seymour Hoffman (now deceased) substitutes his voice for that of Johansson Johansson, and the video is titled “Her,”
http://uproxx.com/filmdrunk/2014/01/
her-philip-seymore-hoffman-mash-up-video/
.
Finally, the comedian Jonah Hill has offered a still another variation in a TV Saturday Night Live skit titled “Me,”
http://dailypicksandflicks.com/2014/01/26/
me-snl-parody-of-spike-jonzes-her-video/
.
All of these sites were downloaded on December 2, 2014.

31. Her screenplay, 10.

32. Her screenplay, 10.

33. Elements Software in Her is identified with the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner through their common image of an owl. A replicant owl prominently sits in the main hall of the Tyrell Corporation and is present in Dr. Tyrell’s bedroom. Fearful that he is about to lose Samantha, Theodore sits on a city bench and in the distance a giant, digital billboard displays an ad showing an owl “in slow motion swooping down and eating it’s prey.” Her screenplay, 80.

34. Of course, this arguably simplistic view on the identity of the “villain” and the hero’s aggressive ability to defeat on occasion that villain raises as many questions as it answers. To what extent do these movies represent a regression to male gendered nostalgia for the old industrial model and reinforce patriarchal controls through the phallic gendering of muscular cyborgs? Do such movies impose cultural stereotypes when women are portrayed as internal, fluid and biological creatures as opposed to the external, hard surfaces of men with their “rational” creations of artificial intelligence that seek to replace biology through technology? Such questions are beyond the scope of this essay. For a discussion of at least one of these questions, see, for example, Christine Cornea, Science Fiction Cinema (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007), Ch. 4 (“The Masculine Subject of Science Fiction in the 1980s Blockbuster Era”).

35. It is surely one of the great ironies of The Matrix that Agent Smith, in torturing the heroic Morpheus, characterizes humanity as a virus.

“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not…There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.”

Of course, The Matrix creates an Alice in Wonderland world in which our expectations and values are routinely reversed. Thus, for example, Neo, in choosing the red pill that enables him to leave the matrix, is warned by Cypher to buckle his “seat belt, Dorothy, Kansas is going bye-bye,” thereby equating the illusory matrix with the black and white world of Kansas and Morpheus’ ship “the Nebuchadnezzar” with the brightly colored Land of Oz.

36. Her screenplay, 87.

37. E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops” (1909), that may be found online, e.g.
http://www.ele.uri.edu/faculty/vetter/Other-stuff/The-Machine-Stops.pdf,
3-4, that was downloaded on December 2, 2014.


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