Why Intimate Human-Artificial Intelligence Relationships End Badly in Film
The second trailer for the much-anticipated drama Her was released on Wednesday, and, like the first, it's imbued with innocence and enough unbridled love to leave a great big teary-eyed impact. And with Arcade Fire's super sad "Supersymmetry" playing throughout the clip, how could it not?
When the Spike Jonze-directed film is released later this month you can guarantee that moviegoers will probably be bringing tissues to screenings. Why? Because the story of a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is pretty sad. But its even more sad if you think about how most on-screen relationships (friendly, romantic, or other) between humans and artificial intelligence never seem to live happily ever after.
[Warning: Spoilers below, for obvious reasons.]
Take, as a recent example, the relationship between the dementia-plagued Frank (Frank Langella) and his robotic caretaker Robot in the touching Robot & Frank. Although part of the buddy film concerned itself with the Robot's transformation into the old man's jewelery-thief sidekick, the other part focused on the realities of mental illness and the budding friendship between the two (nobody likes to be alone). Long story short, Robot's memory gets wiped, his power shut down forever, and Frank is left to live his last days feeling the sadness of his friend's demise.
In Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence, it's a young robot (played by Haley Joel Osment) who gets hurt when he's abandoned in a forest by his human mother. She does so to appease her jealous human son and ends up causing centuries of pain for the innocent robot.
The same is true in Bicentennial Man, a film that stars Robin Williams' as a robot named Andrew who has an uncanny ability to reciprocate human emotion. He starts out as the Martin family's housekeeper before obtaining his freedom and setting out to find more robots like him. In the process, he's greeted with the realization that his ability to live forever means watching everyone he loves, including Little Miss and her father Richard (Sam Neill), die around him.
And animated human-A.I. relationships don't fare much better. In Little Giant, Little Hogarth makes a new friend after he discovers the amnesiac and titular Iron Giant, a massive weapon of destruction that falls to earth from outer space. Hogarth becomes BFFs with the Giant, teaching him about friendship, emotion, and death. That is, until the government threatens to destroy the Giant and Hogarth's hometown. To save the town and it's citizens, the Giant has no choice but to sacrifice himself by colliding with a missile headed for straight for town.
Probably the best and most gruesome example of ill-fated human-A.I. relationship comes from a 1986 film directed by Wes Craven entitled Deadly Friend. In the sci-fi horror film, Paul (Matthew Laborteaux) meets and falls for his next-door neighbor (Kristy Swanson). She dies at the hands of her abusive father, but is brought back to life in robot form by the grief-stricken Paul. Things don't end very well for him. Lesson: Never turn your dead girlfriend into a robot.
Finally, in Blade Runner, Rachael is a replicant, or genetically engineered robot, who shares feelings for Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a police officer whose job it is to track and terminate the artificial beings. Although the film ends with the two leaving town together, this human-robot relationship example might not count — if you truly believe that Ford's character was a replicant all along.
So, what have we learned by reviewing these examples? Well, beauty holds no bounds and friendships can form in the most unlikely of places. That's a very beautiful, very emotional thing (especially when played out on the big screen). But unfortunately for these humans, technology is never a good substitute for the real thing — actual humans — which is why time and time again these relationships are never made to last. Joaquin Phoenix's Her character likely has a very loving yet equally depressing thing coming.