“The Sandman” and Her both depict the story of a man falling in love with an artificial woman, but that is not all there is to the story. If the initial thought of a real human falling in love with a fake person does not already seem strange, the details and circumstances within the stories will surely provoke a reader to feel uncomfortable, unusual, uncanny.
In “The Sandman,” Nathanael is the protagonist who is haunted by his perception of the sandman, a monster who punishes children who do not go to bed by throwing sand in their eyes and then violently stealing their eyes. Prior to his discovery of Olimpia, the automaton he falls in love with, Nathanael already has a proclaimed affection and love towards Clara, a wise, healthy, human woman. After a few sightings of Olimpia through a window, Nathanael becomes obsessed with her, with the image of Clara “entirely departed from his mind” (107). When he first saw her up close, “there was something stiff and measured about her gait and posture,” but Nathanael was oblivious to this while others noticed this atrocity. Nathanael’s odd interaction with Olimpia at the ball only intensified his love for her, as her ice cold hands or lips did not bother him. Neither did her robotic, thoughtless responses to his poetic claims of love to her. His idealization of her blinded him from her humanistic flaws, while others could see something odd about her, describing her as a wax doll or machine who pretended to be a living being (111).
In Her, Theodore knowingly starts dating an operating system named Samantha who portrays the intelligence of a human being throughout the movie as she evolves and adapts accordingly to interaction with humans. She has abilities one would not think a computer could have. For example, she is able to sense hesitation in Theodore’s voice at the beginning of the movie when they first meet, and from this, she is able to conclude possible reasons of hesitation. She is able to make jokes which prompt Theodore to laugh, and she is able to laugh herself. She is able to have human feelings; perhaps the most uncanny example of this is when Samantha and Theodore have a verbal sexual experience when Samantha says she can feel his touch through his words. The idea of a robot being able to physically “feel” while not having a physical body and physical nerves is hard to grasp.
The movie, Her, and the story, “The Sandman,” both depict how love mysteriously can exist through multiple ways. Nathanael falls in love with the body of an automaton who can pass as a human, but walks, talks, dances, and acts like a robot. His love is so strong that he is unaware of the fact she was an automaton. Theodore falls in love with the artificial intelligence of Samantha, who has no physical body.
Hoffman, E. T. A. “The Sandman.” The Golden Pot and Other Tales. Trans. Ritchie Robertson. London: Oxford, 1992. 85-118. PDF file.
Her. Dir. Spike Jonze. Perf. Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson. Annapurna Pictures,2013. Film.