Theodore and Nathanael: falling for automatons

Theodore from the movie ‘Her’ and Nathanael from the article ‘Sandman’ both fall in love with non-human robots (one of them doesn’t even have a ‘body’). I have to admit that those automatons are uncanny, but simultaneously I understand their attractiveness. For people like Theodore and Nathanael, who are rather vulnerable and insecure, a woman who dedicate all her time (at least who seems to do so, because Samantha from ‘Her’ is able to talk to hundreds of people at the same time) and understand even the weirdest feelings and thoughts would be deadly charming. However, despite this similarity in both cases, there are several differences between the two situations.

In the first place, the reasons that these two characters fall in love with automatons vary. Nathanael was first captured by Olympia’s gorgeous appearance and mysterious eye expression. And only later on was he attracted by her ‘full concentration’ to his words and ‘masterpieces’, while all she did was staying silent and occasionally responding in simple and repeated words. But because Samantha doesn’t even have a ‘body’, it makes no sense to say that Theodore loved her for her beauty. The reason that this mere voice seizes Theodore’s heart is that it offers the comforts and care he needs. After the failure of his marriage (though he and his wife weren’t divorced yet), his emotions were rather vacant and vulnerable. And I think the work he does also results in his unhappiness in an implicit way. Dealing with others’ personal issues all the time prevents him from taking care of his own life. And Samantha’s voice, which is so expressive and so verisimilar, offers him all the warmness he needs. This again distinguishes the two circumstances from each other, because while Theodore is drawn by Samantha’s words, Nathanael loves Olympia for her quietness. In other words, though the cases are similar to each other, Theodore would never fall for Olympia and Nathanael would never love Samantha. To conclude, these two seemingly parallel examples each possesses some unique elements that cannot be shared by another.

Furthermore, the uncanny feelings these two cases generate are also different. In Sandman, the uncanny feeling originates from Olympia’s human-like appearance and behavior. Like E. Jentsch’s words mentioned by Sigmund Freud in his ‘Uncanny’, automatons like Olympia scare people because they possess the non-human and robotic gadgets underneath their human-like skins. (Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin, 2003, print.) However, Samantha’s uncanny feature is more abstract. The idea that a robot voice, which is supposed to be plain and unemotional, sounds actually just like humans, and that it seems to have some emotions and thoughts that is considered to be present only in humans, is definitely a nightmare. For example, Samantha is aware of her own identity as a robot and pays efforts to mimic human sounds; she also has her own preference and fall in love with certain people she talks to. On the other hand, it’s also creepy to think that the impressive and considerate words she says are merely the product of artificial and mechanical processing.

List of citation: Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin, 2003, print.

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