Although they are completely different pieces of work with varying plots, there are many parallels that can be drawn between E. T. A. Hoffmann’s short story, The Sandman, and Spike Jonze’s film, Her. In its simplest form, the plots include the protagonist of each piece falling in love with a female gendered robot and the consequences that ensue because of this love. While this is the most obvious link between the film and the short story, it is important to observe the more subliminal congruencies hidden in the plot and dialogue of each piece to gain revelation about what the pieces are truly saying. There is a main theme that is very deeply spun into the plot that cannot be overlooked: the fraudulent nature of technology disguised as love.
Within the first ten minutes of the movie Her, the viewer is bombarded with images and dialogue that effectively communicates the singularity and loneliness that exists within the life of Theodore, the protagonist. He rides the train alone, the background swirls with gray fog and people passing in one direction while Theodore walks in the other. However, Theo has his phone, which his eyes stay glued to the moment he leaves his job. Fast forward a little bit and we observe that less time Theo spends with his friends, the more time he spends with his Female OS1, a computer program with human like capabilities. Watching the movie, there is an essence of the blooming and cultivating of a relationship – the only difference is it is between man and machine. However, there is a more insidious subtext lying beneath the obvious. What is meant to be understood as love is truly speaking about how people of society are actually prey to technology. In The Sandman, Olimpia appears to Nathaneal as the perfect woman, void of flaws, but Nathaneal does not know that she isn’t a real woman until later on in the story. Olimpia, symbolic of ever-progressing technology, is disguised as love, sent by evil Coppelius to undo him. It is an allusion to how, despite our love and appreciation for technology, technology has only consumed society, controlling people by appealing to their vulnerabilities. At one point in The Sandman, the author discloses how Nathaneal “thought only of Olimpia, and lamented out loud in a tearful voice: ‘Oh, light of my life’…” (Hoffmann 107). Olimpia has a world of meaning to Nathaneal, pulling him away from an actual woman in the flesh who loves him, Clara. This happening embodies how completely enthralled some have become in technology, belying its deception and predatory capabilities.
An implication can be made here: the love each man holds for technology and how completely that love dominates their lives is foreshadow for how technology is consuming and controlling those involved with it. The author and director are inviting us to read in between the lines of what appears to radical and progressive; they are holding a mirror to the society we live in to show us the Trojan horse technology is, appearing as a gift while being the enemy.
Her. Dir. Spike Jonze. Perf. Joaqin Phoenix, Amy McAdams, Scarlett Johansson. Annapurna Pictures, 2013. Film.
Hoffman, E.T.A. “The Sandman.” The Golden Pot and Other Tales. Trans. Ritchie Robertson.