Spike Jonze Intersects Love, Technology in ‘Her’

"Her" starring Joaquin Phoenix.
"Her" starring Joaquin Phoenix.

Director Spike Jonze’s Her is set in the not-so-distant future, when cyberstalking a woman before a blind date is considered flattering and romantic instead of creepy, when “hand-written” letters are made on a computer and when one would be hard pressed to find a hard-copy book.

While the exact year the film is intended to take place is not specified, all of these things seem like they are coming any day now, as rapidly changing technology in turn changes social mores.

Most movies of late that are set in the future depict a dystopian society or the fall of civilization, but in Her there is affluence and comfort, largely thanks to technology. Though it is still easy to feel lonely.

Theodore [Joaquin Phoenix], a divorcé who works as a ghostwriter of love letters and birthday cards, thinks nothing of opening up to his handheld computer’s operating system—a newly released OS with artificial intelligence. Their relationship quickly grows from owner and digital personal assistant to friends and confidants to lovers.

Phoenix carries the film on his shoulders, as most of the screentime is his reactions to an inanimate object. But Scarlett Johansson, as the voice of Theodore’s OS, gives life and weight to a character with no body.

The film is full of laughs, but also heartfelt as the audience can’t help but sympathize with and root for this struggling couple—rather than wishing Theodore would meet a “real” woman.

Her also stars Amy Adams, Matt Letscher, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt and Olivia Wilde

Jonze attended the Sunday night screening of Her at Guild Hall in East Hampton for the Hamptons International Film Festival, and stayed after for a Q&A facilitated by HIFF artistic director David Nugent. Nugent commented that though Her is set in the future, it is a timeless love story.

“It is a relationship between a man and his sentient being,” Jonze said of his film, “and it’s also looking at relationships where we are right now, the way we live with technology and the way technology both can create connection and create disconnection … I did always try to make it a relationship movie first and foremost and a love story between these two characters.”

"Her" director Spike Jonze and Hamptons International Film Festival artistic director David Nugent on stage at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
“Her” director Spike Jonze and Hamptons International Film Festival artistic director David Nugent on stage at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Photo credit: Brendan J. O’Reilly

Carter Burwell, the film’s composer and a resident of Amagansett, attended the screening, and Jonze took the opportunity to praise Carter, who also composed for Jonze’s first three films Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are and Adaptation.

Burwell’s score sets the mood for Her, as does cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s warm palette.

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