"Beautiful Handwritten Letters, please hold."
We've arrived at the future in the film Her, where we no longer have the need to pen words on paper, but instead pay someone else to do it for us by speaking at a computer. The profession seems to pay well, however, since Joaquin Phoenix's character, Theodore, has himself a fa-bu-lous apartment with a view.
While Theodore spends his workdays writing love letters for other people, he himself lacks someone to write letters to. He was married once to a beautiful writer (played by Rooney Mara), but he failed to let her in completely, so she left. Theodore is then compelled to fill the void in his heart by purchasing an operating system that has many human traits. Her name is Samantha.
The film is hailed as "A Spike Jonze Love Story," and boy, did he write himself a love story for our modern times. During a recent screening of the film, director and writer, Spike Jonze, was present for a brief Q&A session with the audience moderated by Jeffrey Deitch (who will forever be remembered as the dude who confused P. Diddy with Kanye West at Art Basel 2013).
Deitch started the discussion by asking Jonze to elaborate on all the technology and futuristic elements in the film, to which Jonze totally shut him down: "I think there's, obviously, a lot of big ideas, big concepts in the movie about the ways we're living with technology, but I think I was always trying to write a relationship movie." Jonze goes on to say that when it came down to either going with more conceptual ideas or more intimate moments, he always went with the intimate choice.
The setting of the film is futuristic, but scarily not that far off from where we might be heading. In order to come up with the vision of Los Angeles in that era, Jonze worked with architects who helped him decide what that future should look like. "We ended up realizing what we wanted to create is this sort of utopian future where everything is nice and comfortable and warm, and have our main character in that setting." That setting, he continues, is part of what allows Theodore's loneliness to transpire and thrive.
Also, apparently all the men in the future wear high-waist corduroys and the furniture is very reminiscent of the 1950s. Everything comes back in style at one point, we guess.
Speaking of fashions that come and go, actors too are like style - you are either in or you're out. Originally, Samantha Morton did the voice for the Samantha OS character - the entire film was shot and everything - but then while Jonze was editing the footage, he felt something was off.
"It was in post [production] that we realized what we had done - what Samantha and I had done - wasn't quite right, wasn't what the character needed, or wasn't what the movie needed." When Jonze brought Scarlett Johansson on to replace Morton, he recreated the initial intimacy on a sound stage with just himself, Phoenix, and Johansson.
One audience member wanted to know what Johansson had that Morton did not. Jonze said he would never want to directly answer that question, because he would not want to take away from Morton's work. When they shot the film, Morton was on set everyday with Phoenix, and so "she was a big part of the movie and a big part of Joaquin's performance."
Deitch brought up how Jonze likes to make "amusing" cameos in his films, and as it turns out "amusing" is a good word to describe his cameo in Her. Jonze did the voice of a cute and foul-mouthed little alien in a video game Theodore plays. He joked that he came up with the voice while he was working on the script with his producer and he would tell her things like, "Natalie, what the fuck, I'm fucking hungry," saying the phrase in a perfect, and amusing, nasal mimicry.
Jonze had a great interaction with the audience; for one thing he stopped Deitch from asking all the questions and turned it on the audience because he wanted to know what they were thinking. While he was talking about working with his friends from Arcade Fire on the soundtrack of the film, he stopped mid-way through his response and laughed because he said someone nearby was talking and he was trying to listen to what they were saying. How silly and nosy of him.
Ultimately, what Jonze was striving for in the film was romance and intimacy. During readings of the script with the cast, he said they would read and then talk a lot about life and relationships; he wanted to make sure "the actors know what the intentions behind the dialogue is." Everything he did was aimed at creating that level of intimacy; "you needed to feel like you were in a room with these characters, in their apartments, in moments of their lives you're not supposed to be seeing, he says.
First and foremost, Her is a love story, and though Jonze is not known for making many romantic movies, this was a challenge he accepted and overcame beautifully.
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"Usually, if I'm doing something I'm excited about, usually I don't know what I'm doing," he jokes. "It's that sort of thrill and fear, that I don't know if this is going to work. This [is a] movie where a man is in love with somebody who is not on screen, so the thought of 'can that actually work' was a big challenge."
Her is scheduled for a theatrical release date in January 2014.
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