Spike Jonze wants 'Her' to spark discussion about love in a digital age

The Fresno BeeJanuary 8, 2014 

Spike Jonze


Director and writer Spike Jonze had one main objective with his latest film "Her": To create a movie that would open up discussions about love.

His vehicle for stimulating such banter is the electronic-age love story about Theodore, an emotional loner (Joaquin Phoenix), who falls deeply, madly in love with his new computer operating device (voiced with great passion by Scarlett Johansson). This man/machine to star-crossed (or at the least crossed-wired) love story gave Jonze the forum to look at love in a 2.0 fashion.

"What I wanted to do was write about how we long for intimacy but at the same time there are parts of ourselves that prevent us from being able to commit. There is this fear of being intimate," Jonze says.

He found the inspiration for the story in the world around him. All Jonze had to do was look at how big a presence technology was in his own life to know the world is becoming less and less a matter of human contact. Jonze finds it interesting that electronic devices can create distance between humans, but at the same time spark emotional reactions, such as how a person feels excited when they get a text. As he puts it, a text means someone is thinking about you.

It would have been a rather mechanical movie if Jonze had just created a story of a man's love of his computer system. All of the mechanical aspects are there, but the heart of the movie is based on the standard boy-meets-girl scenario. The director stresses that while the movie has high-concept ideas, it's about love, the human need to connect and the methods used to make those connections that change with each technological leap.

"There's definitely ways technology brings us close and ways that keeps us apart. That's not what the movie is about, but it looks at the way we relate to each other and long to connect," Jonze says.

In an odd way, he wants viewers to follow a similar path as his central character. When the loner falls for a computer program, Jonze wants moviegoers to fall in love with his movie.

"The interesting thing is they all have their own specific reaction to what the movie is about," he says. "Some want to talk about the romance. Others want to talk about the tech elements. Some are interested in the idea of intimacy and others are intrigued by the movie as a love story. I feet so grateful when people want to talk about what they see in my movie. The key thing is to have an emotional reaction when you watch the film."

Jonze praises Phoenix for playing the main character with great depth and emotion, and for helping embody the computer voice.

Originally, that voice was provided by Samantha Morton, who was on the set during the entire filming process. The director was happy with Morton's work, but it wasn't until he started editing the movie that Jonze realized the character he'd created during the filming process had changed from his original concept. That's when Johansson was brought in to record the new voice.

"There is a timbre to Scarlett's voice that is so warm. She really brought so much character and strength to the role," Jonze says.

Jonze has created a very distinct world for the love story to unfold. This slightly futuristic look of Los Angeles reveals a world of beautiful order, from the sculpted skylines to the apartment where most of the love story unfolds. It's not as much a Spartan world, but one in which every architectural line has been scrutinized to be as perfect and unblemished as possible.

Even the job where Theodore works offers a view on life. He computer generates hand-written letters for those who haven't got the time for such social niceties. It's the idea of connecting without making a real connection.

Neither the organized world nor the job were attempts by Jonze to make any social commentary.

"I just wanted a world that was beautiful, comfortable and warm. The idea of creating a world like ours was that it would be really easy to live in, but still a place to feel isolated and lonely. It's a world where you are told you have everything," Jonze says.

Along withe the sharp-edge designs, Jonze went in a new direction with the use of color. In the past, he tended to use more subdued colors, such as in "Adaptation" and "Where the Wild Things Are." In "Her," Jonze embraced bright hues. He says he wanted to create a warmth that would be a counter to the coldness of the world's design.

"I've never done a movie with much color," he says, "but I fell in love with bright colors with this movie."


TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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