NEW YORK — Over a two-decade directing career, Spike Jonze has often been about the big hook, visually and conceptually. In his videos and films, he's offered up plenty of ideas, and made them look sharp to boot. But could he square all that with a gently told romance?
That's the question posed by “Her,” Jonze’s future-set,
The basics: Living in the not-terribly-distant future — video games and email are a lot more sophisticated, but they’re still video games and email — is Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly. Lonely after separating from his wife (
The movie then follows their relationship, platonic at first and soon romantic (among its many distinctions, "Her" may contain the most unconventional on-screen sex scene in recent memory). Early fan discussions have wondered how much we as an audience are supposed to believe that Twombly could really fall in love, but any comparisons to “Lars and the Real Girl” or other man-unhinged conceits quickly dissipate; unlike
If there’s an exotic specificity to the "Her" setting, there's a universality to its story, particularly its exploration of love and loss. “The great thing about this film [is that] everybody finds a piece of their issues in it,”
Beyond questions of relationships and loneliness, “Her,” which
Technology has largely been marshaled to our advantage, too, though that appears to be changing with the events of the sort documented here. Jonze has made a movie about a society just on the cusp of conscious machines, a nifty move that allows the film, and in turn us, to contemplate such a development's many consequences.
In movies like “Adaptation” and “Being
The movie also benefits from Phoenix's ability to act and react with no physical co-star (though Morton was on set, the Samantha character never appears on screen). At the gathering with reporters, Phoenix, terse as always, did offer a forthcoming thought, or at least a quip, on that experience. "I'd like to say I trained really hard, but as an actor I'm used to walking around the house talking to myself," he said.
Though the film’s premise evokes comparisons to Siri, Jonze said he actually had the idea well before the Apple digital assistant came along, after using a program called Alicebot about ten years ago. As geek nostalgists will recall, that intriguing if at times crude software (it flunked the industry-standard
He also had in mind a neat trick: pairing the vision of a glossy future with the darkness of one man's depression. "It's a world you should be getting anything you need," he said. "What I'm doing is making this utopian future and asking [what it means] to feel lonely in that setting.
Four years ago, Jonze had some fans frustrated with “
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