Spike Jonze hides his anxiety about the present in the premise of his near-future story, Her. While Her explores a range of emerging social issues through a love story between a human and his sexy operating system (OS), Jonze’s genius is characterized by what he leaves out. The film tempts viewers to intellectually explore the future through ample blank space.
I saw Her with my closest friends on a trip back to NYC. None of them are futurists. They’re even better– intelli-chicks, always down to feed my obsession with the future. Our discussion after Her was more valuable than the film itself. And that’s exactly the point. On NPR Jonze commented, “I think the other thing that’s been really exciting about [Her] is that as I’ve talked to people, the variety of reactions for what the movie’s about is wide. You know, like some people find it incredibly romantic, some people find it incredibly sad or melancholy, or some people find it creepy, some people find it hopeful. That makes me really happy to hear, you know, because to me it’s everything. It’s all these different things I’m thinking about, and a lot of them are contradictory. And I like hearing what it is to you.”
Interestingly, depictions (literary, film, otherwise) about the future tend to focus on shiny objects. They wow the viewer with so much “stuff” that the futures they describe seem either unbelievable or intimidating. That’s why Her is different. In a film about technology, the technology almost fades into the background. Jonze is remarkably restrained. The viewer is almost left wondering why technology isn’t more obvious. It’s not until after the film that you get it. Her facilitates conversations that go beyond the “oh-so-cool zone”. The audience is compelled to focus on what’s happening today and how we might be changing (or not changing) fundamentally as humans.
While it’s tempting to pick apart the way Jonze addresses issues like climate change, smart city design and wellness, the film is brilliant because they’re not emphasized. The cinematography and script make it easy to fall into the rhythm of Jonze’s story and dismiss futures incongruencies. Her is better because you don’t think about human climate impacts or gamified environments. And, if you aren’t intentionally looking for what’s missing, it’s not apparent. In fact, anymore “stuff” would have left viewers distracted.
If you want proof, look at the fashion within the film. Like the blogosphere, my friends obsessed on the film’s high waisted pant and near-future fashion choices. And how could you not? The clothing stands out. Before seeing Her, I thought it was clever that Jonze had Opening Ceremony create a line specific to the future. But, this small story point has the ability to hijack later conversations into a space that misses the point of the film.
I have two other critiques. The first is Her’s portrayal of a sex surrogate (spoiler ahead). Jonze intended to use the worker to show that even with the most humanlike interfaces an OS lacks the ability to connect viscerally with a human. This point needed to be made, but the scene itself felt archaic and misinformed. The sex worker is portrayed as a feeble girl who’s incompetent at her job. And, let’s be real, current technology can stimulate a more vivid sexual encounter than what’s depicted on screen. My second critique is the cleanliness of Jonze’s near future world. While Theo and Samantha (his OS) are meant to jump to the foreground, Jonze removed too much of everyday life messiness. At one point during the film, I overly noticed a torn sign on the subway just because it had a distressed appearance. The sign had nothing to do this the overall story.
Her isn’t a perfect film, but at its best, viewers leave having the ability to participate in an existing conversation. Remarkably, Jonze’s Her creates a conduit for the audience to explore their intelligence rather than prove his own. Viewers can’t help but leave excited about the discussions to follow.