In a not-so-distant future, Spike Jonze’s Her explores important thematic tropes we hadn’t seen in cinema until now. Jonze’s story starts immediately from a fresh, texturized utopian scope of Los Angeles, and centers on Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a newly separated man, who goes through monotonous routines. He wakes up, goes to work where he’s a personal letter writer, and comes home to an empty house only to play hours of video games. Intrigued by a new operating system that acts as an artificial intelligence assistant with an intuitive thinking process, Theodore decides to buy into the idea.
Who he discovers on the other side of his computer (as well as his smart phone) is a charming assistant named Samantha. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), is charming, sarcastic, and has all the inflections that humans do. To Theodore’s surprise, Samantha is changing rapidly from every interaction she has with him. For a man who is followed by loneliness, and is incapable of true intimacy, Samantha is not only the perfect mate, but is someone he connects to on an intimate level like no other. The two develop a quick friendship that turns romantic, and soon Samantha and Theodore are inseparable as her voice is transferred into an ear bud that sits figuratively inside Theodore’s conscious.
Her is truly special not just because its intricate look inside an unorthodox relationship, but because of the perspective Spike Jonze brings to the core of relationships and the loneliness that harbors in the swift span of a relationship. Her truly is refreshing from its beautiful aesthetic, right down to the core of its own machine.
Director Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, and Rooney Mara attended the New York Film Festival to discuss Her after a screening of the film. The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz was on hand to participate in the press conference.
On the idea of an artificial intelligence operating system
SPIKE JONZE: The initial spark was something I saw online, where you can have an instant message with an artificial intelligence. It may be called Alice Bot. It was from ten years ago. I had this buzz of, ‘Wow, I’m talking to this thing.’ Then it devolved into this thing, that wasn’t intelligent, it was just parodying things it had heard before. I didn’t really think about it for a long time, and then I eventually thought about a man having a relationship with an entity like that, but with a fully formed consciousness. I thought, ‘What would happen if you had a real relationship with one?’
On the cast’s response to the script
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: I liked it.
AMY ADAMS: I was more into Spike’s vision. It was compelling. It was at a time where I was really busy, and I had just had a baby, and I thought, I didn’t want anything to do with film right now. I couldn’t say no because his vision is so beautiful. It was in line with the kinds of issues I was dealing with. I had to work with Spike.
ROONEY MARA: I really liked this movie. I actually had to beg Spike for the part. I didn’t have the option of saying no. It worked.
OLIVIA WILDE: I loved the script. Everybody else was already in place. I loved that this supporting role was another piece of the puzzle. I wanted to figure out what Spike needed from me to serve the story, and to create something for Theodore to bounce off of to then being able to fall in love with Samantha. It’s the experience that pushes him into this deep love. I wanted to be able to make it work the way it needed to work for the story. Spike and I spent an hour and a half and had so much fun with it. Getting to go to China for a week and getting to hang out with these guys was amazing.
On creating a utopian future world from Los Angeles
JONZE: The initial idea was to try to make this sort of future that felt nice to be in and nice to live in. We were playing off of the fact that our world is getting nicer and nicer to live in, especially in LA where the weather is so nice, and there’s great food, and you have the mountains, and oceans, but even in that setting you can feel very isolated and very lonely. It seemed like an interesting setting. I had this idea that it would look like the colors from Jumba Juice. To feel lonely in that setting is even worse because you should be getting everything you need.
The challenges of acting opposite someone who isn’t there
PHOENIX: I’d like to say I trained really hard, but as an actor I’m accustomed to walking around the house talking to myself.
Getting to portray the emotion of loneliness
PHOENIX: All I was concerned about was trying to feel natural to something that wasn’t there. I think I kind of overlooked the loneliness character. The first couple of weeks, Spike just crushed me, and I’m not sure what happened, or how.
On not identifying Samantha as an avatar or an identity in cyberspace
WILDE: As a fan Spike’s choice, I’ll add that she also becomes your ideal. It becomes your own experience. Even if people are familiar with Scarlett’s voice, and imagine her as an actress, it transforms that. I think she becomes whatever you want her to become. I think if you had defined her you would have stopped people from being able to create that for themselves.
On artificial intelligence versus human intelligence
WILDE: Spike said something very interesting about how the artificial intelligence carries no baggage. Samantha is pure, which makes her kind of an ideal. The difference between humans and artificial intelligence is baggage. So whereas the blind date carries an enormous amount of baggage and projects all of that on what Theodore is saying, Samantha is so open-minded and only sees the best. That’s the difference.
On Scarlett Johansson being reborn as Samantha
JONZE: I talked a lot to Scarlett about how Samantha is brand new to the world so she’s a child that hasn’t learned anything. She doesn’t have any insecurities, and doesn’t have any self doubts. She learns these feelings through the course of the movie. She has these experiences that give her those painful situations that create those doubts. That’s when Scarlett started to understand just how hard that role would be, to try and go back to that place where you don’t have those kind of fears yet.
On intimacy as captured from a male’s perspective
ADAMS: I don’t think it’s a ‘male or female thing’ as far as intimacy goes. Spike is exploring it from a male point of view because he’s male, but I don’t think having a lack of intimacy is specifically a male thing. It’s not a specific failure in men. There’s lots of different reasons. It’s hard to boil it down to one thing. Each person has reasons why intimacy is hard. For my character Amy, she has been pretending to be something she’s not, so it keeps her from being herself. If you’re not expressing yourself as your true self then you’re not finding intimacy. The relationship she has with Theodore is the most intimate because it’s the most honest.
HER hits theaters January 10, 2014.