Since first premiering at the New York Film Festival, Spike Jonze's future-set love story "Her" has gone to snag a slew of awards including the National Board of Review's Best Picture and Director honors, and accolades. Indiewire's Eric Kohn called it "one of the best studios movies of the year," while New York Magazine's David Edelstein proclaimed it to be "one of the best films in years" (it also topped his 10 Best Movies of 2013 list).
For Jonze, the adulation is nothing new. Since making his feature film debut with "Being John Malkovich," the director -- best known up to that point as one of the most innovative music video directors around -- has continued to impress critics and audiences, while staying true to his voice, with his follow-ups "Adaptation" and "Where the Wild Things Are." What is different this time around: "Her" marks his first solo writing credit.
In the film, Joaquin Phoenix gives a soulful performance as Theodore, a man living in Los Angeles who has a job writing cards and letters for other people. Following the disintegration of his marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara), the lonely Theodore takes an especially personal liking to his new operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). What follows is a love story couldn't be more of the moment.
Jonze sat down with Indiewire in New York to discuss "Her," technology, love, and sex with a computer.
It's been well documented that you were inspired to write "Her" after reading an article about our interaction with technology. Was it also inspired by some heartbreak you've experienced in your life?
Yeah. That initial idea was like 10 years ago, just that a guy has a relationship with an artificially intelligent operating system. I didn't really think about it that much for a few years until I started thinking about it more terms of it being a relationship movie. Then it went from being a cool idea, that's like a paragraph idea, to being this thing that kept growing and growing. My notes were extensive.
Can you break down your creative process on this film?
That's a good question. I should look at my notes and see. I think it's easier to talk about it after -- not easier, but I feel like you can make yourself look smarter after the fact because you're describing what you were doing. But when you're doing it, it's A), instinctual; B), you're discovering it; C), it's evolving the whole time.
I start with what the movie feels like to me. Then I'm always trying to stay true to that and that's the thing I go back to. I think one of the things you're pointing out is that I've realized more in hindsight; I always went towards the intimate. Now in hindsight I think I was using technology and society and the speed of our lives and the ways we use technology to connect or not to connect, I was using that as the setting for the story as opposed to what the movie is actually about. As you were pointing out, I think I was much more making a movie about relationships and the way we relate to each other and the things in us and the things in me that prevent intimacy or prevent connection. I think that is much more of what the movie is about.
Even in those initial notes before I wrote the script, there are probably a lot more things about operating systems in society. It was a super fun thing to write about. An operating system that was a character on a sitcom, all these different ideas that as soon as I started writing on page one I just realized, "Man, these ideas are never going to fit in this movie. That's not really what this movie is about." I just started with Theodore.