I was delighted to attend a live, intimate interview of luminary Spike Jonze at Tiff as part of their ongoing In Conversation With Series. Spike directed one of my all time favorite movies, Being John Malkovich which was written by Charlie Kaufman. The pair also collaborated on another brilliant movie, Adaptation. More recently, Jonze directed the darkly beautiful Where The Wild Things Are, in which he participated in writing the screenplay. In addition to these unique works of art, Spike Jonze has directed some of the most memorable music videos by Björk, Daft Punk and The Beastie Boys.
We were treated to clips of Spike Jonze’s new film (currently in post production) entitled Her. The movie is set in a very plausible future in which artificial intelligence has become greatly sophisticated. The main character (Joaquin Phoenix) begins using a computerized operating system in order to organize his lonely life. He rapidly finds that the OS named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is a far richer companion than he expected.
I was struck by the effortless flow of the dialogue between the main character and Samantha as they form an intense bond which ultimately becomes romantic. The film explores many interesting questions surrounding emerging technology and the impact it has on our humanity, as well as the nature of our humanity itself. Samantha is an aggregate of the personalities of her developers. In addition she changes as she interacts with the main character. By design, the OS becomes a more seductive partner than another human with an individual agenda.
Rather than the usual dire dystopian view built into the futuristic genre, the movie is refreshingly tender and subtle. The environment is visually believable and relaxed for a film set in the future. This comfortable, feasible quality in very odd settings is reminiscent of the realistic backdrops in Jonze’s past films. In response to an audience question, he made mention of the visual inspiration for the memorable “7½ floor” in Being John Malkovich. Jonze was able to make this most peculiar setting look natural by drawing on childhood memories of his father’s Madison Ave offices.
Her is set for release in December.
Some memorable elements.
Mr Jonze’s soft spoken, genuine and unassuming personality put the audience at ease and made him seem very approachable despite his enviable talent and achievements. His natural manner reminded me of the incredible In Conversation With Tim Burton that I was privileged to attend in the past.
Jonze and Kaufman only approached John Malkovich once the screenplay for the film Being John Malcovich had been written. They had no second choice in mind. John Malkovich found the entire idea strange and asked why they had not perhaps considered making Being Tom Cruise. Fortunately he agreed act as himself in the movie.
Jonze has a great deal of input once the movie has entered post production and many creative decisions are made at that time. For example, during post production of Her, Scarlett Johannson’s voice replaced that of another actress once the entire movie had been shot.