“Her” A Love Story By Spike Jonze // Una Historia de Amor de Spike Jonze.

A few weeks into the making of Her, Spike Jonze’s new flick about romance in the age of artificial intelligence, the director had something of a breakthrough. After poring over the work of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists trying to figure out how, exactly, his artificially intelligent female lead should operate, Jonze arrived at a critical insight: Her, he realized, isn’t a movie about technology. It’s a movie about people. With that, the film took shape. Sure, it takes place in the future, but what it’s really concerned with are human relationships, as fragile and complicated as they’ve been from the start.

Of course on another level Her is very much a movie about technology. One of the two main characters is, after all, a consciousness built entirely from code. That aspect posed a unique challenge for Jonze and his production team: They had to think like designers. Assuming the technology for AI was there, how would it operate? What would the relationship with its “user” be like? How do you dumb down an omniscient interlocutor for the human on the other end of the earpiece?

For production designer KK Barrett, the man responsible for styling the world in which the story takes place, Her represented another sort of design challenge. Barrett’s previously brought films like Lost in TranslationMarie Antoinette, and Where the Wild Things Are to life, but the problem here was a new one, requiring more than a little crystal ball-gazing. The big question: In a world where you can buy AI off the shelf, what does all the other technology look like?

One of the first things you notice about the “slight future” of Her, as Jonze has described it, is that there isn’t all that much technology at all. The main character Theo Twombly, a writer for the bespoke love letter service BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, still sits at a desktop computer when he’s at work, but otherwise he rarely has his face in a screen. Instead, he and his fellow future denizens are usually just talking, either to each other or to their operating systems via a discrete earpiece, itself more like a fancy earplug anything resembling today’s cyborgian Bluetooth headsets.In this “slight future” world, things are low-tech everywhere you look. The skyscrapers in this futuristic Los Angeles haven’t turned into towering video billboards a la Blade Runner; they’re just buildings. Instead of a flat screen TV, Theo’s living room just has nice furniture.This is, no doubt, partly an aesthetic concern; a world mediated through screens doesn’t make for very rewarding mise en scene. But as Barrett explains it, there’s a logic to this technological sparseness. “We decided that the movie wasn’t about technology, or if it was, that the technology should be invisible,” he says. “And not invisible like a piece of glass.” Technology hasn’t disappeared, in other words. It’s dissolved into everyday life.Here’s another way of putting it. It’s not just that Her, the movie, is focused on people. It also shows us a future where technology is more people-centric. The world Her shows us is one where the technology has receded, or one where we’ve let it recede. It’s a world where the pendulum has swung back the other direction, where a new generation of designers and consumers have accepted that technology isn’t an end in itself–that it’s the real world we’re supposed to be connecting to. (Of course, that’s the ideal; as we see in the film, in reality, making meaningful connections is as difficult as ever.)

Jonze had help in finding the contours of this slight future, including conversations with designers from New York-based studio Sagmeister & Walsh and an early meeting with Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, principals at architecture firm DS+R. As the film’s production designer, Barrett was responsible for making it a reality.

Throughout that process, he drew inspiration from one of his favorite books, a visual compendium of futuristic predictions from various points in history. Basically, the book reminded Barrett what not to do. “It shows a lot of things and it makes you laugh instantly, because you say, ‘those things never came to pass!’” he explains. “But often times, it’s just because they over-thought it. The future is much simpler than you think.”

That’s easy to say in retrospect, looking at images of Rube Goldbergian kitchens and scenes of commute by jet pack. But Jonze and Barrett had the difficult task of extrapolating that simplification forward from today’s technological moment.

Theo’s home gives us one concise example. You could call it a “smart house,” but there’s little outward evidence of it. What makes it intelligent isn’t the whizbang technology but rather simple, understated utility. Lights, for example, turn off and on as Theo moves from room to room. There’s no app for controlling them from the couch; no control panel on the wall. It’s all automatic. Why? “It’s just a smart and efficient way to live in a house,” says Barrett.

Today’s smartphones were another object of Barrett’s scrutiny. “They’re advanced, but in some ways they’re not advanced whatsoever,” he says. “They need too much attention. You don’t really want to be stuck engaging them. You want to be free.” In Barrett’s estimation, the smartphones just around the corner aren’t much better. “Everyone says we’re supposed to have a curved piece of flexible glass. Why do we need that? Let’s make it more substantial. Let’s make it something that feels nice in the hand.”

Theo’s phone in the film is just that–a handsome hinged device that looks more like an art deco cigarette case than an iPhone. He uses it far less frequently than we use our smartphones today; it’s functional, but it’s not ubiquitous. As an object, it’s more like a nice wallet or watch. In terms of industrial design, it’s an artifact from a future where gadgets don’t need to scream their sophistication–a future where technology has progressed to the point that it doesn’t need to look like technology.

All of these things contribute to a compelling, cohesive vision of the future–one that’s dramatically different from what we usually see in these types of movies. You could say that Her is, in fact, a counterpoint to that prevailing vision of the future–the anti-Minority Report. Imagining its world wasn’t about heaping new technology on society as we know it today. It was looking at those places where technology could fade into the background, integrate more seamlessly. It was about envisioning a future, perhaps, that looked more like the past. “In a way,” says Barrett, “my job was to undesign the design.”

The greatest act of undesigning in Her, technologically speaking, comes with the interface used throughout the film. Theo doesn’t touch his computer–in fact, while he has a desktop display at home and at work, neither have a keyboard. Instead, he talks to it. “We decided we didn’t want to have physical contact,” Barrett says. “We wanted it to be natural. Hence the elimination of software keyboards as we know them.”

Again, voice control had benefits simply on the level of moviemaking. A conversation between Theo and Sam, his artificially intelligent OS, is obviously easier for the audience to follow than anything involving taps, gestures, swipes or screens. But the voice-based UI was also a perfect fit for a film trying to explore what a less intrusive, less demanding variety of technology might look like.

Indeed, if you’re trying to imagine a future where we’ve managed to liberate ourselves from screens, systems based around talking are hard to avoid. As Barrett puts it, the computers we see in Her “don’t ask us to sit down and pay attention” like the ones we have today. He compares it to the fundamental way music beats out movies in so many situations. Music is something you can listen to anywhere. It’s complementary. It lets you operate in 360 degrees. Movies require you to be locked into one place, looking in one direction. As we see in the film, no matter what Theo’s up to in real life, all it takes to bring his OS into the fold is to pop in his ear plug.

Looking at it that way, you can see the audio-based interface in Her as a novel form of augmented reality computing. Instead of overlaying our vision with a feed, as we’ve typically seen it, Theo gets a one piped into his ear. At the same time, the other ear is left free to take in the world around him.

Barrett sees this sort of arrangement as an elegant end point to the trajectory we’re already on. Think about what happens today when we’re bored at the dinner table. We check our phones. At the same time, we realize that’s a bit rude, and as Barrett sees it, that’s one of the great promises of the smartwatch: discretion.

“They’re a little more invisible. A little sneakier,” he says. Still, they’re screens that require eyeballs. Instead, Barrett says, “imagine if you had an ear plug in and you were getting your feed from everywhere.” Your attention would still be divided, but not nearly as flagrantly.



Jonze, nacido Adam Spiegel, es un gamberro vocacional, uno de los grandes agitadores culturales de las dos últimas décadas y un referente imprescindible para entender la contracultura americana y su (imprevisible) evolución hacía el mainstream. Fundador de la revista Dirt,una publicación revolucionaria dedicada (entre otras cosas) al mundo de las bicicletas BMX y que tocaba todos los palos de la pujante cultura de calle (solidificada después en colectivos como Beautiful Loosers, el grupo de artistas unidos en Nueva York bajo el manto del skate y el grafiti),y que después generaría revistas como Big Brother (junto a Steve Rocco) o el legendario programa televisivo Jackass. “Fueron tiempos divertidos, éramos muy jóvenes y hacíamos muchas locuras”, dice Jonze. “El skate en aquellos tiempos era algo muy serio”.

Los detalles del pasado de Jonze son borrosos porque el actor, realizador, escritor, dibujante ocasional, fotógrafo con seudónimo (Koufey) y artista global odia hablar sobre sí mismo o sus circunstancias. Son míticos sus desplantes, sus cancelaciones y su alergia a los medios de comunicación. Sin embargo, Jonze está hoy dispuesto a hablar de todo: “No me gusta hablar de mí, me aburro. ¿Que tampoco parece que me guste hablar de mi trabajo? Bueno, es que una vez acabado, y si ya puedes verlo, ¿para qué voy a darte instrucciones de cómo mirarlo? Me parece absurdo. Lo hago porque forma parte de mi trabajo hablar con periodistas y porque a veces algunos hacéis preguntas interesantes… [sonríe]. Pero no soy un personaje público y no tengo ningún interés en serlo”.

En Her, Scarlett Johansson interpreta (con la voz) a la dulce Samantha, un sistema operativo de última generación diseñado para empatizar con sus usuarios. Uno de ellos, Theodore Twombly, encuentra en él (o en ella) el cómplice perfecto para superar una época especialmente tormentosa. Una buena excusa para preguntarle al realizador por su relación con la tecnología: “Creo que mi relación es igual que la de todo el mundo. Es algo salvaje cuando empiezas a recibir sms, textos, mensajes de voz, correos electrónicos… no sé tú, pero la cantidad de información que recibo y a la que tengo que responder (o a la que esperan que responda) es abrumadora. Pero al mismo tiempo es bonito cuando recibes noticias de alguien que hace un mes que no ves. Con esto quiero decir que no condeno nuestro uso de la tecnología. No lo condeno, ni lo juzgo, simplemente aún estoy tratando de entenderlo. Eso es todo, y creo que vale para la mayoría de humanos en esta parte del planeta”.

La película, un pequeño triunfo en los ­círculos del cine independiente estadounidense, ya es una de las sensaciones de la temporada y una de las favoritas de la crítica para dar el campanazo en alguna de las categorías importantes de los Oscar. A Jonze, quiere dejarlo claro, la crítica se la trae al pairo: “No es que no la lea nunca, alguna vez cae algo en mis manos y le echo un ojo, es que yo considero que eso ya no forma parte de lo que creo que debo hacer. Acabo la película, me encierro en la sala de montaje (algo que yo comparo con sentarse solo a escribir) y la pongo a punto. Cuando eso acaba, yo ya he terminado. Esa es la parte con la que debo cumplir: lo demás me parece demasiado abstracto. ¿Sabes lo que me gusta? Cuando me encuentro a alguien que me cuenta que alguna de mis películas es importante para él. Hace unos días me encontré a una mujer que me dijo cuánto habían disfrutado ella y su familia de Donde viven los monstruos.Mirándola a los ojos entendías que realmente te estaba diciendo algo muy relevante para ella. Eso me halaga y me emociona… lo demás me da bastante igual”, explica Jonze mientras apura un café que no para de soltar humo.

El realizador retrocede para explicar el nacimiento de la criatura: “La idea inicial para hacer Her fue hace diez años, pero no fue hasta hace cinco cuando pensé en hacer una especie de reflexión sobre las relaciones humanas. Ya sé que lo obvio en la película, el flas,el trending topic (si quieres llamarlo así), es la tecnología, pero de lo que realmente me interesaba hablar es de cómo conectamos los unos con los otros, de cómo funcionan esos mecanismos. Llámalo química o cómo quieras. Y de qué pasa cuando fallamos al conectar, de cuando buscamos con ahínco la intimidad para asustarnos de muerte cuando la encontramos. Esa fue la base para la historia. ¿El mayor reto? El equilibrio entre drama y comedia era muy difícil y el hecho de que quería hacer una película con la que todos pudieran sentirse un poco Theodore. Creo que eso fue lo más complicado”.

Theo still has a desktop display at work and at home, but elsewhere technology is largely invisible.

Para Jonze, la vida es un poco un río con tentaciones de desborde y con una fórmula algo complicada. “Nuestras vidas están basadas en decisiones sabias y otras que no lo son en absoluto; decisiones espontáneas y otras pensadas; miedo, coraje, locura… pensar que puedes controlar ese mix es un error porque lo único que puedes hacer en realidad es tratar de mejorar tus conocimientos o –simplemente– dejarte llevar. En cierto modo, hacer una película es lo mismo: tomas un montón de decisiones, unas correctas y otras no, y al final esperas que por arte de magia todo acabe funcionando. Una vez pasa… y otras no [risas]”.



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