Maybeland is a new feature exploring all the Brave New Worlds of cinema, a look at the various visions of the future – utopic, dystopic and in-between – that all have their own style, predictions and ideas about exactly where we might be heading. Let’s jump in with Spike Jonze’s rather lovely prophecy of a world according to Apple.
Her stars Joaquin Pheonix as Theodore Twombly, a lonely divorcee (well, almost) searching for some authentic connection to fill the void in his life. Set in near-future LA, director Spike Jonze explores the coming world of convenience, where your new best friend can be delivered in less than 24 hours; in Theodore‘s case, his girlfriend is a revolutionary ‘OS1’ system. Hyperintelligent, filled with limitless potential, and completely charming, Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Samantha’ is the poster child for Jonze’s vision of the future.
The Academy Award-nominated design team – production designer K.K.Barrett and set director Gene Serdena – eschew the trend of overreliance on the Blade Runner model of future cities. Instead of inhospitably damp, dark and polluted worlds that are consistently dangerous, seedy and dilapidated, Her presents a beautiful open-plan blend of L.A. and Shanghai, minus all smog and traffic. Deciding to exclude cars, denim, ties, belts, trainers and the colour blue entirely, as Barratt noted in The Credit, our recognisable world evolves to incorporate the pedestrian again, simplifying the grid of the city to clean lines and safe paths. The wide open spaces – Theodore’s apartment, the restaurants and bars – embrace distance and allow for privacy, creating space for intimacy between these smitten couples. People walk alone but in scattered patterns, disorganised and resistant to the flow of a crowd – disparate, and yet together in the act of living in the same world. As the internet becomes an ever-present and uniquely structured society, with its own rules and language, what is truly striking is just how familiar the world of Her is; it is minimal, functional, but space is mapped and marked by humanity and our need to connect and love.
Ultimately, Jonze resists the easy and too-often-evoked criticism of ‘millennials’; that technology has created an ADHD-ridden generation with no idea how to talk to each other. The world of Her recognises that wanting to spend the precious time we have connected to the people we love breeds a new type of intimacy, one not to be sniffed at. As the trappings of the smartphone have tightened around the professional world, making escape from emails outside of work hours close to impossible, it’s hard not to initially shudder at the thought of Theodore‘s relationship with Samantha, the ever-present voice in his ear. But what emerges is an unsuspected and touching intimacy, a co-dependence that comforts rather than constricts.
Bodies are rewritten in the most astonishing way, with Samantha’s attempts to use a surrogate woman acknowledging the current pressure on female bodies. Theodore has no desire to move into the OS world, yet Samantha is haunted by the idea of ‘realness’; of a body you can touch, to prove you are a real woman. Everyone dresses in high-waisted trousers, simple colours, high-necked shirts (and apparently embrace moustaches – accept the future darlings, its already here… ), and by keeping it simple and uniform, the bodies underneath are desexualised; fashion is just part of the scenery. It is marked that women are finally free from hour-long makeup routines; Amy Adams carries this beautifully, and the youth that shines through evokes the promise of a stripped-back world, that the entirely disembodied Samantha echoes: the artificial moving into the natural.
Crafted around the elegance and softness of Laura Ashley pastels, this is an Instagram world, filtered and refiltered until it feels soft and light, so maybe, just maybe, it starts to look like a place that could love humanity again. It’s no secret that 21st century children are being taught to hate themselves as the baby boomers never were: from environmental issues, to their social lives, job prospects, their colonial/colonised historical backgrounds… frankly, it’s all a bit of a mess. Yet, Jonze knows, there is no golden age to get back to: his future is different, taking current issues to their logical conclusion, but gently acknowledging that civilisation certainly hasn’t abandoned its sense of romance.
We are told relationships with OSes are rare – but, in our own time, so are successful long term relationships that don’t start or develop online in some way. And what is Theodore’s orientation now – pansexual? Would they have had the same bond if Theodore had chosen a male OS (given the option, he shrugs ‘Female, I guess… ‘)? The limits of a straight sexuality cannot even begin to comprehend the breadth and depth of Samantha and her own ‘love’ with the hundreds she begins to connect with. As Theodore writes letters for couples over years of their relationships, Jonze forces an audience to challenge their notions of authenticity and fabrication. The future may not be simple, relationships and orientation may not be straightforward, but it holds the potential for so much beauty. Her is saying ‘Give the kids a break’: they’re just working with what we gave them, and isn’t it all so exciting? Isn’t it pretty?