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Visions of the future often involve flying cars and robot servants, but Spike Jonze‘s science fiction love story Her takes a more subtle approach. How would human civilization evolve in the next 100, or even 50 years if it were to stay on its current path? What circumstances would lead a man one day to take a romantic interest in the latest and greatest smartphone? Her paints a picture that wavers between bright and cheery utopia and attention-enslaved apocalypse.
Here are a few of the details Jonze sprinkles in to achieve that unique concept. [WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND.]
1. Siri Is Smarter Than You
Today’s iPhone Maps app can’t even locate an Apple Store without first thinking it’s in Siberia. In Jonze’s vision of the future, artificial intelligence can zip through a year’s worth of reading material to come up with an answer in mere nanoseconds. And it flirts while telling you the answer! Which leads to an even greater bit of evolution …
2. It’s Now Socially Acceptable to Date Your Phone
Don’t mistake Theodore’s (Joaquin Phoenix) digital love for taboo — once operating systems are designed to be sentient and far superior in intellect compared to normal humans, “going steady” with them will be pretty run-of-the-mill. Scarlett Johansson’s character goes to great lengths to be human, giving herself a name (Samantha) and reading up on human characteristics. Oh, and she hires an OS-friendly sex surrogate to “play” her in bed. They have those in the future too.
3. High-Waisted Pants
1940s fashion makes a comeback in Her, set in an apocalyptic world where Uniqlo rules as overlords. Monotone sweaters, checkered shirts, tweed jackets, and the aforementioned high-waisted pants unify the pleasant population. The film takes place in Los Angeles, but perhaps the hipster programmers of Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood set the tone for culture? We poke fun, but most people in Her seem happy and comfortable.
4. Flip Phones Are Back
Adding to the nostalgia is the physical technology being used. Phoenix is interacting with fairly advanced backend programming, yet his “futuristic” phone is the size of a cigarette case. How far does the Mad Men ripple effect extend? On top of that, he talks to his OS using an earpiece that looks like a hearing aid. So much for a future where assistants are given phone-in-the-skull implants.
5. Sex Chat Rooms Can Be Accessed in Seconds
The magic of AOL circa 1994 is alive and well, though “A/S/L?” is a thing of the past. Everything in Her‘s future is accessible via voice command, and that includes any digital interaction we’re currently accustomed to accomplishing in text form. E-mail, IMs, Google searching — it’s all spoken and heard, even when most homes are outfitted with computer monitors. This makes those faceless Internet chat rooms a little more personal. In one scene, Theodore “fools around” with a woman in a phone sex back-and-forth. But like it’s always been since the heyday of chat rooms, it takes him only a few minutes to realize her kinky secret. (You’ll see.)
6. Every Building in L.A. Is a Skyscraper
In the future, the parabolic nature of Los Angeles’ skyline will transform into a flat line of 80-story towers. Finally, the people of Hollywood will know what it’s like to live in the thickest layers of smog. (Evidently, Jonze used China for future L.A., where there are skyscrapers and neon signage aplenty.)
7. Video Games Are Immersive; All the Worst Parts of Gamer Culture Magnified
Theodore spends most of his downtime playing video games, which appear to be far more important to the culture than movies or television. Amy Adams even plays a video game developer who is animating a new title called “Perfect Mom,” where players do their best to make bag lunches, clean up the kitchen and get their kids to school on time. Clearly, the rampant misogyny found on Call of Duty multiplayer games is now the dominating force behind the industry. Case in point: An adventure game Theodore spends most of his time playing is able to interact with him — mostly through expletives and derogatory statements. In the future, anything’s tolerable as long as it looks like the holodeck in Star Trek.
8. There’s a Metro to Santa Monica, and Cars Take a Backseat
Why wait until 2015 to complete the Expo Line? The Los Angeles of Tomorrow will please veterans of the city. Throughout the film, Theodore and the background actors are all seen walking around town. Occasionally, as in one scene where Theodore takes his computer girlfriend to the beach, they ride the subway. Where is the traffic?! The future is bright, folks.
9. Snail Mail Thrives, While Print Is on Life Support
In the film, Theodore is a professional love-letter writer. For some of his clients, he’s been writing letters in their voices for nearly seven years. It’s quaint. But futuristic technology expedites the practice: Phoenix can speak his letters into a voice-to-text program that pens them in calligraphy.
10. Resurrecting the Dead
In Jonze’s vision, the potential of death is really only a physical problem. If a person kicks the bucket, they theoretically can be brought back by assembling everything they’ve ever written, all of their material knowledge and possessions, into an operating system. So remember to keep that journal.
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