2013 was an excellent year for movies – perhaps the best in quite a few years. And there are many films that I would be very content with winning the Oscar. But for me, the best movie of the year is Her. And no one is more shocked about that than I am.
by Danny Manus
I went in doubting the hype. I’m not a huge Joaquin Phoenix fan and Spike Jonze is the kind of manic eccentric genius that sometimes doesn’t translate to a relatable cohesive story. And considering his writing credits include the Jackass movies and Where the Wild Things Are and his directing credits include Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and dozens of music videos, who could guess that he’d write the next great American love story.
The best compliment I could give Her is that it makes me never want to write again because I don’t think I could ever write something as good that works on so many levels. It is a touching, amazingly relevant, powerful and complete love story that engrosses you more than most love stories where there are TWO people present on screen. It is beautifully crafted, beautifully acted and thematically impactful. It’s a love story for the ages, and the age that hasn’t come yet.
And I realized there are some specific reasons why this movie works so well.
…who could guess that he’d write the next great American love story.
1. It creates an interesting, expansive world but only explores one tiny piece of it.
There are so many lovely nuances to this futuristic Los Angeles setting. The green screen backgrounds shows how much LA has changed in the near future, with its endless glittering lights and cell towers pinging like shooting stars. Every single person is engaged in a schizophrenic-like experience talking to their own ear pieces and personal OS systems as they walk down the street completely oblivious that anyone else exists.
The sharp, ultra-functional, ultra-modern, color-infused world of the apartments and offices underline the isolation that seems to exist between its residents. There are friendships and dates and social interaction, but the closest relationship people seem to have in this world is with their tech gadgets.
Other nuances like how email is read and categorized, how fast technology works and is able to absorb and grow and adapt, how people get around, etc. only further help flesh out the world.
Jonze clearly knew every little aspect of his near-future landscape before he wrote this script and was able to pick and choose which ones would highlight his theme and story and characters in genius ways.
There are probably tons of other aspects of this world that could have been explored, but limiting it to what is directly connected to the love story makes it all the more intriguing. When writers know how to create a truly intriguing world that is special yet relatable, different yet plausible, and that world matches the story that is occurring within it, it’s a winning combination.
Many of the scripts I’ve read lately have these expansive futuristic/dystopian/post-apocalyptic worlds, but they aren’t really necessary to the story – the writers are just hoping that their “awesome” worlds will mask what’s lacking in the narrative.
Jonze chose a time and world that complimented the story in perfect fashion and made it feel MORE believable and viable instead of just distracting us from it. Jonze created a big world but made it feel small, while creating a small story and making it feel big. That’s one of the keys to successful world building.
Writers are just hoping that their “awesome” worlds will mask what’s lacking in the narrative..
Is there a more relevant love story right now than that between man and technology? It’s the right story at the right time. The themes and societal questions raised and explored of what makes for a genuine relationship, what defines a happy couple, what makes for true love, and what constitutes an acceptable love dynamic in society is done so in beautiful ways.
At a time when gay marriage is a hot button issue, Jonze takes the concept two steps further and makes relationships with OS’s (Operating Systems) the next issue to be tackled. It’s talked about and accepted by many in this story – but it’s still not the thing everyone is comfortable with. It’s still somewhat taboo and embarrassing for Phoenix’s character. There’s still that unsure “Ohhh…umm…okay” reaction when people hear about this relationship.
When a writer can tap into the zeitgeist – and what could be NEXT in the zeitgeist – in a way that examines an issue in a brilliant way without ever mentioning the issue, that shows true talent.
The concept of the OS/Human relationship is discussed, but it’s more about the doubt the Human and the OS have in their own feelings than their worries about what the outside world thinks. It’s about being comfortable in your own love and your own mind and letting everything else go. And if that’s not an important and relevant message and theme to explore today, I don’t know what is.
The beauty of the way Jonze explores this theme, however, is how he has elevated the genre and the discussion. Which brings us to…
Tune in next week for Part 2 of Why Her?
You can also catch Danny’s webinar on Her on the 19th of February. Click here for more details.
– Danny Manus
Danny Manus is one of the most in-demand script consultants as CEO of No BullScript Consulting and author of “No B.S. for Screenwriters: Advice from the Executive Perspective.”
Danny is also a producer, a columnist for ScriptMag, a judge four years running for the PAGE Awards, and teaches seminars and workshops across the country. You can follow him on Twitter @DannyManus.