What a year for films it has been! Watching the Oscar’s made me realise how many truly great movies were made in 2013 and one of my favorites was definitely Spike Jonze’s Her. For me, watching Her was one of those rare, overwhelming cinematic experiences. By the end, I was a complete emotional wreck. Yep, real life tears falling down my face (hey, I’m good at that!). But most of all I found it simply beautiful, both thematically and aesthetically. Good ol’ KK Barrett strikes again!
Usually when you think of films set in the future, bleak ugly worlds like those in Blade Runner and The 5th Element come to mind. So it was utterly refreshing (and, for me, just a little bit hopeful) to see the future in Her depicted as a cleaner, simpler and warmer version of the world we know. The world of Her isn’t particularly more advanced than our own so Barrett’s approach focused on taking familar things, such as cars and advertising, away rather than adding ‘futuristic’ elements to be noticed. In fact, the only real technology we see are computer screens, which look much like those we have now, and Theodore’s ‘phone’ device. Rather than get overtly ‘techy’, Barrett took inspiration from the past and ‘embraced a time when people had designed beautiful little address books and cigarette cases and lighters, things you could carry around in your hand and were very tactile’. As a result, world we end up in is familiar but slightly skewed and feels like a timeless yet not-so-distant future.
So why create such a beautiful world? For Barrett, the aim was to create an environment especially for Theodore, to make sure ‘his world is special and insular and not about technology.’ And indeed, Theodore’s workplace, with it’s light, bright interior void of any cool blue tones, is warm and welcoming and his apartment, while disorganised, is spacious and bright. The aim for this location was to bring as much of the outside inside as possible. Barrett even when to the lengths of having a highly polished wooden floor, which not only creates a warm atmosphere but serves to reflect the skyline through the window. As a result ‘it’s both a wonderful space and a lonely space at the same time’; a space in which Theodore is simultaneously protected from and isolated within the vast city.
Some friends I’ve spoken to think this choice to create a visually pleasing world free of all those horrible things like branding, pollution and teenagers (it’s true, there are hardly any kids in the film! Only fashionable adults) is somehow political but I disagree, I think it was the perfect choice to support the story. Yes, the world is sleek and Theodore’s life seems comfortable and easy but that makes his pain and longing all the more palpable. He’s lost and alone, floating through this world, over it’s solid blocks of colour and flat, sleek textures. It’s clean and beautiful but it’s also somewhat bland and minimal. It’s like a giant, living Apple ad; completely constructed with nothing to hold on to except… love in all it’s forms! Because that’s what the film is ultimately about, reaching out and finding love. Perhaps a bit of a sappy reading? Oh well, I’m a sap!
So while I was totally thrilled with Catherine Martin’s Oscar win (because, let’s face it, for all it’s flaws, Gatsby does look good AND was a colossal effort) I was a bit bummed that K.K Barret missed out for his work on Her. His designs are so sensitive and subtle and just perfectly supported the narrative. And, as an added bonus, he seems like a totally rad guy.
For a little bit of fun, here’s Her if it was set in 1995 and an interesting reading of Her as a possible follow up to Lost in Translation. And Scarlett Johansson singing The Moon Song, because it is possibly the most adorable thing I have ever heard.
And for more on KK Barrett and Her, check out this interview. And this one too!