His and Her

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l O.S. t in translation

So I just got back from catching Spike Jonze’s new film Her and…basically, wow. I know that’s pretty ineloquent as reviews go but it’s a word that encompasses my feelings on leaving the cinema better than any other I can think of.

Just… wow, you know?

The film isn’t just your average Spike Jonze surrealfest, it’s a work of art, you see. Tender, imperfectly human and full of that specific kind of yearning we’ll all recognise from at least one point in our lives.

For want of a better description, it’s an understated master class in showing our propensity for both absolute isolation and absolute joy.

But what really hit me once the credits had rolled… were the similarities between the movie and Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003). I know there’s over a ten year gap between the two films which seems a substantial stumbling block but the comparison really starts to make sense if you consider the two directors were married once upon a time and undoubtedly influenced each other during that period. I mean how could they not?

Seriously, the more I think about it, the more the two films served to complement each other as cinematic companion pieces.

Just consider the following for a moment and see what you think…

• Both films are written and directed by Jonze and Coppola, respectively; Her in fact being the only film in his career that Jonze has cared deeply enough about to have written an original script for.
• Both films open with a jaded aging protagonist who finds themselves somehow adrift in a futuristic city, towering neon monoliths looming over them with grand Asian indifference. Whilst Lost in Translation was filmed super-quick in 27 days, nipping in and out of the heart of Tokyo, Jonze’s Her was filmed in downtown Shanghai and although only one of the films is set in an indeterminate future, both use the same kind of urban landscape as a fantasy playground.
• Both characters are shown at a stage in their life where they are disillusioned with love and humanity as a whole, and although they’re both artists of a kind (Bill Murray a fading actor, Joachim Phoenix a personal letter-writer) their art form no longer seems to bring them any kind of joy. Which is fascinating if you take into account the fact that art itself plays an major part in the overall arch of the stories….for example Coppola opens LIT with a shot based specifically around a John Kacere painting of a girl lounging around in her underwear and contains hundreds of tiny details such as Bob’s ringtone playing Chopin (his “Fantaisie Impromptu” in C sharp minor, Opus 66 to be specific.) Compare this to ‘Her’, a film where Samantha, the operating system that Theodore falls in love with writes and plays piano compositions to express her burgeoning emotions… and where Theodore becomes an officially published author through Samantha’s appreciation of his old archived work-letters. What this tells us is that these are both stories based around characters losing themselves in the art-forms around them even when their own talents fail to satisfy them…and come on…what a beautiful thing that is to find in one film let alone two, right?
• From a technical standpoint, both movies are filmed with the same languid, directionless style, infusing each frame with malaise and intimate-if-sleepy close ups of the human face. Every thought and feeling is shown not through action but in the actor’s micro-expressions, the flecks in their eyes and the ability not to flinch from the uglier side of their own flesh. It’s an interesting approach given the fact that the directors don’t even share a common gender (and the fact that Jonze is more prone to hyper-kinetic weirdness) but one that flows beautifully in both movies. And it’s kinda cool to note that Coppola was originally asked to film her story in Hi-def but chose to use old school film (as Jonze did) to keep the romantic tone intact.
• Of course lastly, don’t think I’m ignoring the obvious- Scarlett Johansson provides the most evident link between the two pictures since she ‘starred’ in both (and yes I’m counting her voice role as starring, for those with a taste for semantics.) But what’s just as intriguing are the lengths that both Johansson and her colleagues went to in order to give each movie a realistic and intimate edge. It’s well known now that Johansson prepared for her role in LIT by living in nearby Hokkaido with her boyfriend of the time Faiz Ahmad, absorbing as much of the local culture as she could to utilise in her role as Charlotte. In Her though, the director went even further and reportedly locked co-stars Amy Adams and Joachim Phoenix in a room for hours at a time to cultivate a genuine real-life friendship. Now that’s commitment for you! And goes to show if nothing else, how much the authenticity of the films meant to the individuals involved in them….

So there you have it, my own personal arguments as to why Lost in Translation and Her make perfection companion pieces to each other. I’d love to know what you think though- do you agree? Disagree? Does such an idea fill you with rage and liquid bile? Or can you think of more ways in which the two movies complement each other? Either way, drop me a line.

PS. I have a feeling you might be seeing the DVD boxset of these two films for sale on Amazon sooner than you might think…just saying.

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