How Spike Jonze Communicates Loneliness Through Cinematography in 'Her'
There are plenty of films about loneliness and the struggle to find love and meaning, but none of them do it quite like Spike Jonze's Her.
Set in a slightly futuristic L.A., Her is the story of Theodore, a lonely letter-writer who finds love in his advanced operating system, Samantha, who is designed to meet his every need. In fact, that's one of the major concepts the film unpacks: needs and wants.
In this video essay from Channel Criswell, Lewis Bond talks at length about the role that needs and wants play in the film, including the constant battle Theodore wages against himself to get what he wants, while failing to ensure that he gets what he needs. Bond also details how Jonze managed to capture the film's sense of isolation and loneliness through cinematography. Check it out below:
Bond goes through a ton of information in the video — all of which you should definitely take the time to ponder — but one interesting aspect that he touches on is how Jonze decided to communicate Theodore's emotional state and character arc progression through a series of cinematic choices. Here are a few:
Her uses the Kuleshov Effect to — great effect. We've talked about this technique countless times, but it works to change or heighten a shot's meaning by simply placing it (or editing it) next to another shot. Her puts it to work by alternating shots of Theodore's happy past with his ex-wife with shots of his dark and lonely present.
Color plays a tremendous role in Her, and one of its purposes is to communicate who does and who doesn't fit in. Theodore's brightly-colored clothes (that peachy pink shirt, though) signal that he hasn't quite found his way amongst his peers, who are all dressed in more subdued colors. However, when Theodore's clothes start to look like those of his peers, we're alerted to the fact that something has changed —Theodore has changed.
Shallow Depth of Field
This is one of the more interesting concepts Bond brings up in the video. Jonze and DP Hoyte Van Hoytema chose to capture shots with a shallow depth of field to communicate visually just how isolated and detached Theodore is from the world around him.
These are just a few of the concepts Bond discusses in the video. We highly encourage you to study it, take notes, and re-watch Her, this time hopefully with new insight into the many ways Jonze chose to speak to you and the rest of his audience through visual storytelling.