So, I saw Spike Jonze’s “Her” on Wednesday, at the AMC Loews in Boston. If you haven’t heard about the movie, it’s that one where the guy falls in love with his computer. (Actually, it’s his new operating system – the “OS1.”) And the operating system is played – or, more accurately, voiced – by Scarlett Johanssen.
Set wisely in the “near future,” the film doesn’t go overboard with the futuristic stuff, but instead throws in a few choice details, like advances in video games and fashion (such as high-waisted pants … which are actually going on sale, in real life, in 2014). The movie itself is a smart, sensitive commentary on love, relationships, and technology … the ways we project emotionally onto our gadgets, especially as they get smarter, and the way technology transforms – for better or for worse – our relationships with each other.
But in many ways, it’s also a movie about marketing. (And not just those pants.)
Spike Jonze has himself directed a number of long-form commercial spots, and Her contains several “advertisements within the advertisement” – short spots on screen that are meant to capture both our attention and the attention of the film’s characters.
The way we first encounter OS1 is through just such one of these spots. Shown on a huge, public screen, the ad depicts a bunch of aimless, expectant looking people in super-slo-mo. “Are you confused about your next direction?” Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly, pauses to consider. At another point, a giant owl swoops down within one of these large public screens, as if its talons are going to seize the (helpless and small) Theodore.
Theodore is himself, effectively, a marketer: selling people their own most authentic selves, in epistolary form, for the 21st century creative company BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com. It seems he’s been writing some couples through the entirety of their relationships. Who’s feeling for who?
In the OS1, Theodore meets his match. Like most effective marketing campaigns, OS1 is super-tailored to its audience (in this case, the film’s protagonist): it tells Theodore not just what he wants to hear, but how he wants to hear it. It is built to (almost preternaturally) adjust to him. This is both the great promise and, eventually, the problem with the software: it connects with Theodore too well.
Whether or not you think the future of people walking around with their heads buried in their gadgets is already here, here are a few other examples from the present of humans bonding in the extreme with technology, machines, inanimate objects, and/or marketing campaigns: