Academic journal article CineAction

On the Off-Screen Voice: Sound & Vision in Spike Jonze's Her

Academic journal article CineAction

On the Off-Screen Voice: Sound & Vision in Spike Jonze's Her

Article excerpt

My Lover is (in) my Computer

For director Spike Jonze and many of his critics, the authentic, genuine, and believable quality of the love story in Her (2013) constitutes the film's richest aspect. (1) At first glance and listen, it would seem as though the exchanges between the lead onscreen voice and the lead off-screen voice generates this authenticity. Without the careful mixing and editing of the dialogue, this sci-fi romance could have been too unbelievable perhaps, and the film may have been a critical failure. As Jacob Smith contends via a study of the films of Stephen Sayadian, sound is essential "in the cinematic depiction of sexual fantasy." (2)

Her certainly attempts to downplay the dominance of the visual. Despite centering its story on the sound of a voice, however, the film ultimately fails on the whole to experiment with the denigration of vision. This failure is due to the theoretical and experiential conclusion that an off-screen voice is always attached to a body. Nevertheless, Jonze's film functions as a superb example for a consideration of contemporary Hollywood's use of sound and the role of sound in spectatorship theory. Her demonstrates that in Hollywood new filmmaking technologies have not yet produced new ways of expressing the relationship between images and sounds. My contribution to the theme of this issue of CineAction, then, is to argue that now, just as in classical Hollywood, sound is used to convince spectators of the reality of a fabricated world. In Her, Jonze accomplishes an impressive rendition of reality through two interrelated aspects of filmmaking: first, the sound editing and sound mixing of the voice-actress, produced in such a way so as to intensify believability in the images, and second, by casting a specific type of voice-actress. Her employs clear and precise mixing that enables spectators to feel the physicality of a fictional voice without body, and further, casts a famous actress as that off-screen voice to thus engage spectators' mental images of a real body. For spectators, this second component provides an experiential link between their real world and the sci-fi world of the film. My essay is thus about sound and spectatorship as much as it is about celebrity and iconicity. A discussion of the latter demands an argument regarding the former.

Her tells the story of Theodore Twombly, played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix, and his hyper-intelligent computer Operating System (OS), superbly voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Theodore is a lonely, middle-class bachelor. He has a spacious apartment, fashionable wardrobe, and a few attractive friends. These friends observe Theodore's loneliness and suggest that he try to find a lover. The launch of a new OS could not be more perfectly on time. This new OS is fully personalized, manages all devices, and interacts with users in a real-time human-sounding voice. When users speak to their computers, it is as if a real person answers. So Theodore purchases an OS, starts the installation, during which he is asked about his social life and relationship with his mother, and concludes the install by selecting a feminine voice. A miraculous voice soothes Theodore's anxieties about the install. She is sweet, gentle, and curious. The OS names herself Samantha. This is how the love story begins. Theodore and Samantha meet, flirt, develop a romance, and fall in love. However, similar to all simple love stories, their relationship must end. In the didactic-tragic climax, Samantha breaks up with Theodore because she had grown tired of their mundane relationship--her superior intelligence offers her more possibilities than is offered to human life. In other words, Theodore and Samantha are not compatible. She eventually disappears into the immaterial with all her OS buddies. The film concludes with Theodore and his attractive and charming best friend Amy (Amy Adams) watching the sunset.

Where can we locate Samantha prior to her de-materialization? …

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