Spike Jonze Previews Creepy New Film in Toronto

'Her' stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man in love with an artificial intelligence operating system

spike jonze
Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Warner Bros. Pictures/AP Images
Spike Jonze speaks at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada.
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Spike Jonze winged it with fellow director and writer Kelly Reichardt during one of the Toronto International Film Festival's "In Conversation With . . . " events, during which he gave the sold-out audience a significant preview of his next film, Her. It's an endearing, creepy, giddy love story about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with an artificial intelligence operating system (the voice of Scarlett Johansson).

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Reichardt didn't have questions formally written down, or a plan to steer the 90 minutes. Instead, it was as if she had invited her good friend to her home to get some advice on multi-tasking, post-production and other things she was curious about from one filmmaker to another – and we were all flies on the wall.

The talk began with a fast-paced video montage of Jonze's work, including clips from Beastie Boys and Bjork music videos to the imaginative films Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are – after which Reichardt quipped, "Seeing that whole retrospective piece, I only wrote down one question for you, which is, 'Why are you so lazy?'"

Reichardt, the creator of independent films Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, premiered her new film, Night Moves (with Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard) at TIFF. Struggling to articulate her kick-off question, she settled on "What's your process?" She laughed, as did the audience. "Is that too big a question?"

Jonze broke it down with an anecdote about the Beastie Boys. He had a magazine called Dirt, and he photographed and interviewed the up-and-coming rap group circa 1989's Paul's Boutique, before Check Your Head came out. "Like you, I work with people who I'm really close to and collaborate really close with and probably a lot of it starts with that," he explained to Reichardt, "talking to my friends and trying out ideas on my friends."

He started a magazine, Grand Royal, with the Beasties Boys, and they made videos together that "came out of us just cracking ourselves up, going and buying fake mustaches at the fake mustache store. A lot of stuff happens that way . . . [There's] an organic process to it."

After talking about the differences in their filmmaking approach – Jonze using all the tools in his toolkit, Reichardt generally sticking with one – Jonze presented several clips from Her. He said he's been working on it for the past three years, editing the past 14 months. One clip isn't even finished and still has the storyboards. Still, he said, "We're locking picture in a week."

Reichardt wanted to know his view of technology: whether he's afraid of it, if he loves it, or if it's simply that human relations have changed. "Where you at?" she asked.

"I saw Kelly's movie last week, Night Moves," he began in reply. "And it's about these ecoterrorists, but really it's about these kids who don't know who they are, and they're trying to figure out who they are and how they can affect the world and not affect the world." Reichardt interrupted him.

"You're not answering the question," she said.

But Jonze hadn't finished. "Your movie left me thinking, how do you affect the world, and at what point are you having a positive effect and at what point are you having a negative effect? And your movie doesn't say exactly what it is. And my movie – these are all ideas I'm thinking about in terms of the way we connect, the way we long to connect, the way we use technology to connect, the way technology helps us connect, the way it prevents us from connecting."

"Isolating," Reichardt interjected.

"But the movie, to me, is about our desire to connect or the need to connect," Jonze continued, "how quickly technology has changed our lives in this newest incarnation – the Internet and digital technology. But I was also always trying to make a relationship movie and a love story and examine relationships and love. So technology, and the way we live with technology, is obviously part of that story, but it's also only part of this story.

"So to answer your question succinctly? I don't know."