Interiors is an online film and architecture journal published by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Interiors runs an exclusive column for ArchDaily that analyzes and diagrams films in terms of space. Their Official Store will carry exclusive prints from these posts.
Spike Jonze’s fourth feature film, and his fourth feature film collaboration with production designer K.K. Barrett, creates a future world that is both intimate and immersive.
Her (2013), which was filmed in Los Angeles and Shanghai, uses the architecture of both cities to construct a world of its own. Jonze and Barrett, however, chose not to approach the film from a design or architectural perspective; rather, they were interested in reflecting the emotional qualities of their protagonist Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) through the production design. Barrett points out that although the future feels distant and foreign for us, “The future is also someone’s present, our character’s present.” Thus, science fiction elements are grounded in reality, and the future world of Her was designed with those ideas in mind.
In an exclusive interview with Interiors, K.K. Barrett discussed his approach as an artist to both the medium of cinema in general and Her in particular. Learn more after the break.
“I also think of films structurally like songs… introduce ideas, complicate them, let them simmer and build, throw them off a cliff and pull it together dramatically at its highest pitch. If you play the last note badly, it erases everything that came before it, no matter how wonderful.” — K.K. Barrett
Barrett, who made the transition to film from music and served as a member of the punk rock band The Screamers in the 1970s, finds a direct correlation between both mediums. “I think I judge all creative decisions by dynamics – quiet and loud, open space and small space, and I am always a bit of a minimalist, removing until the essentials have an impact,” he observes. This approach applies to Her as well, a film that strips away any excess and focuses on the fundamentals.
The actual location of Theodore’s apartment is the top floor of the WaterMarke Tower, a 35-story luxury high-rise located in heart of Downtown Los Angeles on 705 West 9th Street.
The locations in the film were chosen for their views rather than their interior design or architecture. In fact, before he found the location for Theodore’s apartment, Barrett even considered placing it on a rooftop so the filmmakers would have their desired view of the city.
As Barrett notes, “The spaces for Amy's and Theodore's apartments were blank slates. The space originally was cold, architecturally uninspired, dead […] We chose them for their views of downtown which suggested density to the north, and to the west we added a few buildings in post to make it consistent with our Shanghai exteriors, which when collaged together completed the dense feel of new vertical growth.” The window glass in the original space was modified to achieve this effect as well: “We changed the tinted glass to clear to let the night city come in.”
Similarly, for the interior design of the apartment, the “focus was to bring the outside city in, and push light towards him [Theodore].” The production even covered the existing upper daylight panels above the windows in an effort to concentrate the view into a band around Theodore, who would then become enveloped within this space and “wrapped by light.”
Although the apartment has a second bedroom on an upper floor, it isn’t shown in the film itself; instead, the apartment appears as one continuous, warm space: “We added wood floors that shine and soft toned wood wall partitions that you could alternately see light or space through. The walls of glass were passive to light and depth and the interior walls were just as often a soft light creating an undefined depth inside as well.” What’s more, the illuminated wall “panels change color throughout the film but always stay towards red” in order to provide a sense of warmth in these private spaces.Barrett states, “I was looking for spaces that were enjoyable and comforting to be in for the mood of each scene.”
In thinking about the color palette of this film, Barrett cites Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert as inspiration. “I couldn't think of a red film. I loved the bold use of it in Red Desert, one of my favorite films.” In his previous film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011), he used a large red wall in a key scene. In Her, however, he notes that red is very passive, yet insistent in its presence; it’s the color that “unified our world.”
In his comparison of Theodore’s office and home, Barrett notes, “The office was [initially] stark white, as was the apartment, so by adding vibrant color they immediately had more definitive character. I played with the color arrangement in the office for about two weeks with models until I decided on the final look.” The office reveals one of the few intentional uses of blue in the film – a very faded transparent blue in Plexiglas panels; the rest of the film (from the set to the wardrobe) is made up mostly of reds, creating a comfortable environment for its character. As Barrett explained: “red seemed playful and the opposite of cold.”
Beyond the lighting and color scheme of Theodore's apartment, the interior objects are also used in significant ways throughout the film as a way of exploring Theodore’s emotional state. Spike Jonze effectively cuts back and forth in time throughout the film, showing us glimpses of Theodore’s former life with his wife (Rooney Mara); in contrast, “The details in his apartment as a bachelor are bits from his life that haven't found a place to rest.” Theodore hasn’t unpacked all his belongings – he hasn’t completely settled into this space.
Barrett remarks, “He wasn't expected to entertain here just yet. […] We took away his dining room table but left the chairs.” It’s interesting to note that throughout the film, we only see three chairs in his apartment, and it’s only later in the film that we spot the fourth chair, which is seen outside his balcony, suggestive of his isolation: “He is unsettled, frozen from hurt. The objects were options of things that might catch his eye as he reflects on his heartbroken conundrum of the life he had when he was happier.”
Howeer, Barrett points out that in Theodore’s apartment, “nothing individually was meant to call our attention or to be questioned. You can decorate with forced backstory or with intuitive gestures.”
In our floor plan, we have presented Theodore’s apartment space. Of course, as Barrett notes, a floor plan provides a technical understanding of the space, but “set walls are not the true definition of psychological dramatic space.” The film relies on emotion and mood – elements that cannot be intellectualized and can only be experienced when watching the film.
The diagram of the floor plan of Theodore’s apartment shows his belongings, which suggests Theodore’s unsettled feeling in this space and place in time. However, the diagram, like the film, doesn’t call attention to the specific items in his apartment.
In Her, Spike Jonze and K.K. Barrett were more interested in the emotional aspects of their characters rather than the “rules” that are so prominent in films that are set in the future. From the dialogue, to the integration of media into the character’s daily lives, to the design of the city and Theodore’s home, the film effectively transcends science fiction stereotypes as the audience becomes absorbed into Theodore’s world. In Barrett’s words: “I think very often people think of the future as if no one lives there, as if we will be less alive. They think about objects and design. We thought of the characters being alive and the spaces followed their story… and we had a lot of fun with it.”
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Interiors is an online journal, published on the 15th of each month, in which films are analyzed and diagrammed in terms of space. It is run by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Check out their Website, Issuu Site and Official Store and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.