In movie after movie, the future is brutal, strewn with rubble, and often populated with the resurrected dead. Those filmmakers who channel their existential dread into dreams of annihilation tend to have more success than those brave enough to present that other idea of the day after tomorrow—the one in which the world keeps spinning and technology continues to creep along.
Her, the new movie from Spike Jonze, is in the latter camp, a not-too-far-off tale of a mustachioed misanthrope, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), in love with an operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It comes with big expectations, partly because it is the fourth studio film in fourteen years from the king of cool-guy cinema. Think Gattaca or Brazil brought to you by the still-boyish imagineer who shot Being John Malkovich and Adaptation in between directing art-school skate videos for his pals and running around with the Vice set. But I’d like to think that the enthusiasm for Her is driven, to some degree, by its production design, which pulls off the trick of being subtle and arresting at the same time. Take Twombly’s wardrobe, which includes a pair of pants that look to be belted somewhere around Phoenix’s navel.
“The high-waisted thing is kind of referencing things decades past,” said Casey Storm, the film’s costume designer. “Maybe some Humphrey Bogart played into it.”
On the phone from Los Angeles, Storm said that he and Jonze arrived at their vision of a future that takes place “almost two cycles of fashion from now.” The designer’s collaborations with Jonze go back to the director’s 1994 instant-classic music video for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Storm went on to help transform Cameron Diaz into an eccentric mess who keeps a chimp for a pet in Being John Malkovich and translate Max’s much-cherished wolf suit to the screen for the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are. But he faced probably his greatest challenge with Her, which demanded that the costume designer and director work together to fill every frame with a fully formed notion of an imaginary future.
“It’s a lot easier to follow the rules if someone else was giving you the rule book,” Storm said, “but we were making the rule book and then following the rules.”
Twombly’s world, concocted from shoots in Los Angeles and China, is a place of natural fibers and softly rounded edges. It also verges on overpopulation. The commuting masses move through this distinctive setting garbed in bright organics and alien cuts. There’s color-blocking and precious few inches of fabric spent on collars.
“One of us, I don’t remember who, was like, ‘Every future movie has that Dr. Evil collarless band-collar shirt. This is such a cheesy decision to do this,’ ” Storm recalled. “But there’s a reason every sci-fi movie uses that…. There is something to it, selling the future. The problem is that it is usually done in, like, a Bruce Willis leather jacket, and it just looks like a bad idea of what the future is supposed to be.”
The future perfect extended to the film’s color palette, which is almost devoid of blue and contains no metallics or silvers. Her does not, however, shy away from primaries entirely. Take the film’s poster, which features a forlorn Phoenix in a bright red collarless shirt, a change in tone for Jonze and Storm, previously cultivators of a more muted world.
The execution of their vision had Storm nervous deep into production. Its first extra-heavy scene, shot in a Hollywood subway station, induced an anxiety attack. “It was the first time I was dressing our world and dressing different people in our world,” Storm said. “People had different jobs and people had different socioeconomic levels and ages, and we dressed them all, and I lined them up along the subway, and I went down the line one by one. I was like, ‘Oh, fuck! This is a disaster.’ Everybody’s in crazy patterns and colors, and the shapes are so fucked-up. And it just looked like everyone was just a weirdo. I just made a weirdo world.
“I watched playback on the monitor,” Storm went on. “Everything in motion, in a group—it just made everything dilute enough that you were aware there was something that was different and odd happening, but your eye didn’t go to any one thing.”
The result was pleasing enough to induce retail outfit Opening Ceremony to base a menswear capsule collection on the Her look. It is on sale this holiday season for those brave enough to shop a few seasons ahead. The collection comprises button-front shirts, panel-blocked sweatshirts, patch-pocket jackets, quilted shearling coats, printed knits, and, yes, Twombly’s high-waisted pants.