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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Austin Wellens

Opinion on meaning of films differ from person to person

So, I wanna talk about Spike Jonze, “Her” and the old, old debate about an author’s ability to decide how exactly their work is interpreted. And about the BBC, I guess.

See what happened was, Spike Jonze went on the BBC for an interview because, when you make a popular movie, people want to interview you I guess. And on the lead-in to the piece, the BBC’s Emily Maitlis described “Her” as a new film about “falling in love with your software.” It was at this point that the troubles started.

Mr. Jonze objected to what he regards as an oversimplified and inaccurate description of his film, asked if Maitlis has actually watched “Her,” things get uncomfortable. You can watch the whole thing on the internet, and find the small tweet rant the BBC Newsnight anchor went on after the segment aired (IndieWire has both conveniently in one place, if you look it up).

So to begin, just full disclosure, my initial reaction to “Her” was much more in line with its director’s feelings about it than with Maitlis’ opinions, and I also loved the film in a way I haven’t loved a film in a long time. Now then.

Spike Jonze’s summary of his movie is that, while technology and the near future and an extrapolation of our present situation provide a science fiction-y type setting, the film is really about the love story that takes form within this setting. And I mean, he’s kind of right, but Maitlis is kind of right too?

To make a quick detour, setting something as intimate as a love story (and honestly, one of the best filmic love stories in recent memory) in something as relevant as a not so distant iFuture, there is going to be some overlap between the two. I mean, when you see as much of the world around you in the film as there is in “Her,” done in a way that’s inventive and makes that new, nonexistent world somehow feel familiar, and when you see something as universal as falling in/out of love and try to work through everything that it entails, you’re going to find a lot more about yourself and the world and love in there than in a typical love story.

Which is both A) part of why I found the film so crazy moving and able to connect with me almost effortlessly, and B) why I totally understand the way Maitlis felt about it, as much as I think it’s a misreading and that there’s much more in the film than she’s giving “Her” credit.

But see here’s the problem. Lots of people disagree with artists about what their work means. Some artists (maybe smartly) refuse to ever make any sort of statement about what their work means. David Lynch has made a point of this. But whenever anyone says anything about a film, piece of music, etc. there will always be someone who disagrees. The question of whether the creator of a work’s opinion should be taken into consideration when you’re evaluating that work is not a new one.

However, usually when this question comes up, it usually isn’t, you know, to the filmmaker/musician/author’s face. Which is why the BBC thing bothered me so much. Spike Jonze was sitting there, clearly wanted to actually talk about his film and what he thought was a misunderstanding of his work, and judging by her tweet rant, Emily had some thoughts about the film she could have shared.

This is like, important. Artists are more available than ever to their audiences, as they’re expected to make press rounds, do interviews, Reddit AMAs, the whole spiel, and it’s getting increasingly easier to communicate with them about what they’re doing and what it means to everyone involved. Which is really cool in a “the future is here,” “Her”-ish sort of way, really.

And I mean, it would’ve been such a relief from the usual, dull talking head interviews that these shows usually do to have a real, engaged discussion about the film with the creator. Which brings me to my final point.

Is my interpretation of “Her” totally in line with Spike Jonze’s? No. Neither is anyone else’s. Does this make any of it wrong? No. But we can’t just disregard the author’s intentions for their work, because it becomes important in understanding how they work as people and artists, in relation to us, when we compare our interpretations to theirs.

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For a quick example, “Django Unchained.” Understanding what Tarantino wanted to mean, and what we thought he meant in that film especially, is important. Whether or not we disagree, we can’t just ignore the motivation behind the film’s creation because, you know, it’s why the work exists. It’s an entire alternate universe, constructed for a purpose, and we can talk to its creator.

And now more than ever, we have opportunities to really engage with artists, to understand what they want to mean and to actually engage with the worlds they create, which is only useful if we, you know, actually engage and are willing to listen, consider and integrate ideas. Basically, if we’re willing to actually communicate and try to understand, which is sort of why we do art.

How important is a creator's opinion about what he/she has created? Email Austin your opinion at

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