Blade Runner, released in 1982 and set in 2019, ushered in an enduring (maybe too enduring?) vision for how our future metropolis would look. Landmarks in Ridley Scott’s now canonical film included the Bradbury Building, Union Station, the 2nd Street tunnel, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of l.a. Eyeworks, which specialized in eyeballs instead of glasses.
Spike Jonze’s Her, which opened in wide release on Friday and earned Jonze a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, dispenses with the dystopian noir to depict a sunny pedestrian technopolis. Forget the perpetual rain, the flashing billboards, the teeming market stalls, and the cacophony of languages. Jonze’s vision of L.A.—helped by production designer K.K. Barrett—is a city of clean lines and muted colors where technology blurs into daily life seamlessly. Imagine a world populated by Apple Store staffers wearing porn mustaches and high-waisted slacks.
Although both films are united by an improbable optimism about men’s intimate relationships with machines—and in both cases the men seem less vital than the machines—Her is, in many ways, the anti-Blade Runner. If Spike Jonze aims to recast the default model of our future metropolis, here’s what you need to know about his vision of L.A.
5. The Skyline
In Her you can spot several L.A. landmarks including Disney Hall, the WaterMarke at Ninth and Flower, One Wilshire, and a public plaza that looks like an altered version of L.A. Live. But it’s not Los Angeles as we know it. The skyline of Shanghai has been grafted onto downtown L.A. to create a hybrid metropolis that is at once denser and less populated.
4. The Buildings
Despite the increased architectural density, the city is less crowded and far more austere. There are more buildings—but who inhabits them? The lack of crowds has inspired some viewers to assume that humanity has survived a plague or a calamity. Or maybe these people like to presume that any film set in near-future L.A. must be a dystopia.
3. The Publications
Theodore Twombly, the film’s lead, is a former writer for LA Weekly, the only periodical mentioned in the entire movie (ahem!). His techno-love Samantha says that Theo hasn’t written for the alt weekly in many years but it’s not clear whether that’s his choice or because it no longer exists.
2. The Public Transit
The subway to the sea is no longer a political football; it’s a reality. In this pedestrian-centric world, we never see a car (or a parking lot or a garage) but the Metro, which is either elevated above the city or buried beneath it, is a major feature. Everyone seems to take it to and from work. Gizmodo has the terrific Geoff McFetridge-designed map of this fantasy “Summit to the Sea” Metro, which is far more extensive and functional than anything we’ve actually got in the works. For one thing, it features multiple stops at LAX. Take note, urban planners.
1. The Gentrification
In such a self-consciously insular movie—only ten characters have speaking roles, eleven if you include Brian Cox as Alan Watts—it’s hard to extrapolate how the entire city’s population would look. But you know you’re in the best of all possible Spike Jonze worlds when you have all the urban amenities without any of the problems. There’s no poverty, homelessness, accidents, crime, or noise to contend with. And the only trash bins anyone seems to use are on their electronic devices.