LOS ANGELES — How essential are physical and emotional connections when falling in love? What would you miss — looking into someone's eyes, caressing them, tasting them? In “Her,” Spike Jonze's futuristic exploration of a man's relationship with his computer, the filmmaker surveys human disjunction.
Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore, a loner struggling to cope with his unwanted divorce from neuroscientist Catherine (a comely, sullen Rooney Mara). Theodore has become guarded, but his work requires an outpouring of emotions as he pens tender, personal letters for others at beautifulhandwrittenletters.com.
After seeing an ad for an artificial intelligence operating system, Theodore purchases one and finds his new OS is voiced by a dame with a sultry, whiskey-stained tone named Samantha (a witty and relaxed Scarlett Johansson, who is never seen on-camera).
Samantha is at Theodore's beck and call. Communicating by way of an earpiece and a small hand-held device, she keeps him on schedule and encourages him to get back out there and go on a blind date. His date (Olivia Wilde) critiques his kissing ability and scolds him for refusing to indulge in the idea of a relationship.
But eventually Theodore and Samantha, who is eager to please and has the ability to grow through her experiences, fall for each other. Jonze effectively manages to capture real intimacy as the couple greet each other in the morning and say goodnight when the day is done.
Theodore takes Samantha on a double date with his co-worker, Paul (Chris Pratt), and Samantha composes piano melodies to emphasize their experiences.
In a dark theater, surrounded by the wondrous world Jonze creates in “Her,” it's difficult to avoid getting emotional. There is such a somber and supple tone throughout, as Theodore surrenders to his desperation, finding glimpses of glee we're pleased he's afforded.
The notion of unconventional romanticism is enchanting, but even computer love can be fleeting.