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Joaquin Phoenix in HER

The visual beauty of this movie cannot be overstated. Every frame looks so darn awesome it makes me want to weep for the state of Indian, and even a lot of Hollywood movies. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema has worked his magic before in movies like Let the Right One In, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Oh yes, he is also the man realizing Christopher Nolan’s vision on his next film Interstellar. And the reason why I bring up the cinematography first and foremost in a movie that is being promoted as a Spike Jonze Love Story is because the imagery plays a very strong role in the impact of this movie.

You see Her is — for the most part — a movie where people talk to their computer operating systems. In the future as envisioned by Mr. Jonze, people verbally instruct their computers on tasks like reading email. So early on in the movie Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has a relationship with his (male-voiced) operating system that is aloof and brief. It is only when Theodore brings home a new operating system, and it is voiced by Scarlett Johansson, does his interest in his computer go beyond dealing with emails and daily appointments.

His new operating system christens herself Samantha and before too long they are flirting, and even going on dates. This might have something to do with the fact that Theodore is on the verge of divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara) and his one blind date (Olivia Wilde) ends really badly. So he starts to develop feelings for Samantha, and she claims to have fallen in love with him too.

It is a fascinating idea: that a human can fall in love with an advanced piece of programming. Mr. Jonze (who also wrote this film) is making a very pointed comment about humanity’s growing dependence on technology. That he took it to the next step where a person actually falls in love with a virtual entity is an example of taking the idea to the extreme without either mocking, or justifying it.

In the movie Theodore’s only stable healthy human relationship is with Amy (Amy Adams) a neighbour who genuinely cares about him. And it is a quiet triumph of writing, direction, and performance that Ms. Adams and Mr. Phoenix play the scene where Theodore tells Amy that his girlfriend is actually his operating system so straight and without irony. Mr. Phoenix is superb throughout the film and apart from him giving the distinct impression that Theodore Twombly could be a future-set, grown-up version of The Big Bang Theory’s Leonard Hofstadter, there is nothing to complain about in the way he animates the character of a man broken by love, and in a sense made whole again by technology.

So why am I leery about declaring Her a work of genius? The problem lies in the central relationship. We have watched enough movie couples fall in love to know when it feels great, and when it doesn’t. Theodore is lonely and looking for love, Samantha comes off as a relentlessly chirpy personal assistant who gets his attention and then keeps it by being around all the time. The moments of bonding they are meant to share are not allowed to develop organically into something wonderful, instead they are deemed joyous from the get-go and feel like bits from a falling-in-love montage. Not exactly the stuff upon which a great love is built.

Theodore and Samantha don’t seem to fall in love as much as they seem to be going through the motions, because the screenplay needs them to get past all the gooey stuff to the point where true heartbreak lies. I suppose there are those who have had entire relationships online who might be able to identify with the highs and lows of this relationship but there came a point when it felt like the performers and the narrative were simply pushing through for the big finale, so I was left feeling unsatisfied.

Final Analysis: This movie is worth watching on the big screen because it is a gentle feast for the eyes. The central relationship however, just didn’t work for me.

My Advice: If you are going to see it anyway, check it out on a big screen.