“The interior of a computer is a fine and private place, but none, I fear, do there embrace … ” Roger Ebert (after Andrew Marvell),  “Review: Tron,” published Jan. 1, 1982

While the late Roger Ebert will not, of course, ever get to see Her, he did live to see the smart-phone revolution Her is built on, and I kept thinking of the above-quoted epigram at the start of his Tron review  during Spike Jonze’s film, as Joaquin Phoenix’s everyguy Theodore Twombly falls deeply in love — and vice-versa — with his phone’s new artificially-intelligent operating system Samantha, who speaks in Scarlett Johansson’s velvet purrrr of a voice. Ebert was right about no one embracing inside a computer; what Jonze’s film does is recognizes we, and all future peoples (barring disaster) now live in a world where the inside of a computer is everywhere.

Like a fusion of 2001  with the look and feel of a happy, montage-filled Rom-Com, Her is a story of both the next step in human progress and the eternal quest to find someone to love; Theodore has a bad divorce in his past, and the woman he can most easily talk to (Amy Adams) already has a boyfriend. While Samantha is just a disembodied voice, she’s always there … and always willing to talk. If you want to forget all the messy, troubling business of having to deal with another person in a real relationship — the hairs in the sink, the disappointments about the washing-up, the unerring ability to call you out on things you legitimately did wrong — why not fall for your  constant companion?

Much like Lars and the Real Girl, Jonze avoids the queasier aspects of the relationship’s sexuality with some deft comedy and a few edits; this is a solo Jonze script, and many see similarities to it and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, penned by frequent Jonze-colaborator Charlie Kaufman. But I think there are stronger thematic parallels with the Kaufman-penned Adaptation, as every time we try to use technology to connect with people, we get more reflections of communication than we do real connection, and every reflection is a reduction; every fix makes the problem worse. (Theodore works for a website called BeautifulHandwrittenLettters.com; Adams plays a videogame designer working on a mothering simulator that no real mother would have time or the inclination to enjoy.)

There are three MVP players here — firstly Phoenix, who acts opposite an actress who isn’t there (and at first, wasn’t even Johansson, with Samantha Morton originally voicing Samantha). There’s Johansson, who gives a performance that had to mesh with the rhythm and scale of Phoenix and Morton’s existing efforts while still connecting emotionally. Finally, production designer K. K Barrett creates a near-future L.A. with marvels big and small, from a subway-to-the-sea to a unspoken prediliction for high-waisted pants.

There’s a nice, unforced group of moments in the film where Theodore explains he’s dating his OS to several people, and their reactions are more relaxed than repelled; this is simply one of those things that happens. We the audience know that this can’t go well, and it doesn’t — but not in the way you might expect, with flesh-and-blood simply unable to keep up with bits-and-chips intelligence and its aspirations. (A brief vocal cameo is hilarious not because of who it is, but rather, what it says as Samantha introduces Theodore to a new digital friend she’s made while he’s been busy living life.)

Gorgeously shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Her finds majesty in something as small-yet-real as dust floating above a bedspread as Phoenix contemplates his incredible, intangible love; he and Samantha have made a fine and private place, and yet there are no embraces in it. All love is a fantasy, but without any reality, it’s simply madness whether you’re DNA or digits — and  yet, if the definition of love is something that changes you, then what the two of them have is love, even though it can’t be.  With humor, beauty, strangeness and charm, Her shows us an impossible love so we might better contemplate the reality of who and how we love. With love and the digital world both all around us, comforting and challenging and changing us, Her is that rarest kind of film: A fantasy that finds real truth.