Greetings again from the darkness. The thing about humans is that we are always looking towards the future to see how we can make things easier, better, or more exciting. This is often with an eye towards more fuel-efficient cars, smaller and more powerful computers, and more effective medical treatments. Writer-director Maria Schrader and co-writer Jan Schomburg have adapted the short story from Emma Braslavsky and turn the lens to relationships and love. Is it possible to advance inter-personal relations to the point of perfection? Would that even be desirable or preferable to the messiness that’s gone on since the beginning of time?
It’s actually the film’s premise that impresses most. Maren Eggert stars as Alma, an Anthropologist who has dedicated years of her life to leading a team documenting the earliest human use of poetry. Alma is a serious and determined woman, and one who bears the scars of a recent breakup. She’s drawn into an extraordinary experiment that blends high-tech with sociology. Advanced robots have been developed to become the “perfect” mate, and are programmed specifically for one person. Alma has agreed to the three-week trial, and her robot is Tom (played well by Dan Stevens, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, 2017).
Their initial interactions are quite awkward as Alma is skeptical and Tom is programmed to constantly and quickly learn and evolve based on Alma’s reactions. Despite Alma’s hope for companionship and recognition of her own biological clock, she seems to catch herself anytime she begins to feel a bit of joy. She never imagined that her pursuit of happiness would be dependent on advanced robotics. To monitor the progress, the program’s director, played by Sandra Huller (TONI ERDMANN, 2016) periodically checks in. And yes, she holds her own secrets.
This is a clever film that delves a bit deeper into human emotions than we originally anticipate. It also contains quite a bit of humor – the initial dance club introductions are pretty funny, as is Tom’s facial expression each time he’s tweaking his algorithms. We do learn flirting is “difficult to program”, although in today’s society, that’s a treacherous path anyway. Of course, Alma slowly comes around to the idea of an artificial relationship – one that by definition can never be real. The film is not at the level of EX MACHINA (2014), although it’s less about technological advances and more about self-realization. Ms. Schrader’s film is plenty entertaining to watch and one that slyly points out many flaws of us human beings, while delivering an unexpected ending.
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