‘Robot & Frank’

The Odd Couple of Crime

This is a light little movie with an interesting theme – the relationship between identity and memory. It’s also philosophical about things to do with persona and being and time. It’s the kind of film you expect if Martin Heidegger were a screenwriter.

What’s Good About It

The premise is pretty simple. A tag team character drama between a man who is losing his memory to age-related disease with a Robot who collects and hoards memory. The simplicity of the setup makes for some fun viewing and moments of chuckles.

It’s a clever ‘little’ science fiction movie that spends most of its suspension of disbelief on the evolving identity of the Robot character. No spaceships, no rampant futurism, just the Robot technology being extended upon as a character study.

What’s Bad About It

The central drama ought to be more upfront, but instead it gets taken over by the action of the police coming around to arrest the main character Frank. Also, the choice of the impassive Robot voice that is strongly reminiscent of HAL in ‘2001: A  Space Odyssey’ sort of leave you cold. I know it sounds calm, and therefore creates irony, but that was Stanley Kubrick’s trick. Doing that again after all the parodies of “you can’t do that Dave” is a bit tedious.

What’s Interesting About It

I’m going to cut to the chase – The most poignant moment in the film is when Frank erases the Robot’s memory in order to rid him of the memories of the crime they committed together. In that moment, we understand that the Robot’s persona does not change but his identity changes. Our memories allow us to constantly change as who we are. This is why Frank losing his memories is a terrible thing because he lives in fear that he will lose his identity however trivial it might be to the world, once he loses his memory. He is no good to his family if he is simply the persona of Frank without the identity.

The issue of identity over time is the ever-confounding problem in philosophy. One of the artists I interpreted for a couple years ago was doing something interesting. He would make molds of mass produced items. They were mostly items with wear and tear and dings on them. He would then make multiple perspex ‘prints’ of the items. He would paint them in identical patterns and send them out in the world, knowing full well that each one would experience different abrasive experiences. The point of the exercise was to highlight the interplay between the mass production of something which is somehow anttitheitical to individuality, yet each of the manufactured things experiences something that makes them different to the others in the same batch. He collects one, mass produces that, but of course the process would begin again.

This interplay is exactly where the Robot sits in this film. The Robot, coming from some presumed mass production unit is individuated through its interaction with Frank. So much so that frank comes to recognise a persona of the Robot that is unique to that unit, only to have to erase it to save his own skin.

All of this comes at a very interesting topic because as biological machines, how different are we from mass produced machines? The evidence mounting each year is that thanks to the genetic bottlenecks Homo Sapiens has experienced in pre-history, our genetic variance is quite low. If we send a batch of people to school, we all think we’re individual, when in fact we’re being programmed by the same people to enter society with the same program. This point was brought home tome recently when I established contact with people I went through school with through Facebook, only to find they had remarkably similar, nuanced views on politics that I possess. And this led me to believe that maybe the socialising power of a school is much more far-reaching than for which my belief in individualism could account.

In other words, the experience of humanity might just be a lot like the Robot, but with a desperate in-built belief in each and every individual’s individuality. The picture the film paints, is the distinct possibility that our sense of our individuality is over-stated. We are metaphorically, the mass produced Robot going through life collecting moments for individuation, but largely the same.


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Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

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