Author: Sydney Reade
“The Cutting Room Floor” is a handy guide to all things film. Sydney Reade discusses the merits of a movie from the camera angles to that line of dialogue you just can’t get out of your head. Appearances by classic gems, modern favorites, and every movie in between to help you decide what to watch on Friday flick night.
Another summer, another slew of half-baked movies getting laughs out of audiences’ systems before the onslaught of Oscar-worthy pieces hit the big screen this autumn. But just because we’re subjected to sub-par movie fare, it doesn’t mean the industry sleeps over the summer, and nor does it mean that nothing of note happens in entertainment. To the contrary, we’ve seen in the past few weeks how swiftly life can move, with the deaths of some notable entertainers. Perhaps the most shocking death was Robin Williams’. Though I covered Mrs. Doubtfire only a few months ago, I think another of Williams’ movies deserves attention here, even if the critics didn’t give Bicentennial Man (1999) much love at the time of its release.
It seems counterintuitive that a comic whose work depends on nuance of expression and vocal timing would choose to play a robot. But that dichotomy between man and machine, and how similar the two can become, is at the heart of this film. Beginning in the year 2005, robotics company NorthAm introduces talking, thinking NDR model “androids” for home-use. Richard Martin (played by Sam Neill) is among the first to buy a robot he names Andrew (played by Robin Williams), and with this humanizing characteristic, Andrew begins a journey toward increasing humanity. Andrew refers to Richard as “Sir” in his pre-programmed political correctness. He is accepted grudgingly by Mrs. “Ma’am” Martin (played by Wendy Crewson) and cautiously but then wholeheartedly by the youngest Martin daughter Amanda, or “Little Miss.” It is through Andrew’s connection with Little Miss that he begins to realize the limits of his functions, despite the notion that robots are capable of far more than are humans. Andrew cannot feel regret when he accidentally breaks Little Miss’ toy, pain when he saws off his finger furnishing a replacement, or joy when he gives Little Miss a newly carved wooden horse.
From 2025 through 2205, Andrew undergoes a series of physical changes that make him more human in ability and appearance only. When Sir has no more household tasks for Andrew, he is given freedom. He travels the country looking for other NDRs like him, eventually teaming-up with inventor Rupert Burns (played by Oliver Platt) who believes in robot-human equality. The two work on synthetic robotic organs that come to be used in humans, further blurring the lines between man and machine. Upon striking up a friendship with Little Miss’ granddaughter Portia (played by Embeth Davidtz), Andrew begins to confront the fact that everyone he’s ever known or loved will die, while he keeps on living in his semi-immortal state. He spends the rest of his life petitioning to be recognized as a full human, so that he can experience love, loss, and eventually death. Whether he succeeds in his mission will be for you to discover after watching this stunningly complex, yet intelligently humorous film.
Everything the world loved about Robin Williams, from his breathtaking (or breathless) monologues of quick ad-libbing to his sentimental, heartwarming embodiment of his characters, is present in this movie. The humor is subtle, but well done, peppered in among considerations of what it means to love, hate, and to be fundamentally human. The futuristic world the film depicts differs from others in its sense of realness. Unlike 1984 or Back to the Future, this Earth where humans and robots coexist with striking similarity and some legal constraints seems plausible, even probable. Williams is not the only actor with serious chops here—Oliver Platt, another comic genius, goes line for line with Williams in quite a few scenes, and Embeth Davidtz is not to be missed for her cynically logical yet loving regard of Andrew coupled with wry wit. If there are any complaints about the film, they are the at-times dragging plot and mawkish characterization of extraordinarily difficult and intricate universal themes. But movies are often reductive of such themes without intending to be—they have only two hours to convey some grand meaning about life. Those two hours will be well spent watching this exposition of a truly great and immeasurably missed actor, Robin Williams.