If you haven’t seen Robot and Frank you’re really missing a surprisingly great film. Frank (played by Frank Langella) is an ex-cat burglar entering the early stages of dementia. His family provides a robot, the Model VGC-60L, to watch over him.
The reasons to like this film are many, but let’s begin the subtleness of the ‘near’ future that is the setting. As I anxiously await the arrival of the iPhone 5, I would prefer the ultra thin, transparent videophones of the world of this film.
The technology didn’t stop there, but includes transparent pads and full display televisions that convert to videophones with the command of your voice. There are single passenger electric cars, and a great subplot about how the library has become obsolete due to the digital downloading of books.
Frank doesn’t accept this world he’s aged into too well, and reverts back to his old ways — and it’s this transition that’s really the story.
Like many of the robots that we have seen in sci-fi, VGC-60L is programmed to obey Asimov’s Law of Robotics and not hurt humans. The robot wants only to take care of Frank and monitor his memory.
But when Frank tries to shoplift a soap figurine and gets caught, the VGC-60L makes a strange decision. Thinking that Frank has entered dementia again, it grabs the item and places it in the bag, while Frank argues and distracts the shop owner.
This leads to a very interesting relationship between man and machine. Programmed to take care of Frank, the robot begins to realize that you can’t argue with stubbornness, nor change someone who doesn’t want to change. However, the robot does learn that if he keeps Frank intent on a task, he’s not quite as forgetful. Encouraging Frank to focus on his next heist holds off his dementia for at least a little while.
It’s a strange relationship, but plays with idea of memories — both electronic and human. For example, the robot’s memory is permanent (recording all that occurs around it), while a human’s our transient. Our brain begins to break down with age and what we cherish the most simply fades away.
It’s an interesting mixture that allows enjoyment, yet gives time to reflect on the meaning behind the images and words. I can’t recommend this film enough, it has so many levels that you will find something new with repeated viewings.
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