What does it mean to be human? This is the question Bicentennial Man explores.
-Review by David Bruce

This page was created on December 30, 1999,
and was last updated on May 22, 2005
Directed by Chris Columbus
Writing credits: Nicholas Kazan
Isaac Asimov (story The Bicentennial Man)
Robert Silverberg and Isaac Asimov (novel The Positronic Man)

Robin Williams as Andrew
Sam Neill as Sir
Wendy Crewson as Ma'am
Embeth Davidtz as Little Miss/Portia
Oliver Platt as Rupert Burns
Hallie Kate Eisenberg as Little Miss, 7 years old
Stephen Root as Dennis Mansky
Lynne Thigpen as Female President
Bradley Whitford as Lloyd
Kiersten Warren as Galatea Robotic/Human
John Michael Higgins as Bill Feingold
George D. Wallace as Male President

Produced by Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Paula DuPré (associate), (as Paula DuPré Pesman) Gail Katz, Dan Kolsrud (executive), Laurence Mark, Neal Miller, Wolfgang Petersen, Mark Radcliffe

Original music by James Horner
Cinematography by Phil Meheux
Film Editing by Nicolas De Toth and Neil Travis

Rated PG for language and some sexual content.

One robot's 200 year journey
to become an ordinary man.
In the first decade of the new millennium, with advances in global technology overtaking the sovereignty of human compassion, Richard Martin (SAM NEILL) buys a gift, a new NDR-114 robot. The product is named Andrew (ROBIN WILLIAMS) by the youngest of the family?s children. Touchstone Pictures/Columbia Pictures Bicentennial Man follows the life and times of Andrew, a robot purchased as a household appliance programmed to perform menial tasks. As Andrew begins to experience emotions and creative thought, the Martin family soon discovers they don?t have an ordinary robot.
"Bicentennial Man" spans two centuries, during which it is the goal of a certain robot to learn all it might about the intricacies of humanity, life and love. His quest is a two way street. The robot teaches as much as he learns. He shows the world how to open its eyes and its heart to receive any being with enough compassion to ask for acceptance..
Andrew appears as a typical robot. Upon his delivery, there are four members of the Martin home: Richard Martin, whom Andrew respectfully refers to as Sir; his wife, simply as Ma'am; and their two children Grace and Amanda, who will always be Miss and Little Miss, respectively.

The laws of robotics:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with The First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Little Miss is the first to call him Andrew, because she misunderstands him to be an android, which of course, he is not. He is a robot: A NorthAm Robotics NDR-114 that has been purchased, as he himself describes, "To perform menial tasks. Cooking. Cleaning. Making household repairs. Playing with or supervising children." The children, however, are at first suspicious of this new member of the household. Miss sees him as an uninteresting simple appliance, common in the homes of her friends. Little Miss thinks he's a bit scary. She, of course, has nothing to fear as the first law of robotics states, "A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction cause a human being to come to harm."

It is perhaps the second law of robotics, which leads the Martin family to change their perception of Andrew. For it is following an incident, in which Miss orders Andrew to leap from an upstairs window (an order which he is compelled to follow), that Sir proclaims, "Though Andrew is technically a piece of property, he shall be treated as if he is a person." In treating Andrew as human, they start to see human traits. He begins showing some very anthropomorphic signs of creativity, curiosity and friendship.

Sir decides to not only allow Andrew his creativity but to encourage and cultivate the behavior, as he believes Andrew to be a unique individual.

Andrew's artistry is first exhibited in his carving delicate wooden animals. Before long he has converted the basement of the Martin home into his workshop where he crafts beautifully intricate clocks. As his talent develops, so too, does Andrew's friendship with Sir and his ever-deepening affection for Little Miss.

It is ironic that one who spends so many hours creating timepieces is himself unaffected by the passage of time. But time does pass. Through the years, then decades, Andrew achieves a degree of renown for creating and selling his exceptional works, all the time watching as the family he has become so much a part of grows up ... and grows old. It makes Andrew all the more aware of how different he is, and in his uniqueness, how alone he is.
Andrew decides that by looking more human he might narrow the gap between himself and the human world he so wants to understand. Even after the robotic upgrades that change his looks, there is still something missing. The ability to decide for one's self where to live, the ability to come and go as one pleases and the ability to choose are all things that Andrew, as a piece of property, cannot know. He lacks the power of free will. Though such a request has never been heard before, the court finds it cannot deny freedom to any being with a mind advanced enough to desire freedom so passionately.
Andrew's freedom comes, initially, at a great personal cost. Sir, his life long companion and teacher is unable to understand Andrew's desire. But to Andrew, it is the start of a journey toward emotional growth and something he is compelled to pursue.

Andrew sets out on a journey of discovery, to find out for himself what it is to be human. He needs to know if anywhere there is anyone or anything else like him. His search will not lead him to understand others, but with the help of his new friend Rupert, an independent and inventive robotics expert, Andrew is able to discover himself, developing and appreciating his own feelings and abilities. As Andrew returns to his own life he remains ever closer to the newer members of the Martin family. The awkward affection he once felt for Little Miss develops into precious companionship with Little Miss' granddaughter Portia. Through her, he learns that with humanity, comes mortality, and the very uniqueness that has always seemed to keep from his human existence is the very thing that gives him his humanity.

As the story comes to an end it seems to define a human as an individual with independant thought, free will, emotion, the ability to have sex and die. These qualities certainly are a part of the human experience. However, something is lacking. Andrew never seems to have a human soul, rather, just the qualities of a human soul.

On the other hand, Andrew expresses a more fully developed sense of humanity in terms of compassion and kindness than some of the self-centered real humans around him.

I believe this film to be a good discussion starter on a subject that has been discussed by some of the best minds throughout the centuries --What does it mean to be human?
Bulletin Board:

Date: Mon, 5 Jun 2000
From: Laudy, from Indonesia

Dear David, Let me introduce myself. My name is Laudy, from Indonesia, and one of your subscriber. Three days ago I watch "Bicenteniall Man", which is starred by Robin Williams. I'm sure that you've known about this film, haven't you. From my opinion, this film is good enough. This show how love can overcome all the differences, and show us about the spirit of a man who try to proove his existency as a man (Andrew). But I confused when saw that during his effort to get that, he make an organ which is same with human have. Is it possible, a robot made some human organ. A robot could create a man. How come ? Could you give your comment or opinion about this film, especially from Christainity side. And thank you very much for your kind attention. God bless you. best regards, Laudy

Subject: Thoughts on the Boringcentennial Man
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000
From: "Jon Zuck" <>

Dave, I've got to say that Bicentennial Man was definitely the most boring film I've seen in quite a long time. (And it took quite a long time to see it, BTW!) Certainly when Asimov wrote the book, the idea of a robot wanting to become human was novel, but not any longer. Star Trek: The Next Generation explored the idea over seven years for us, through Data, and odd as that treatment was, it was better than Bicentennial Man.

There are several key flaws here: lack of any kind of climax in the plot was perhaps the most obvious. The pacing never varied, and almost all scenes were of equal length and had the same amount of action (or non-action) within. Andrew moves tirelessly from situation to situation over 200 years, but his conflicts only become interesting when he falls in love towards the end. Yet even then, the monotony is relentless.

Another problem was that there was never any insight into what made Andrew different. Short Circuit had Number 5 struck by lightning, symbolically touched by God. ST:TNG showed Data created to be conscious, and thrown into a thoroughly human role. Yet in Bicentennial Man, only a smidgeon of curiosity even comes up about what makes Andrew unique, and Andrew is only concerned (for a hundred years or so!) with verifying whether or not he is unique. It's extremely unsatisfying.
Finally, there's the weakness of its point, which again might be better elucidated by comparison:

For example, ST:TNG's strange (but interesting) ideas: Data repeatedly identifies emotion as the missing link between himself and humanity. After having tasted emotions once early in the series, in the "Descent" episode he succumbs to accepting an emotion chip from his evil twin, Lore. This leads him to be manipulated into evil. And in the movie Generations, Data later declines the chip that would make him human. The message appears to be that emotions are a little bit too dangerous; better not to have them, (which is reinforced by the general emotional repression throughout the crew of the Enterprise D).

In Short Circuit, awareness was a gift coming from above, and Number 5's humanity had nothing to do with appearances, but with his spirit, shown in his joy, humor, compassion, non-violence, and moral angst at having been created a killing machine. The message: humanity is a gift from God, a spirit with a law written on the heart (and not on one's programming!)

But Bicentennial Man never gives us a clear thought about the effects of Andrew's consciousness. It seems that it's good for him to become human, but only moderately so. A great deal of emphasis is put upon getting human appearance, which really doesn't have much to do with the core issues. However, it does explore the need for the recognition of one's humanity by the community. Hatred and rejection ultimately dehumanizes us, acceptance into the human family finally makes us human. A good point, but weakly and joylessly presented.

---Shalom v'Tovah

Jon Zuck

Subject: thoughts
Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000
From: Judy

i'm a 46 year old woman,and I just wanted to say that my husband and I went to see bicentennial man and I came away from it with this thought, only God can create man and man recreating man just made me feel unconfortable,and the length they went to make him human I thought were ungodly.I think this movie is not something children should see.
Thank you for letting me voice my opinon,

Subject: personal comment....
Date: Tue, 4 Jan 2000
From: Straight Up Youth Ministry

Well, I first say thanks for spending your time to create a resource for people to access so freely. I just suggested parents look up this site in a newsletter I send monthly to all the parents of students in our ministry.
As a Youth Pastor, some people may think I should stay more current with trendy movies and what-not, but after recently taking my wife to see Bicentennial Man I once again came to the conclusion that 99% of movies are simply a waste of time.
Now, I'm not some old stickler, I'm simply a 25 year old red-blooded male saved from sin and wanting to follow Jesus. The students in this youth ministry know that I, for the most part, will never watch any movie over a PG rating. Maybe that's too black & white for some, but PG-13 says that a little language or a little nudity, a little gore and violence is okay - NO! That's not what God says in His word.
Anyway, my thought on this particular movie is thus: Yea, sure it has the potential for some good questions and whatever, however, the philosophies there within are horrible. How could I ever recommend students watch a movie that teaches principles so clearly contradicting to the word of God? What about the scene where the robotic engineer describes sex as "going to heaven"? And, why sure, Andrew should have the ability to have sex, we wouldn't want to deny him that. I'm not saying sex is bad or dirty, you know what I mean. In a marriage sex should be incredible, God designed us to enjoy each other that way, and it's great. My point is simply that the movie, with a PG rating, is supposed to appeal to those family friendly folks out there and yet it still teaches our kids to laugh at swear words, that God is a foreign concept, and sex out of marriage is great.
To wrap it up, even though I had a two free movie passes to go, I feel like I wasted them and my time.
Jeff Bower - IN.

Bicentennial Man © 1999 Touchstone pictures. All Rights Reserved.