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Robot & Frank (2012)
Friday, August 17, 2012
Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard, Jeremy Sisto, Jeremy Strong
Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank's son chooses a different option: against the old man's wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health.
Robot & Frank (2012) | Review
In the not-too-distant future, Frank is retired and living alone. He is in the early stages of dementia, but it is progressing. His children worry about him, but are some distance away. His son brings a robot to take care of Frank. Frank is less than pleased. But soon, Frank discovers that the robot's program is a bit short on morality. Frank, it turns out, was a burglar. He teaches the robot the tricks of the trade and begins to plan some jobs. The robot, whose job it is to care for Frank, sees that this planning keeps him active and mentally engaged. It seems like a good thing for Frank.
Memory comes in at various points. The obvious is Frank's increasing dementia as his memory slowly erodes. Parallel to this is the robot's memory which can simply be erased. The idea of doing this to the robot is something Frank is loath to consider—possibly because he realizes what an erased memory means. At the same time, the town library is being re-visioned. (That is, they're taking out all the books, because that is old technology.) Frank has a bit of a crush on the librarian. The new people taking over the library don't seem to recognize that books are a culture's memory, so yet again we see memories slipping away.
What happens to a person (or a society) when his or her memory is gone? For a robot, it can just be reformatted and new memories inserted. But for humans much of who and what we are depends on memories. Our relationships, our joys, our sufferings all shape us, but they are completely dependent on our memories. As Frank and his family see his memory slowly eroding, there is the sense that Frank himself is slipping away. Even though his body is working well, without those important memories, is it still Frank?
The subplot of the library pushes these questions to a societal level. In an age where there is more information readily at hand than ever, do we think we can get by without memory (as is represented in the film by the printed page)? What are we to make of the fact that there will be no more printed versions of Encyclopaedia Britannica? Are Google and Wikipedia adequate alternatives? Are we losing a bit of our humanity when we let go of these bits of our past?
It should be worth noting that the final scene of the film is done without dialogue as Frank and his family share a picnic. While we watch we hear the strains of Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, a hymn designed as a meditation on the Eucharist. The Eucharist itself is very strongly tied to memory. Consider how much understanding of life and humanity can be found in the words "in remembrance."
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