Ever since watching 2012’s Robot & Frank, The Great Algorithm at Hulu has been sending more artificial intelligence and robot flicks my way. Each of these movies grapple with the ethical and moral issues surrounding artificial intelligence, chiefly the idea of how human can it really become? Can robots develop souls, emotions, etc.?
In the case of Robot & Frank, Frank largely anthropomorphized the robot, the same way many pet owners attribute human characteristics, thought processes, and motivations to their dogs and cats. Just as a dog doesn’t think in the way we do, the titular Robot did not requite the emotional bond Frank had developed with the adorable tin can.
The featured film of this week’s review, Life Like (2019), explores those ideas further. Instead of a cute, rounded robot, the androids of Life Like are, indeed, life-like: designed to resemble perfect humans, and designed to make their owners happy—whatever that might require.
The film opens with a young couple living an improbably Bohemian life in a loft in the city. They’re newlyweds, and very much in love, enjoying the largesse of the young man’s ample allowance from his wealthy father. It’s a materially abundant bliss in which they can indulge in their unrealistic idealism.
Then, James (the trust fund baby) learns his father has died, and he and his young bride, Sophie, move to a massive mansion in the suburbs, while James attempts to run his late father’s business in a more “green” and environmentally conscious manner. James is not very good at running the company, and is susceptible to the oily machinations of his corporate vizier. Meanwhile, Sophie, the hippie-dippie artistic type, does not appreciate Honduran house maids making her lunch, cleaning the house, and waiting on her hand and foot. Like many women, she turns up her nose at the good life she won simply for being pretty, and demands she and her overwhelmed husband take on household chores themselves, after firing the servants (with two year’s pay) so they can “live their dreams” and visit their impoverished families in Central America.
From the outset, Sophie is insufferably whiny and unpleasant. The film is attempting to depict the difficulties in a young marriage built more on sexual attraction than mutually compatible values, and while it does succeed in that, Sophie comes across as ungrateful and bratty. Based on her virtue-signaling beliefs, I don’t think that’s what the screenwriters were going for with her character. Regardless, she turns her nose up at the life of luxury—she literally sits on a bed all day drawing—and insists her husband, now running the family company, mow the lawn.
James is not very likable either, and it’s clear the screenwriters intend for us to side with Sophie’s idealism and minimalism over James’s corporate striving. Still, the guy is doing the best he can to incorporate his wife’s silly environmental ideals at his company—costing it to hemorrhage money. He finally reaches his breaking point, though, realizing (correctly) that he can’t maintain the grounds of a massive country estate without some help.
Because his inflexible and ungrateful wife won’t let him hire human servants (God forbid somebody make some money!), he reaches out to a business associate who has developed incredibly life-like (thus the title) androids that willingly serve their owners. The androids are perfect examples of humans, both male and female. Sophie is uncomfortable (of course) with the super attractive female models, so they opt for a super attractive male model, Henry.
Naturally, Sophie’s concerns about her husband becoming overly attached to a hot fembot turn out to be psychological projection, as she draws emotionally closer to the handsome, thoughtful, and conscientious Henry. She assigns him readings from Charles Dickens, and they discuss literature together (she’d given her husband a copy of Great Expectations as a gift for his first day of work at his late father’s company, and he neglected it). This technological emotional affair understandably angers Henry, who vents his frustration playing racquetball with the robot late at night.
Soon, Henry becomes disoriented, wandering away from his charging station at night. Sophie feels unethical commanding such a human-looking robot around, while James insists Henry is just a tool, going so far as to commanding Henry shave his face as a way of illustrating to the robot that he is just a gizmo for humanity’s use.
There are some uncomfortable sexual scenes in this movie, and it all gets quite weird before the major twist. I don’t want to reveal that twist, but it felt a bit like a Twilight Zone gimmick—ripping the rug out from under the audience. It’s interesting, but full of holes.
Overall, I enjoyed elements of this film, but found myself with a lot of unanswered questions at the end of the movie, questions pertaining to the twist.
The film is, ultimately, about marriage, and the strains on a young couple. I imagine every marriage would be a lot easier with a massive trust fund, paid-off country estate, and army of servants to smooth over the little inconveniences of life. But the rich have problems, too.
As Proverbs 21:9 says, it is better to live on the roof of one’s house than with a riotous woman. We could probably add “hunky robots” to that, too.