Published Dec 01, 2002Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter behind the remarkably twisted Being John Malkovich, and now Human Nature, seems to really have a thing for primates. Lila (Patricia Arquette), a young woman with hirsutism (she's covered in hair), has abandoned society and made peace with her follicles. When she returns to civilisation and (eventual) hairlessness, in order to find a mate, she gets involved with Nathan (Tim Robbins), a behavioural scientist who's obsessed with table manners and his tiny penis. While hiking in the forest, Nathan and Lila happen upon a man raised as an ape (Rhys Ifans).
Nathan decides to use him in his experiments, which involve teaching mice to eat with the correct salad fork. Pretty soon the newly christened Puff has table manners and impeccable social skills, all gained through the administration of electric shocks. Shocks, however, can't eliminate his insatiable urge to hump everything in his path.
The film's underlying premise is simple: we're all denying our natural urges because we're adapting ourselves to civilisation. It's reinforced by visual touches like the scale of sets and props, the saturated-yet-washed-out flashback scenes, and Lila's Disney-esque forest they make the movie's world seem slightly distorted, as if it wasn't quite natural either.
Using Lila's body hair to represent our sometimes-conflicted relationships with our own nature and desires is interesting, and not just because Arquette and Ifans spend much of the movie naked. Ifans is a great physical actor, particularly during a scene when he's throwing himself at a slide show of a partially dressed woman. Arquette is totally heartbreaking in the latter part of the film, when she's trying to be a "good" (i.e., hairless) girlfriend to Nathan.
The story doesn't make a lot of sense in the end, but individual scenes are hilarious enough to hide that fact. Overall, Human Nature is worth seeing, especially if your tastes run to the fairly whacked-out.