Robot & Frank Jake Schreier

Robot & Frank Jake Schreier
9
Death, impermanence and the realization that our memories die with us are just a few of the deeply metaphysical themes rumbling around Jake Schreier's feature directorial debut, Robot & Frank. It takes the form of a touching comedy. of sorts, seeming like the tale of an unlikely friendship between the curmudgeonly, older Frank (Frank Langella) and the robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) helping him regulate his daily routine, in an effort to stave off the symptoms of Alzheimer's. But Schreier isn't interested in anthropomorphizing a robot for heartfelt reassurances or examining the nature of artificial intelligence as a metaphor for mankind as an ersatz God. Frank's depleting memory is representative of all things mortal and fleeting. The library, where Frank travels regularly to read books and flirt with Jennifer (Susan Sarandan), the librarian, is similarly experiencing a change. Books — once the core source of global knowledge acquisition — are being scanned into digital form and recycled. All information is made immediate and accessible, just as Frank's teachings and identity are being transposed onto the robot that makes his meals and emotionally manipulates him into obeying dietary and exercise regulations. Though the tone of Robot & Frank vacillates between comedy and drama, exploiting the humour of an emotionless robot interacting with a complex human being ("You're really starting to grow on me." "I'm glad to hear that; it's time for your enema."), it's mostly there for humanist balance and as a tool to make the more challenging observations of the film somewhat more palatable. As Frank becomes increasingly aware of his condition and the inevitability of mortality, his memory continues to deteriorate, leaving him simultaneously confused and despondent about the seeming arbitrary frivolity of it all. But rather than dote on the very real nature that memory, whether human or artificial, can be wiped out in the blink of an eye, the story champions the few beautiful things in life that come from an often disappointing but occasionally amazing life. Frank's children — the practical Hunter (James Marsden) and the idealistic Madison (Liv Tyler) — do their best to care for their father from afar, even though their lives have taken a form of their own that leaves them limited with what they can do. These relationships aren't romanticized — it's clear that Frank wasn't an ideal father, having some trouble with the law in his youth — but there is the air of good intentions beneath the animosity that suggests a part of Frank's memory and identity will live on with his children. What's amazing about Schreier's debut is that it doesn't patronize the audience with this slight ray of light, rather it acknowledges it, but keeps in mind the fact that being conscious of one's mortality is quite possibly the biggest cross we have to bear. The DVD includes a commentary track with Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford, where they discuss mostly the practical aspects of making a low budget, independent film. (Sony)