Friday, 29 March 2013

Robot & Frank

publicity still from official site
A minor recommendation: Robot & Frank, a 2012 independent film directed by Jake Schreier, currently on at the Exeter Picture House.

The central character is "Frank" (played by Frank Langella) an elderly man living alone and managing poorly due to the onset of dementia, whose son buys him a helper robot of a design similar to the Honda ASIMO. Frank initially resents the unnamed robot, which forces him to eat properly and maintain a scheduled day, but changes his mind when the robot helps him in a minor act of shoplifting - by some oversight, legality is not part of its programming. We then find that Frank is an ex-burglar, and he warms to the possibilities of restarting his career. The robot, whose prime directive is fostering Frank's physical and mental health, accepts Frank's enthusiasm and concentration on the project as beneficial to his well-being, and so it helps him with a crime. I'll leave the plot description at that point.

I'd probably have spotted Robot & Frank sooner if I'd noticed it was borderline science fiction. It's not greatly stressed in the blurb, but it's set in the near future, subtly indicated by differences in mobile phone styling and considerable advances in speech recognition and AI, and less subtly by Frank being the last book reader of a print library that's being closed down in favour of e-resources and a robot librarian. As such, the film is unusual in presenting the consequences of technological change quite neutrally; the library closure is dystopian from our viewpoint, but there are equally no doubts as to the benefits Frank gains from his robot helper, quite apart from it being a criminal accomplice. It won an Alfred P Sloan Prize for this portrayal of technology.

I say "minor recommendation" because it's a rather more 'gentle' and far less dark film than I'd normally spend money on seeing at a cinema. Clare was originally going to see it with friends, but they immediately dismissed it on seeing the R-word in the title. This is very much their loss: it proved to be worth every penny. Quite apart from Langella's excellent central performance, it tackles its theme very nicely, interweaving the threads of Frank's memory problems, the obsolescence and removal of the books he loves, and his discussion with the robot of its own erasable memory - all in the format of a "last adventure" plot. A pleasant, subtly humorous, and ultimately moving film, it's well worth seeing.

The official website is here.

- Ray

1 comment:

  1. Sounds exactly my scene!

    I shall seek it out.