I’m Your Man uses a humanoid robot to interrogate important issues
It isn’t easy to dramatize our complex emotional needs in an entertaining fashion through the involvement of an accomplished female anthropologist and a humanoid male robot. But that is exactly what German director Maria Schrader does in I’m Your Man. Interpreting Sumerian cuneiform tablets, anthropologist Dr. Alma Felser agrees to a three week trial and evaluation of the robot Tom.
Through this research she’ll earn support for a team she supervises in her professional role at the Pergamon Museum. After a brain scan, non-stop tests of Alma, correlation with mind files of seventeen million people’s traits, views and complexes, Alma’s robot Tom has been programmed specifically to her needs. Her assessment will aid an ethics committee in making decisions, specifically, will robots be allowed to marry, work, have passports, and gain full or partial human rights? The stakes are high, the concept amusing and superbly delivered.
Alma and Tom’s emotional interaction, if I may call it that, succeeds because of two elements. First, throughout several disarming events and playful exchanges, Alma’s honest, self-aware openness explicitly raises critical, existential questions. What if all our needs are met? What would and should challenge us? What is the essence of our humanity if it doesn’t involve unfulfilled longing, imagination, and an unending pursuit of happiness?
Second, and as important, the performances by Maren Eggert as Alma and Dan Stevens as Tom merge perfectly. She’s warm but wary, our surrogate, always alert to Tom’s quirky niceties. He’s sufficiently stiff to sell the humanoid concept, even mocking it several times with screwball comedy flair. Set and shot in contemporary Berlin, the art direction supports, while never distracting from, the focus on people dancing at a nightclub (most of them holograms or robots), obsessively watching funny fall videos, facing work and personal disappointments. While it never takes itself too seriously for long, the insights and issues gives us humans a lot to think about in an entertaining film. In German with English subtitles, I’m Your Man Is Germany’s official submission for this year’s Academy Award in the Best International Feature Film category.