Robot: Your health supersedes my other directives. The truth is, I don’t care if my memory is erased or not.
Frank: But how can you not care about something like that?
Robot: Think about it this way. You know that you’re alive. You think, therefore you are.
Frank: No, that’s philosophy.
Robot: In a similar way, I know that I am not alive. I am a robot.
Frank: I don’t wanna talk about how you don’t exist, it’s making me uncomfortable.
Taking a fresh perspective on a familiar issue, Robot & Frank is a film that is quietly engaged with society’s concerns over technology. Humble but powerful, it is as much a study of friendship and family as it is a reflection on modernity.
The story is set in a near future where phones and televisions are suitably thinner, and machines have taken over the menial jobs of the world. Leading a solitary life away from his children, Frank (Frank Langella) is an ex-convict who is showing signs of dementia. His son Hunter (James Marsden) visits him as often as he can, but is tired of the long journey and so gives his father a “health care aid”, a state-of-the-art companion designed to improve the lifestyle and health of its patient. Initially, Frank is reluctant, and dismisses the robot’s demands that he establish a set schedule for his day. It’s only after realising that there is no state and federal law incorporated in to its programming that Frank begins to warm to his mechanical carer.
Representing a union between the old and the new, this film is the answer to pessimistic and unimaginative critiques of our technological age. It bravely avoids an examination of the destructive nature of technology, choosing instead to explore an odd alliance between opposites, thus suggesting hope for the future. The two characters form an unlikely bond, and being unselfish and loyal, Robot inevitably comes to stand for a variety of meaningful figures in Frank’s life. A replacement son, as well as partner in crime, this unblinking character is the perfect blank canvas for a aging man to project his anxieties on to. The question of its identity also offers opportunity for an exploration of memory, as Frank’s own concerns over his deteriorating brain are reflected in his refusal to wipe Robot’s hard drive.
Frank Langella is brilliantly proud and stubborn as Frank, and his interactions with the librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) are a joy to watch. Jeremy Strong is perhaps a little too odd as the young, rich developer, and along with his girlfriend, walks and talks in a distinctly robotic manner. Whether or not this is deliberate, I found their presence awkward, and his character slightly unbelievable. Apart from this the cast does well, with James Marsden delivering an unexpectedly affecting performance as the neglected son.
Overall Robot & Frank is a fresh take on the robot film. It’s underlying messages are never preached, and this is what makes it an emotional watch, as you are allowed to connect with the characters on an intimate level. It manages to avoid a saccharine ending, and is a straightforward if slightly lightweight story of companionship and affection.
FINAL VERDICT: ★★★1/2