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what's so unique about mankind?
by SFS Staff on Aug 27, 2004
"Surrealist" seems to be the favored word to describe Charlie Kaufman's (Being John Malkovich) screenplays. Sure, his stories and characters are surreal compared to about 90 percent of the movies that roll off the Hollywood assembly line, but this description just seems too easy, too dismissive of the depth of his ideas — which are always subtly, flippantly revealed instead of shoved down your throat like, say, self-aware, Oprah Book Club-caliber morality tales penned by writers/directors like Cameron Crowe
Luckily, Kaufman's scripts have been picked up by directors whose absurd, stylized visual styles mesh with his imagination. Spike Jonze, known mainly for directing videos for the Beastie Boys before Being John Malkovich, and now Michel Gondry, a Frenchman who's been behind several Bjork videos, are perceptive enough to successfully translate what are probably ridiculous sounding moments in Kaufman's scripts to the screen without making shots of fake mice elegantly eating with forks and knives seem trite or stupid.
Human Nature rips into the man vs. nature/civilization vs. culture themes with a veneer of casual humor. There's uptight scientist/psychologist Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins) whose adoptive parents always taught him to control his instincts, practice immaculate table manners, and quote dead philosophers. Dr. Bronfman's work is training lab mice table manners, to prove that even "animals" can be civilized. He's set up with nature writer Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette), who abandoned society for the forest and wrote a book called "Fuck Humanity." Lila falls in love with him despite his snobbery, and his small penis. But Lila has a secret. She's covered in hair from head to toe because of a rare hormonal condition, so she takes to electrolysis and shaving to hide her "unnaturalness" from her beloved and leaves the forest to re-enter urban life.
While on a hike one day, Lila and her lover come upon a naked creature running through the woods. It turns out to be a wild man, raised in the woods by his insane father, who believed himself to be an ape. The doctor sees in this creature a perfect addition to his mouse/table manners studies: If only he can get this grunting brute to appreciate foie gras, he'll be famous.
The battle of nature vs. culture bubbles between the changes faced by these three characters, as they shift in and out of each realm, alternately struggling to fight their urges (mainly sexual, which provides some hilarious scenes, especially when the doctor trains the wild man, called Puff, to control his sex drive by showing him slides of a naked blonde woman and giving him an electric shock every time he tries to screw the screen) and fit in or go with their instincts.
Gondry, who's got a way with campy effects, deserves credit here, but the true charm comes from Kaufman's near-genius, and from the actors. Robbins never disappoints, and Rhys Ifans (Puff), who was the tighty-whitey wearing Scottsman in "Notting Hill," is like a livewire. But Arquette makes the movie. When she's bad, she's very, very bad, but when she's good, she's brilliant.
1 hour 36 minutes
by SFS Staff on Aug 27, 2004