Sunday, December 26, 2021

270. German film director Maria Schrader’s third feature film “Ich bin dein Mensch” (I am Your Man) (2021) (Germany) in German, based on a short story by Emma Braslavsky: Can artificial intelligence and robotics find your perfect spouse in the near future?


Your pain is pathetic. It is pathetic because it is relative. It is also not pathetic because it is part of you, and that’s why I love it.” 

---The android Tom created by algorithms and constantly capable of processing new information and thus evolving and responding constantly to be the designed perfect partner of Alma, a human archaeologist, ironically studying how people have changed over 4000 years by studying cuneiform scripts.


Maria Schrader’s film I am Your Man is a fascinating sci-fi (science fiction) film. The film progresses from the milestones set by the talking and scheming computer HAL of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey (1968), to the crafty gynoid (a female android) of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014), to the algorithm-oriented holographic spouses of the sci-fi play by Jordan Harrison and its adapted movie version of Michael Almeyreda’s Marjorie Prime (2017) to eventually introduce us to director Maria Schrader’s Tom—a perfect android, very smart, handsome, affable and totally benevolent to humans. In Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey, HAL the computer had become so smart that it began to give malevolent advice to misguide humans and even went to the extent of turning off the life-support system of three crewmen surviving in animated suspension, killing them instantly, in an effort to control the human crew of the space ship. In Garland’s Oscar-winning Ex Machina the near-perfect gynoid Ava locks up her human friend and leaves her mortally wounded human creator’s scientific facility to blend with the outside world of humans—yet another but more sophisticated variant of HAL. In Harrison’s/Almeyreda’s Marjorie Prime, while the holographic spouses cannot be touched they provide psychological and benevolent comfort to humans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease but can recall the memories of those suffering from the disease and thus provide succor. But one of the holograms does trip up to upset the near perfect scenario. Thus both Maria Schrader’s I am Your Man and Almeyreda’s Marjorie Prime take the viewer to the distinct possibility of recreating memories of past love in humans with the intelligent use of artificial intelligence in the not-so-distant future.  Schrader’s film scores over Almeyreda’s film because the android Tom in I am Your Man is physical, protective, affable with all humans, and good looking. Screenplay writers Jan Schomburg and Maria Schrader reveal towards the end of the film that even the name Tom is connected with Thomas, a childhood sweetheart of Alma, the archaeologist—evidently information sourced by the company that manufactured Tom by delving deep into the memory of Alma aided by her brain scans. (Actress Maren Eggert, won the Best Actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival, 2021, for her performance as Alma in I am your Man.)

The android Tom (Dan Stevens) observing Alma 
(Maren Eggert) to pick up minute details to please
her, in her apartment

In the film I am your Man, Alma the archaeologist, faces a fund crunch for her scientific project and to augment her depleting financial resources she agrees to participate in a 3-week evaluation of an android boyfriend developed by a company by assimilating her past memories with the aid of a brain scan among other sources of information to suit her dream spouse--intelligent, handsome and somewhat exotic. The evaluation period of Tom includes a 3-day live-in period when the pair does have a sexual encounter that satisfies the needs of Alma. 

Tom and Alma outdoors--Alma loves
the companionship

Alma is touched by Tom waiting the rain to meet
her as agreed earlier

Tom and the android company's 
representative (Sandra Huller)

Alma is single, middle aged and successful in her field of archaeology. She has had a recent affair with her boyfriend that unfortunately resulted in a miscarriage. Soon he starts dating another woman and that woman is now pregnant. Alma is pushed into a fragile psychological state: her ability to conceive is in doubt and her boyfriend has found a new flame. Her father is battling dementia. Evidently, Alma does not want to die alone. When she asks Tom what is the saddest thing he can think of, Tom responds as Alma would have done in an honest moment: "Dying alone." Tom, the android watching Alma work in the lab, is able to absorb the basics of her work, search the internet and warn her that another set of scientists in another part of the world is ahead of her and on the verge of publishing their results before Alma’s team would be able to do the same. Tears well up in Alma’s eyes, while confronting these facts. The reaction of Tom to that situation is his profound analytical response: “So the tears in your eyes only relate to you yourself and your career? They are egotistical tears.”  Tom even graciously suggests an alternate paper that Alma could put together with the work she has put in thus far. Alma is hurt and packs him off to the android factory that manufactured him.

Wild animals may be wary of humans;
not so of androids

A key line spoken in the film

Today, we tend to assume that human beings have better feelings than machines/programmed androids. Schrader’s film contradicts that notion. Tom sits next to a customer in a cafĂ©, while both watch a TV clip showing people failing to implement a plan. The customers sitting next to Tom laugh as they fail. Tom asks the customer seated next to him: “Could you explain to me what is funny about it?” He is answered “It looks so silly. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.” Tom continues, “The fact that no one dies?” He gets this answer, “That definitely would not be funny. Dying is definitely not funny, right?” Schrader and short-story writer Braslavsky thus project a future scenario when programmed androids could be more humane than humans in their gut reactions that sift good from the bad/insensitive ones.

After dispatching Tom off back to the factory that made him in egotistical anger, Alma writes up her evaluation of Tom, who is “not human” and is “not flawed in any conventional sense” during the 3-week period. Lines from her negative evaluation include “Are humans intended to have all their needs met with a push of a button? It will create a society of addicts who decide to not challenge themselves and endure conflicts.

A key scene between Tom and Alma

The delightful end of this unusual film is quite unpredictable providing the viewer with a cocktail of light entertainment, science, and thought-provoking questions about humans and machines programmed to improve themselves in a positive way, quite unlike “HAL”, “Eva”, and “Marjorie Prime” who preceded “Tom,” in cinematic chronology. Congratulations to the filmmakers and the short-story writer!


P.S.  I am Your Man won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival for Ms Maren Eggert who plays Alma. It has also won the best fiction film and the best director awards at the German national awards and is Germany’s submission to the Oscars in the foreign language category.. It is one of the best films of 2021 for the author. The sci-fi film Marjorie Prime (2017) has been reviewed earlier on this blog.  (Click on the colored name of the film in the post-script to access the review.)