Berlinale 2021: A Robot Teaches How to Love Again in 'I'm Your Man'
by Alex Billington
March 1, 2021
Love is hard. While it seems like it should be easy, once that feeling overtakes us and embraces us, the act of loving is not as easy as it seems. We all know this, at least we've heard it said before, yet we all long for love and wish we'll find someone to make us less lonely. But how can we achieve that if we've lived for so long on our own, establishing an entirely independent life. Is there even an answer to that question? One of my all-time favorite romances, Spike Jonze's Her, digs into this question and the fabric of love and how it works. I'm Your Man is another new sci-fi romance film that also digs into this question, and presents us with a peculiar yet fascinating story of love and its impossibly complex dynamics. It's a sweet, low key story about a robot lover created to be the "perfect" partner and how he changes one woman in ways she wasn't expecting.
First things first, it's rather refreshing to see the usual "man wants perfect woman lover" sci-fi story but with gender roles flipped. This time it's about a woman, Alma played by German actress Maren Eggert, who is given the chance to interact with the "perfect man." She's participating in a test run by a tech company that is developing life-like humanoid androids. Their goal is to create the perfect partner, someone that satisfies your every need and is exactly the right mate for you, but because the programming is based on A.I. they must field test it. They need to be given a chance to learn, and grow, and evolve when introduced to the real world and real humans. Alma is a bit of a cliche, but nonetheless an accurate one, in that she's the fiercely independent, career-driven intelligent woman who, now in her 40s, doesn't have any partner yet also really doesn't want/need one. Of course, we learn why and what it takes to free herself from that trapped mindset.
We meet Tom right away. He is her "perfect" partner, a dashing, smart, caring robotic man. Dan Stevens is as perfect as can be in the role. Not only is his German perfect, but so are his mannerisms, his quirky robot tics, and his inability to act and feel human. It's not an over-the-top comedic performance, but Dan Stevens brings just the right amount of subtle "I am a robot" humor to the role that it made me burst out laughing multiple times. The subtly of his performance is important because it fits right in with the rest of the film. It's not elaborate or exaggerated, it's a simplistic film - not exceptionally minimal, but low key to keep the focus on the characters, not on the technology. The focus is on their chemistry, or lack thereof. By the end I felt like the film is almost therapy by way of storytelling - but don't let that scare you. This ultimately is the point of the film, to dig into our past and personality so we can understand what's getting in the way of love.
Much like Spike Jonze's Her, the film uses technology a storytelling device to help a character learn to love again. It doesn't dig much deeper than that, though, which in my opinion is the film's biggest flaw. There are moments where I wanted it to push further into exploring her psyche and exporing the concept of love and all the good/bad that comes with it. I wanted to explore not only the aspects that make her so resistant to love and to a meaningful relationship, but also how this robot is learning about love, and what he gains from experiencing it with a real human being. Nonetheless, much like Her, it's a light and easily enjoyable film to watch, with a lovely piano-based score and gorgeous shots of Berlin. I enjoyed much of what we do get to see and the intimate journey it takes us on, and it's a great film to discuss afterward because of all the ideas it brings up - about technology and about love. Make sure you watch this film with a few others to chat about.
There is one big thesis statement in the film that is literally delivered as a thesis statement near the end. It sums up the entire point of the film, but feels a bit too much like the original impetus for the script repeated as a thesis statement in the script. Technology, in all its glory, seems to make humans more lonely and less connected. Which is very opposite of the goal of all this technology. Yet, perhaps, there is a silver lining. Her and I'm Your Man are reminders that technology can teach us how to love again, can teach us how to grow past our pain and our stubbornness, and connect deeply with others. Maybe we do need technology after all. Directed by Maria Schrader, I'm Your Man (originally Ich bin dein Mensch in German) is a charming, entertaining sci-fi romance with superb performances and a smart story about the grand complexity of love.