Humans gone ape

Human Nature

Directed by Michel Gondry

Charlie Kaufman

(Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette)

R

 

There’s a message lurking in the background of Human Nature-a not-so-new suggestion that society’s demand for conformity comes at the expense of individuality.

Three subplots are the vehicles for director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) to present their unconventional approach. There is Lila (Patricia Arquette), a woman with a condition resulting in excessive hair growth. Sickened by society’s reaction, she lives in the wild, and returns to society without any formal social skills to find a mate.

That mate is Dr. Nathan (Tim Robbins), a scientist committed to teaching caged animals manners partly as a response to his hilariously overbearing family. Finally, a man raised as a wild ape (Rhys Ifans) is captured and is taught by Nathan to live among civilization.

As these characters narrate and reflect on their interactions a commentary creeps into the seemingly disconnected story.

As hilarious as it is to see Puff, the ape-child, indoctrinated into formal society and mimic Nathan’s appreciation of Mozart and table manners, the filmmakers speak through the humor. Puff’s domestication is directly linked to society’s expectations. His ability to dress up, speak professionally and do the social dance makes the notion of sophistication seem artificial.

It is in this odd balancing act, juxtaposing the needs-based order of primevil existence with the silliness we humans call formal society that Human Nature accomplishes the difficult; it becomes a thinking comedy.

Two sequences capture what Kaufman must see as the silliness of decorum. In one, Puff and Lila court in the wild out of raw sexual intuition. In another Puff, within a cage, witnesses a similar scene amongst more “sophisticated” characters. Together, it becomes clear that the same animal rules and desires-visible or hidden-guide us all. Humans merely believe civilized nature makes us better. To help Puff adjust to society, Nathan advises: “When in doubt, never do what you really want to do.”

Its far-reaching message poses the question: If given the chance to cast away the rules of society, would we? Likely notÖbut it is it because we value the establishment or more because we have become trapped within our routines-prisoners of our self-imposed constraints?

-Steven Snyder

Human Nature opens this Friday.