One Reel Review is a new column that takes a look at short films. Before I go any further I want to warn you all that if you read the review before you watch the film you will be spoiled. And why should you watch it first? Well it is posted right below this paragraph and it is only thirty-one minutes long. So save this article for when you have a bit of a break today.
Sheldon was a lonely boy. He was lonely until he met a girl named Francesca who showed him that the world could be so much more. When their relationship becomes more than just friends Sheldon starts making sacrifices to be with her. Did I mention that Sheldon and Francesca are robots? This is the premise of Spike Jonze’s (Where the Wild Things Are) short 31-minute film I’m Here starring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Sienna Guillory (Resident Evil series).
Andrew Garfield, sporting his natural English accent, portrays Sheldon, a lonely librarian who lives alone in a sparse, monochromatic world of neutral colors. Sheldon looks like the child of a human and an Apple II. Just watch and you will see what I mean. My gut reaction to how lonely he looked at the beginning was that I wanted to go hang out with him. Who would not want to have a robot as a friend? I would totally want a robot friend. Sheldon also comes off as bit of a nerd, unsure of himself, scared of the world and does not want to step on anyone’s toes.
Francesca played by Sienna Guillory is a free spirit with indie punk sensibilities. She hangs out with other robots and a few humans all of which are seen as outcasts. After meeting Sheldon she shows him that there is more to life than waking up, going to work, coming home, going to sleep and start all over again the next day. She shows him the creative side of life through music and art. She truly brings Sheldon out of his shell. One can tell that Sheldon is attracted to Francesca’s spontaneity because it is different than how he has been living. After meeting Francesca, Sheldon’s world is no longer sparse and monochromatic. It is warm and inviting, lively and happy.
In the world of I’m Here robots are seen as second-class citizens. They procure jobs such as bus drivers, construction workers and waitresses. Their class is portrayed really well especially when an old woman yells at the lead characters telling them that they are not allowed to drive cars. I could not help but recall the events of the civil rights movement in the sixties when I saw this part of the film. Another thought that came to me at this time was, ‘watch out lady, there’ll be a robot uprising in the near future and then you’ll be sorry.’
The production value of this short film was quite good. Spike Jonze used a full crew to shoot this film rather than a few friends and one camera, which is how one would think a short film would be shot. The robots were achieved by putting the actors in costumes. Spike Jonze is known for using practical effects like in Where The Wild Things Are he used people in suits. However there is always that one element that makes one question how he achieved that shot. The same thing goes for I’m Here. The line between practical and visual effects is so finely blurred that the composite looks seamless. To achieve the right emotions in the robots the eyes and mouths were done in CG in post-production. The eyes of the robots look amazing. They are unlike any robot eyes that have been done in the past. They really do convey every emotion in the book and look quite human.
Another thing that I love about this film is how grounded it is in reality. Other than bipedal robots running around there looks to be no other technological advancements in this world. The quality of the production makes the cinematography just gorgeous. I feel that they captured the essence of beauty in the mundane. For example those quiet moments we find ourselves in when we are young and hanging out with friends in parking lots on cool summer nights listening to the radio from the car.
The soundtrack is awesome. It reminds me of the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Just like Francesca’s lifestyle the music is indie punk with both lively and more subdued tracks. A taste of electronic beats and ambient melodies can be heard throughout. The most prevalent song in the film, There are Many of Us by Aska and The Lost Trees, echoes Sheldon and Francesca’s relationship.
Let’s bring this robot love story to earth for a moment and discuss the themes. The first theme we come across is loneliness. This is seen in the way Sheldon lives before he meets Francesca. A pretty straightforward theme I feel. Another minor theme is that of civil rights. We need to consider how we treat others. Think back to the old woman grumbling about what robots can and cannot do because they are robots. Is there anyone in your life whom you treat like a robot? Then there is the theme of love. Every story has some element of love and this one is no different. However the love in this film is shown through what I feel is the most important theme of all, and that is sacrifice. Sheldon sacrificed his arm, leg, and eventually he whole body to save the one he loved. Talk about presenting your body as a living sacrifice. He did this without a second thought and in a selfless manner.
Sacrificing a part of yourself for the one you love ultimately makes this a love story. Where else have we seen a sacrificial love story? I cannot help but compare this to the sacrifice that Jesus made with his message of love. Not that Sheldon’s sacrifice was equal to Jesus’ sacrifice but I hope you get my point. Think back to when Francesca got upset with Sheldon when she said, “Don’t I have a choice?” Like Francesca we did not have a choice in the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. He ultimately saved our souls. We did not ask him to do such a thing, but he did it anyway because of his love for us. It goes to show that God loves even the most self-destructive people out there.
I’m Here is a charming short film with a quality story that makes one think. It is by no means your normal run of the mill science fiction. The characters are interesting and far from shallow. The love story aspect of the film shows that there is more to love than the stock story where the lovebirds only care about how the other can satisfy their needs. I think we could all learn a few things from Sheldon’s selfless example. This is pretty much a good date movie for geek couples. I just wish there was another sixty minutes to get lost in so it would fill out the date. I give I’m Here 5 out of 5 stars.