There are few things that hold the same precious value to individuals as memories. These, seemingly indestructible personal reels of film that can be summoned from your subconscious have a pesky tendency to shape how our view of the past will effect our present and future actions. Memory is just one of the many topics that Robot & Frank manages to touch on in it’s 85 minute run time. I assumed that, due to the limited release and relatively low profile that this film was released with, that it ran a very real risk of simply being a good “indie” film without the pizazz of a wide release. As is oft the case with assumptions, it was wrong. What we’re given is a well written and acted sci-fi that looks into the fibers of interpersonal relationships.
Frank Langella plays the titular “Frank” in this film. He is an aging and retired jewel thief who lives alone in his house in the country. On weekends his son (James Marsden) visits and he occasionally receives calls from his daughter (Liv Tyler). Frank’s son, Hunter, informs him that it’s simply too much to visit him once a week as the drive alone is a 10 hour round trip. He leaves his father with a robot that is programmed specifically as a healthcare aid. Frank’s reluctance turns to intrigue when he realizes the possibilities of owning a fully capable semi-humanoid robot. Frank begins to think of the robot as a friend while simultaneously teaching it the tools of the burglary trade.
Throughout the course of the film the robot (which has no name) explains to Frank that he (the robot) is not a real person. In one particularly philosophical scene while scoping out their next job, the robot compares “I think, therefore I am” to his own existence, he “Does not think” that he is alive, so he knows that he is not. Frank quickly tells the robot he is uncomfortable with the topic. This is one of many questions raised throughout the course of the film. We’re drawn into the story of an older man with questionable morals having to deal with ever changing technology, memory loss, and relationship issues. He’s more of a bother for his son than anything, he divorced his wife 30 years ago, and his daughter calls on occasion as she travels the world. At one point in the film, she actually tries to take the place of the robot, and it becomes apparent that he is more attached to that bit of technology than his own family. It’s a beautiful little dramedy with some nice sci-fi accents. As the film progresses, Frank is forced to struggle more often with his bouts of confusion, he grasps at memories, even recent ones, and they slip through his fingers. At one point, his confusion leads to him conversing with the robot as if it were his own son.
Categorizing this film as simply a drama wouldn’t be doing it justice. At times it is humorous and warm-hearted, and other parts it takes the viewer down the dark path of an aging mind all with some stylish ideas as to what future technology might hold. It brings up scenarios and themes that every family has experienced or at least relate to in some way. The actions that we take don’t necessarily define all of who we are, but it absolutely effects the memory we leave with others. Robot & Frank is a memorable, well crafted film that deserved far more attention than it received.