RELEASE DATE: November 15
Robot and Frank is part comedy, part heist and all heart. On the surface it’s the story of an aging ex-jewel thief who receives an unwanted robot butler from his son. But beneath this plot lies a script that is painfully aware of just how much of our lives are pinned to memories.
Frank Langella plays Frank, a retiree pushing eighty and living alone in a small American town. His wife has left him years ago due to his criminal past and his son and daughter visit infrequently. Dementia is starting to take its toll and Frank finds himself burgling his own house or continually planning to have dinner at a long-closed restaurant. His routine seldom varies from a walk into town to practice thieving and a trip to the local library. It’s a believable ‘near future’ where cars have become even smaller and more fuel efficient, mobile telephones are now credit-card thin and the library barely has any books.
So it’s not unbelievable that Frank’s successful son turns up one day with the latest in home care, a robotic servant who can monitor his father’s health. However when the ex-con discovers that ‘Robot’ has no moral subroutines, he decides to reprogram him for a more exciting form of exercise.
Futuristic settings often mask present-day problems. Frank’s biggest issue is not his criminal past but that his ‘work’ took him away from his children. In Frank’s case it was two stretches in prison that did the damage. “When I finally got home,” he tells his son, “I thought you were the neighbour’s kid.”
Frank’s children actually care a great deal but they struggle to understand their father and their modern lives leaves them largely out of the picture. His life begins to resemble that of Don Quixote, a book Frank steals from the library about a soft-headed knight who seeks out adventure for the sake of having a purpose. Not surprisingly the much-resented Robot actually comes to mean a great deal to the aging man because he is as constant as Quixote’s faithful Sancho, the squire who shares his master’s adventures. When a twist of the plot threatens to lead to Robot’s memory being erased, Frank realizes he will be losing not just his companion but part of himself as well.
Robot and Frank places its finger on one of the real tragedies of the human condition. Our lives are impossible to record in any real detail and so much of what we value resides in the memories we share with others. When someone is taken away from us it represents not only the loss of a friend but the events that explain so much about who we are. And when we personally forget, we lose the last vestiges of who we are. A world in which our permanence is measured by some journal entries and a collection of digital photographs is actually a very sad place. Watching Robot and Frank I was reminded, though, that the Christian trusts not just their future but their past to a God who never forgets:
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” – Psalm 139:16
That is the sort of comfort the best advances in technology will never be able to surpass. When we finally reach Heaven we will meet Someone who is able to bring to life the brightest blessings that have long ago slipped our minds.