Humans and their hypothetical love robots have haunted our screens for the longest time.
An operating system-turned-lover becomes bored of her monogamous human in Spike Jonze’s Her. A replacement boyfriend-droid creeps out its grieving owner in Black Mirror. In Ex Machina, intelligent fembot Ava seduces our protagonist and leaves him for dead. The alluring and suddenly sentient Westworld hosts – who have long endured abuse as IRL gamified aids of self-gratification – rise up to take revenge. We no longer need to imagine Jude Law as seedy Gigolo Joe in Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence; as contentious as they are, sexual satisfaction robots are already part of our reality.
Through film and television we have uneasily explored the perimeters of what we will accept in a robotic companion – with it nearly always ending in tragedy. But at a time when loneliness is rampant, and advances in technology are increasingly blurring the lines between reality and fiction, we’ve come to the next taboo frontier: could a robot replace an actual partner?
It is this curiosity that is tapped into in seamless drama-comedy I’m Your Man. From the mind of German filmmaker Maria Schrader – known for helming Netflix’s critically acclaimed Unorthodox – the film’s purpose is not to blast a warning klaxon about the inevitable destruction of humans by AI. Instead it is a witty and thought-provoking sci-romance exploring that time-old search for the ‘perfect man’ and asking: would we even want him if he came along?
German actress Maren Eggert plays Alma, a relationship-averse scientist based in Berlin who reluctantly agrees to a three-week trial of robot Tom as a romantic partner so she can obtain the funds needed for her research. Tom is played impeccably by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens – all piercing blue eyes, ruler-straight posture and comically optimistic. "Your eyes are like two mountain lakes I could sink into," he tells Alma the first time he meets her, and deftly arranges various romantic clichés to her disdain.
Perching on the edge of a candlelit bath with two stems of champagne, he eagerly quips as she storms out of the room: "Ninety-three percent of German women dream of this" (she is clearly the 7%). The more he tries, the more she balks. Alma is an independent, highly regarded academic and perfectly happy being single – which is the precise reason she has been selected for the trial.
How can you resist the advances of something that has been tailored to your exact personality and needs, is physically your type and recalibrates its algorithm every time it registers it has done something you don’t like? When Alma asks Tom why he speaks German with an English accent, he tells her with a smile that it’s because she is "attracted to men who are slightly foreign". Gobsmacked, she can’t deny it.
So instead she ignores him, leaves him in the rain, admonishes him when he organises her flat, and regularly threatens to send him back. But she needs the money from the experiment, and he is persistent in his methods of seduction. After all, his sole purpose is to make her happy.
A complete foil to terrifying sci-fi films past, Tom’s robot efficiencies are comedically convenient. He makes the perfect cup of coffee, gets along swimmingly with Alma's colleagues, is the perfect lover and is more classically handsome, intelligent and in better shape than her ex, showing up just when she needs to make him jealous. He withstands cruel jibes from family without retaliation and feels no awkwardness when he meets Alma’s father who, suffering from dementia, is increasingly abrasive.
But isn’t all the fun in a relationship that you meet a person, that you choose them and they choose you? I’m Your Man raises questions about how much the development of romantic feelings is hooked on the somewhat egotistical knowledge that someone, through their free will, without rhyme or reason, has chosen to passionately commit to you. And also that the person can be right for us but sometimes we have our own reasons for pushing away love, and each of us is marred by trauma, biological inadequacies, baggage.
In one scene – arguably a turning point in Alma’s affections for Tom – they go for a walk in the forest and become separated. When Alma finally finds Tom, her breath catches in her throat when she sees him standing in a clearing, surrounded by deer. They are at ease around him and do not perceive him as a threat but when they catch wind of Alma they are frightened and, predictably, bolt. We know humans are terrifying, flawed and destructive, and yet it is the things we have created that we fear.
A thought-provoking meditation on love, longing, memory and what makes us human, I'm Your Man pulls no punches in emphasising the idea that we are all deserving of love and that we should be receptive to it, no matter where it comes from. The chemistry between Eggert and Stevens is so electric that by the time the final scene rolls around, don't be surprised if you find yourself googling where you can get one of these robots for yourself.
I'm Your Man is in UK cinemas from 13th August