Human Nature
Starring: Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto, Rosie Perez
Director:

Michel Gondry

Writing credits:

Charlie Kaufman

Distributor: Fine Line Features * 96 minutes
Rated: R for sexuality/nudity and language
  (USA 2002)

The fact that Charlie Kaufman wrote this prior to Being John Malkovich is obvious. All of his peculiar, engaging eccentricities are there, but despite taking poignant jabs at the tragic absurdity of how people so often define self worth, the deeper insight is missing. Too bad it's so unconscious of its own deficiency.

Human Nature is more daring, different, and creative than most films-Hollywood or indie-out there. Even beyond the quirky excesses, it laudably addresses some core issues about humanity. But it doesn't tackle them. It's an undeveloped world-view springing from some legitimate questions and observations, screaming "I know everything's wrong but I don't have a clue what's right!" A moving plea, to be sure, but it's the confusion of a juvenile, not an adult.

Kaufman posits two fundamental aspects of human nature-base desires and evolved ones-against each other. The evolved is the construct we call civilization. The film argues that civilization is nothing more than a repressive cage that denies us our inbred wants and needs. In card-carrying liberal fashion, it's an indictment of civilization. Kaufman, however, has the honesty to eventually reveal that while living according to our basic instincts may be the romantic ideal, it's not practical. He knows humans are more complex than that.

Why do we want to be civilized? Primarily, according to the film, to "get me some of that"-that being sex. Only a fool would disagree, but another fool would say that's all there is to it. For that reason, the otherwise astute Human Nature is foolish. What Kaufman and first time director Michel Gondry have a hard time coming to terms with is the very real desire of humanity to rise above those base lusts, to evolve to something more, and how to do that effectively. Thankfully they don't deny this natural tendency by making a "nature good, civilization bad" sermon (even though, for a long while, it appears that's the simplicity they're going for). They admit in satirical terms that it is a natural human desire to be about more than our desires.

But Kaufman and Gondry see an inability for the two longings to coexist, ultimately saying that humanity's destiny is simply to live in eternal conflict with the two. Not only is this a defeatist perspective, it also denies the fundamental trait that makes humans human: the soul. It is this denial that neuters a would-be provocative tale. Soul is what's lacking in every character in this movie and, subsequently, the movie itself. How does one forget that? I don't know, but Human Nature does.

It is from the soul that morality arises, and it's morality that makes these two conflicting traits-basic instinct and evolutionary yearnings-gel. It's morality that makes these two opposites attract, bringing out the best in each other and doing away with the worst. It's what allows us to pursue our human urges in a proper context that respects others. It's what allows us to grow while not allowing that growth to become hubris. It's a point completely lost here. The empty hole you feel while watching Human Nature comes from the fact that, quite simply, it has no soul.

Charlie Kaufman is the Thinking Man's Farrelly brother. Here's to hoping that this, his first screenplay, is the only one of his that will ever lack a complete thought process.

 

- Jeff Huston

Review text copyright © 2002 Jeff Huston and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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