Monday, August 19, 2013

Human Nature (2001 film)

Directed by Michel Gondry and written by Charlie Kaufman, Human Nature is a multi-layered story about a psychologist who falls for a woman with a rare hormonal imbalance as the two find a man who had been raised by the wild in the hopes to get him back to civilization. The film explores the world of nature and how one tries to change another human being into being civilized only to create conflict about the idea of how to live. Starring Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto, Rosie Perez, Miguel Sandoval, Peter Dinklage, Mary Kay Place, and Robert Forster. Human Nature is a strange yet delightful film from Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

The film is about the idea of human nature in which a psychologist meets and falls for a woman with a rare hormonal imbalance that causes her to grow thick hair all over her body. While she tries to cure herself from that imbalance, the two find a man who had been raised in the wild as they try to get him back into the world civilization but it creates complications when the psychologist and his wife bicker over what is right and such. Notably as the psychologist tries to make this man conform to society but the man becomes conflicted with his role as a human being and what he once was. It’s a film that explores that conflict on what is natural and how people should behave as it is told from the three people who were involved in this experiment as they’re telling this story to other people.

Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay has a unique narrative as it is mostly told in flashback as its central protagonists in Dr. Nathan Profman (Tim Robbins), his wife Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette), and their subject named Puff (Rhys Ifans) all tell their stories about the conflict in human nature. For Lila, her rare hormonal imbalance that caused her to grow thick hair all over her body has made her a pariah as a child as she left society to live in the wild. After becoming a best-selling novelist and returning to society where she meets and falls for Nathan, she seems to have her life in control but still keeps her rare disease from Nathan. Until discovering Puff, Nathan’s idea of re-introducing Puff to human society causes trouble in Nathan’s relationship with Lila who becomes very insecure while Nathan begins an affair with his new French assistant Gabrielle (Miranda Otto). This would lead Lila to take Puff back to nature in the hopes to get him back into the world of the wild as complications would ensue.

Kaufman’s script is full of these ideas about the idea of human nature and how people should live. In Nathan, here’s a man that has all of these expectations put on him by his parents in which he has to live and act a certain way where he would later force Puff to live by these expectations in humanity. For Puff, he would become confused and frustrated by the restraints of humanity as he is unable to unleash his own sexual urges. It all has this sense of compelling drama that is told in a unique style where the narratives moves back-and-forth from the characters telling their stories to what happened in those stories. Yet, the script has some flaws as it featured some quirks that feels forced such as Nathan’s parents who have an adopted son that becomes their idea of the perfect child while there’s the character of Gabrielle who is interesting but there’s a secret about her that also feels forced as it suggests that her character is underwritten at times.

Michel Gondry’s direction is full of whimsical images as it plays to this world where there is this conflict between the world of the wild and the world of humanity. Some of which include some dream-like shots of Lila’s experiences in the wild where many of the scenes set in the forest feels free and such. Gondry’s direction is also intimate for some of the flashbacks of the lives that Lila and Nathan lived in as children as well as Nathan’s interview as it’s presented in a very serene yet wide look to display the sense of confusion he’s dealing with. While the quirky elements of the film does feel forced largely due to Kaufman’s desire to add humor the story, it only drags things for Gondry as it doesn’t match his own idea of whimsical humor. Despite the fact that the film is sort of uneven, Gondry does manage to create a compelling and charming film about the ups and downs of human nature.

Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones does excellent work with the cinematography from the look of Nathan‘s interview scene to some of the nighttime interior and exterior scenes the characters go into. Editor Russell Icke does brilliant work with the editing in creating some montages about the lives of the characters as children as well as to help structure the film in its unique narrative. Production designer K.K. Barrett, with set decorator Gene Serdena and art director Peter Andrus, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of the lab that Nathan works as well as his interrogation room as well as some of the scenes in the forest.

Costume designer Nancy Steiner does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly business-like with its suits and dresses and such to play the sense of importance of what is expected in society. Visual effects supervisor Pierre Buffin does terrific work with some of the minimal visual effects such as the look of the lab mice that Nathan has to some of the backdrops of the forests. Sound editors Francois Blaignan and Walter Spencer do superb work with the sound to capture the low-key atmosphere of the scenes in the forest to the more chaotic work of human society. The film’s music by Gramae Revell is wonderful as it‘s a mostly orchestral score with some melodic-driven pieces while music supervisor Tracy McKnight creates a soundtrack filled with some classical music as well as an original song that Lila sings that features lyrics by Charlie Kaufman.

The casting by Jeanne McCarthy is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small performances from Toby Huss’ as Puff’s dad, Hilary Duff as a young Lila, Miguel Sandoval as Nathan’s shrink Wendell, Peter Dinklage as a friend of Lila in Frank whom she met during her time in the circus, and Rosie Perez as Lila’s doctor friend Louise. One small performance that doesn’t work which plays into the film’s forced quirkiness is in Anthony Wisnick as Nathan’s adolescent adopted brother as he’s essentially a prop while Robert Forster and Mary Kay Place are good as Nathan’s parents who play as this idea of perfection right to the hilt that would drive Nathan into becoming extremely insecure.

Miranda Otto is very good as Nathan’s French assistant Gabrielle who always talks in a French accent where she does go a bit overboard at times as Otto does display some nice humor despite some of the issues with the way her character is written. Rhys Ifans is amazing as Puff as a man who was raised in the wild by his father and then brought back to society as he displays the sense of conflict and confusion of someone who is forced to live by rules that goes against everything he felt. Tim Robbins is superb as Nathan as a man who tries to make Puff fit in with human society as he becomes conflicted by his love for Lila and his time with Gabrielle as he eventually becomes frustrated by his own confusion about the ways of the world. Finally, there’s Patricia Arquette in a remarkable performance as Lila as a woman who deals with a rare disease as she becomes confused with the ways of the world as she also realizes what Nathan is doing to Puff as she tries to get Puff back into the world of nature.

Human Nature is an enjoyable film from Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. While it is a flawed film, it is still an engaging one thanks to its cast and theme on human nature. Notably as it features some of the quirky elements and unique writing style of Kaufman and Gondry’s whimsical visuals which does showcase something that is daring despite its flaws. In the end, Human Nature is a stellar film from Michel Gondry.

Michel Gondry Films: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Dave Chapelle’s Block Party - The Science of Sleep - Be Kind Rewind - Tokyo!: Interior Design - (The Thorn in the Heart) - The Green Hornet - The We & the I - Mood Indigo - (Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?) - (Microbe & Gasoline)

© thevoid99 2013

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