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Human Nature


Human Nature

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Human Nature places the words of its title on two sides of a great divide, then lets its characters attempt to cross it, and then cross back again. No one finds the journey especially easy. It's hard on Patricia Arquette, a nature writer famed for books like Fuck Humanity who chooses to re-enter society out of loneliness. (But then, nothing much comes easy for women covered in a thick coat of fur.) It's hard on her eventual husband (Tim Robbins), a scientist convinced that the world's salvation lies in the civilizing force of table manners, and determined to start the ball rolling by instructing white mice in the niceties of proper etiquette. It's certainly hard on Rhys Ifans, a 30-year-old foundling who has never laid eyes on an ape but believes he's a chimpanzee, having been raised in the woods by a father who suffered the same delusion. The second film derived from a script by Being John Malkovich writer Charlie Kaufman, Human Nature plays like a companion piece to Malkovich, working through another fundamental philosophical question by sparking a nature/nurture debate in the place of Malkovich's mind/body division. Nature lacks a little of Malkovich's freshness, but that's just about all it lacks. As fellow music-video veteran Spike Jonze did with Malkovich, director Michel Gondry largely suppresses his considerable visual flair, best evidenced in the past in his handful of Björk videos. Here, he lets Kaufman and the actors run the show, as Kaufman's thoughtful, clever absurdism challenges the cast's straight-faced performances at every turn. Taking custody of Ifans, Robbins attempts to reclaim him for humanity, using techniques borrowed in equal measure from Truffaut's The Wild Child and A Clockwork Orange. As the electric shocks and droning recordings take their effect, Robbins prepares to bring Ifans into the world, a process impeded only by some untimely, uncontrollable urges on the part of all involved. Kaufman's wit casts a net wide enough to snare gags involving both a Hooters-like restaurant and the early life of Mozart, and Gondry's film happily accommodates these and everything in between. It seems almost accidental that the film's examination of the easily disrupted harmony between civilization and wilderness proves just as memorable as its many laughs.