09 Sep

bicentennial man

I just watched Robin Williams’ Bicentennial Man, based on Isaac Asimov’s robot story of the same name.

This was an incredibly powerful film! I was blubbering by the end of it, trying to keep quiet, in case I woke my daughter up (she was asleep in my arms).

The story is about a robot, Andrew (played by Robin Williams), who is purchased by Richard Martin (played by Sam Neill), who is “flawed” in a way which means that he is emotional and creative, whereas all other robots are mere tools.

This “flaw” inspires Andrew to become more and more human. First, by adopting clothes, then a bank account, then cosmetic appearance, and by inventing prosthetic organs which can be used by himself and by “real” humans.

I really loved this film. It may have been a flop in the box office, but that appears to have just been unfortunate timing.

Andrew’s wish to become human opens up the question – what is “human”? When it is brought up in a court case, he points out that it cannot be just based on what a person is made of – after all, that would make people with artificial limbs or organs somehow less human!

The answer he is given, which I disagree with even though it makes a good story, is that to be human is to die. It is the awareness of ourselves and of our impending non-existence that defines the human condition. As Andrew was a robot and essentially immortal, he could not, therefore, be considered “human”.

Interesting logic, but a trifle unfair.

Watch the film. You’ll be glad you did.

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