Lila (Patricia Arquette) has a hormonal disability that makes her extremely hairy all over. In self-exile, she becomes a jungle bound but successful author. Now rich enough to afford an expensive hair removal specialist, she visits Rose ( who introduces her to the off-centre scientist Nathan (Tim Robbins), whose phobias about table manners stem from an over-strict upbringing. They each hide their flaws and go on a romantic picnic, only to discover a young man (Rhys Ifans) bought up by apes. Nathan wants to extend his etiquette experiment with mice to this wild creature, and in the process, is seduced by his laboratory assistant Gabrielle (Miranda Otto), complicating his affair with Lila. But the wild creature now christened Puff, after Gabrielle’s pet dog, responds to humanising treatment and becomes a suave charmer with his sex drive unabated. And that’s when the real trouble begins.
Review by Louise Keller:
In the first few minutes of Human Nature, we meet mice in the wild pursued by eagles, a hairy, ape-like author whose life changes when a mouse looks at her, a feral being brought up as an ape now transformed into a genteel gentleman, and an obsessed, fanatic behaviourist hovering in purgatory questioning everything he knows. Bizarre? Oh yes. But when you see that it’s Charlie Kaufman’s pen at work, it is hardly a surprise. What a great dinner guest Kaufman would be! Just imagine where the conversation could lead between hors d’oevres and after dinner mints! His is a mind that just can’t help coming up with off-the-wall concepts that are not only outlandishly original, but invigorating, refreshing and certainly most entertaining. Human Nature takes society as we know it and throws up a myriad of question marks around everything that we readily accept. Why should we use the externally positioned fork for our salad? And why are women deemed attractive only if they are hairless? Is happiness really restricted to those who read Moby Dick, gaze at Monet and listen to Beethoven? Why should our sexual urges be stifled in order to conform to respectability or acceptability? Or is freedom truly just another word for ‘there’s nothing else to lose’? While all these questions are tossed up like a ripe salad in search of a good vinaigrette, Kaufman offers no answers, but an invitation (or a dare) to embark on slippery slide on a banana peel. Risky, totally insane, at times brilliant, and absolutely original, Human Nature is a trip. A wonderfully wacky, weird satirical comedy that is hit and miss. Some of it works beautifully, while other bits and pieces waver in the wind. But even though it may not gel entirely as a complete work, there are so many great ideas and madcap notions, this is a trip for the adventurous. Michel Gondry has taken the plunge to guide us on this racing circuit of madness. Superb editing and credible performances by a top cast allow us to take the leap. Tim Robbins is divine as the etiquette obsessed behaviourist, while Patricia Arquette is intensely brave as the electrolysis-addicted free spirit. As for Rhys Ifans, he is such a scene stealer… what can I say? Then there’s Miranda Otto as the pseudo French research assistant, who is always in a state of undress. My favourite scenes show Rhys Ifans locked in his glass cell in training for his release into the world at large. There he sits in a mock-up of an opera house balcony, whispering to a plastic dummy seated beside him and projecting his ‘bravos’ for the imaginary artists, as the music fills the room. Human Nature is a compelling mix of the outlandish. I admire it’s originality; I enjoyed its absurdity; its humour tickles my love for the audacious.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Reading the production notes I came across a line that in a nutshell sums up the problem the filmmakers have in turning this screenplay into cinema. “Lila …plagued by an uncommon hormonal malady …ready to give up on life. However, a sympathetic, non-judgmental look from a small mouse offers her a sense of hope.” This is wonderful reading, but how do you turn it into cinema? Michael Gondry does it literally, which explains why the script was financed. Somebody thought Charlie Kaufman’s weirdness was photographable – but like so much great prose, it isn’t. Some of it is, of course, like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Not Human Nature. Kaufman is simply running wild with a premise that actually has a great deal of merit. If only it were focused on the subject that inspired him: human nature’s sex drive and its illogicality in the modern world. Saved from utter embarrassment by a terrific cast, Human Nature (made in 2000) has some truly eccentric moments which redeem it in my eyes, and a chaotic tone which is rare in film today. Those aspects, coupled with a genuine, big heart, make the film a curiosity instead of a disaster.
Email this article
HUMAN NATURE (M15+)
CAST: Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto
PRODUCER: Anthony Bregman, Ted Hope, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman
DIRECTOR: Michel Gondry
SCRIPT: Charlie Kaufman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tim Maurice-Jones
EDITOR: Russell Icke
MUSIC: Graeme Revell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: KK Barrett
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: July 9, 2003
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.