- Miguel Sapochnik
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 55 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone...
“You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.”
My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I'm sick or in good health, whether I'm in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.
If Tom Hanks and a volleyball can hold our attention in Castaway, then how much more will this be so when you replace “Wilson” with a cute dog named Goodyear and a sentient robot? Be prepared to laugh and cry while watching this dystopian film that, like the film from which it takes several of its cues, Wall-E, can be seen as a warning concerning the consequences of our massive abuse of Mother Earth—although here it is a solar flare that triggered the catastrophe.
Finch Weinberg (Hanks) is a genius engineer forced to live in an underground laboratory in St. Louis because
the ozone layer has become so depleted that venturing outside in the day, with the temperature rising to 150 degrees, the gamma rays will cook his skin. An introvert who has stayed away from other survivors because of their propensity to kill in order to survive, his companions are a cute rescue dog and a Rover-like robot that he calls Dewey. Protected by a hazard suit he has pieced together, he travels outside with Dewey only to find provisions or spare parts not already taken by other scavengers. Giant sandstorms have left so much sand and debris that Missouri now looks like the Sahara Desert.
Finch, frequently wracked by coughing spells, knows that radiation sickness will end his days, so he has been spending his time creating a humanoid robot designed to care for his beloved Goodyear. He programs the robot with Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics– First Law – A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; Second Law – A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; Third Law – A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law – and he adds a fourth law, that the robot will care for little Goodyear.
Finch is downloading data into the robot when he learns that there is a convergence of sandstorms that will create a super one lasting at least 40 days, far longer than he could hold out given his meager supplies. The download into the robot is only 72% complete, but they must leave almost immediately if they are to be able to travel at all. A search of weather maps reveals that the eastern part of the country will be ravaged by storms, so it is to the West that they must travel. From his collection of postcards, the engineer decides their destination will be San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Later, we will learn the personal significance of that postcard.
Thus, the film becomes a road film, even a buddy one because gradually the robot takes on human qualities, with experience and through conversations with Finch. This is beautifully heard as actor Caleb Landry Jones’, whose voice and motion-capture performance brings the machine to life. His voice changes from a mechanical one to one that include touches of wonder and concern.
Finch allows his creation to choose its name after rejecting “Jack” (because it’s the name of a tool), so Jeff becomes its name. Finch tries to explain what trust is because this will be necessary for the well-being of Goodyear. The dog clearly is hostile at first, so that more than once Jeff says that the dog “does not like me.” How the two eventually bond makes for heart-warming viewing—and it is a good illustration of the insightful quotation by Brennan Manning—trust is not instant but grows out of experience in which the other.
Jeff, as he journeys from “it” to “he/him”—from machine to human—reminds me of the Iron Giant in Brad Bird’s film of that title, one of my favorite animated films. In that film an enormous robot, built to be a lethal weapon, crashes to earth one night and is befriended by a boy who hides him from those seeking to capture him. In one scene two hunters shoot a deer but flee when they spot the Iron Giant, and the latter expresses sadness as he stoops over the animal’s lifeless body and ponders the boy’s words about it being bad to kill, followed by a tender scene in which the boy explains what a human soul is, so that by the end of the film the creature can make his own decision about whether or not to use the lethal weapons installed in his body.
Director Miguel Sapochnik, best known for Game Of Thrones and working from a script by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, has given us a memorable, bitter-sweet tale that the whole family can enjoy. Their film reminds us that being fully human requires fellowship, companionship in its etymological sense of “sharing the loaf.” It is not only Jeff that becomes human but also the reclusive Finch who has avoided human contact in his past. Finch’s love for Goodyear brings out the best in him as he tutors Jeff, leading the latter toward humanity. The latter on the Golden Gate reads the notes left by humans and, with Goodyear under his care, sets off to connect with the writer. Finch may be dead, but the hope that inspired him to provide for the care of his beloved pet lives on, and even, in Jeff, a part of him as robot and dog set out on another road journey. That eventual meeting would also make a good film.
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