When I was in Kindergarten, I convinced my classmates that I was in fact a robot. That was nearly 28 years ago, but I have never lost my love for robots and the secret desire to be an anthropomorphized machine. I suppose my interest in robots comes from the friendly droids in Star Wars or the robot helpers in Walt Disney’s Black Hole. However, I didn’t want to be a robot who played second fiddle to anyone. Instead of Han Solo commanding the Millennium Falcon, my robot alter-ego, aided by superior intelligence, skill, and strength, would commandeer the most badass light freighter in science fiction (sorry, Browncoats). With this short robotic-biographical sketch in mind, you can see why I enjoyed Spike Jonze’s latest short film, I’m Here. This film event (it’s an online, recreated matinee experience coupled with limited ‘seating’ each day), sponsored by Absolut, presents a fully realized world in which humans live side-by-side with robots, but the robots form a racialized and classed oppressed group. The robots work, but their rights are curtailed. They are routinely damaged and hurt by humans, but there does not seem to be any recourse. Some humans are friends with the robots, and another, the doctor at the end in particular, seems to help out when that help is needed most. The story is about Sheldon and Francesca meeting by serendipity, the former waiting for the bus, and the latter illegally driving a car and seeing him by the side of the road. Sheldon is friendly, but he comes up against the limitations of robot existence imposed by humanity in the minutiae of everyday life. He seems on the edge of hopefulness; he wants to connect with others, but the realities of this parallel world prevent it from happening. Francesca, on the other hand, is a free spirit (deus ex machina?) who silently challenges human oppression (dreaming by making up dreams, making art with human trash, or posting ‘i’m here’ stickers to merely let others know that she’s here). She has friends (human and robot), loves music (human made by The Lost Trees, a mashup of Aska Matsumiya and others, perhaps a reference to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, more could be said about Matsumiya’s theme song in the film, “There Are Many of Us”), and thinks/acts more like a young woman than a robot (but this movie reminds us to give up our preconceived notions about robots). But the story is beyond social issues and robots with emotions. I’m Here is overall a metaphor for being through sacrifice. Sheldon sacrifices for Francesca without forethought, but definitely by his own choice. He has no programming that makes him do the things that he does. He chooses make personal sacrifices, because he loves Francesca. Isn’t this the most that each of us can do for others, particularly those we love, whether they be humans, robots, or animals? I cannot think of any better message than this, and I would like to thank Mr. Jonze for making such a wonderfully fantastic film to playfully relay it to us cyborgs on the Internet.
Published by Jason W Ellis
I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. View all posts by Jason W Ellis