Mini-Review: Lab Rats, Apes and More Animals in Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s Human Nature (2001)

human nature (2001)
Puff (Rhys Ifans) is a horny, untamed man who lived in the wilderness all his life. His father raised him to be an ape. One day Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins), a doctor obsessed with table manners and his girlfriend Lila (Patricia Arquette) an attractive woman who suffers from a rare disease that makes her body hairy, go for a walk in the forest. As you’d expect they stumble upon Puff. Bronfman decides to take the man-ape to his lab to study him and train him to become human. Things start to get complicated when Gabrielle (Miranda Otto), Dr. Bronfman’s sexy French assistant comes into the mix. 

Betrayal, murder, lust, fear, envy, shame, anger, revenge, hunger, pain, sex and everything else that is human nature can be found in Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s Human Nature. This is a perhaps lesser known collaboration of French filmmaker and American screenwriter, but it is still a highly complex and fascinating film, bringing up some fundamental questions about human nature. The story of Puff exemplifies how all of our deepest human wants and desire can be found in the natural state. More importantly it shows how sex, love and lust are the most wanted and desired, but also the most dangerous.

Human Nature is a funny, but thoughtful film about so many other things that can’t be possibly discussed in one single review. The actors are bold for allowing the director to transform them physically, especially Patricia Arquette, while portraying emotionally demanding and complex roles. In a lot of ways this movie fits in with Gondry and Kaufman’s canon and themes. It’s also fun to note how Spike Jonze is co-producer and Nancy Steiner (The Virgin SuicidesLost in Translation) designed the costumes, though often times the actors are asked to perform au naturel.

The film is especially poignant because it makes you reflect on the notion of civilization. It is often taken for granted that we live in cities, surrounded by concrete and little nature. It is also “normal” that we speak a language and wear clothes. That is however not how animals live. What if a man grew up in that state? Would he be substantially different from a “civilized human being”? Or is civilization just a format, an envelope (like clothes)? What is the human being like in the natural state? What makes humans human? What separates us from beasts (if anything)? Kaufman decides to explore these and other thought-provoking themes.

At the same time the film is also about human relationships, more specifically romantic relationships. What is it that we look for in a potential sexual partner? Is it their brain or is it their bottoms? Is there a difference? At the same time Kaufman is concerned with the issue of body and being trapped in a body that causes sexual dissatisfaction. There’s also the usual love-triangle problematic of the unattractive character that has an appealing intellect and the uncultivated, but sexually alluring figure. All in all a very satisfying, unique and unforgettable film. Very creative and quirky, as you’d expect from the charming writer-director duo.

8 out of 10

7 comments

    • davideperretta

      It’s definitely a weird one, but it fits in perfectly with the Kaufman aesthetic. Same production design, set decoration and art direction as Being John Malkovich (and other Spike Jonze films). Makeup is similar as well. So long story short I think you’ll like it 🙂 It’s very memorable!

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