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Movie Review

Based in part on two stories by Isaac Asimov, Bicentennial Man follows the 200-year life of a robot searching for identity, friendship, love and ultimately, humanity. Programmed to be a domestic servant, the robot (named Andrew by his master) learns that he is more than just a machine. Be it faulty programming, loose wiring, or just positronic anomaly, he—unlike his fellow robots—has a unique personality, will and feelings. Over the years, "upgrades" provide him with enhanced facial expression, then a human-like skin, then even a central nervous system. But he's still a robot. So he sets out on a journey to become recognized as fully human. He's even willing to pay the ultimate human price—death.

Positive Elements: Andrew's existence and struggle to become human becomes a word picture illustrating the intrinsic value of life. The beauty of individuality and the preciousness of family, friendship and love lie at the core of this film. Sir instructs his family that they must respect Andrew as if he were a person. He wants to teach them that they must respect the things they own. That instruction paves the way for Andrew to interact with "his family" in an increasingly personal manner. Early on, when Andrew breaks Little Miss' favorite toy horse, he teaches himself how to carve, then creates a new figurine for her. His action, inspired by the first glimmers of love starting to emerge in his "neural net," forges a bond that lasts through the generations.

Of course Andrew remains fully functional while everyone he loves slowly ages and dies. He wants to figure out a way to keep humans alive forever, but a long conversation with Portia shows him that he'll never get his wish. She explains to him that even though she loves him, she wouldn't want to be immortal even if she could. She's convinced that humans are constructed, both physically and mentally, to live a certain number of years and then pass on.

Andrew is kind to everyone he meets. He sees it as his duty to encourage and help those around him. He is programmed to be honest at all costs. He is programmed to prevent harm from befalling those in his charge. He carries these and many other excellent qualities with him after he is granted his "freedom" and transformed into a "man."

Spiritual Content: One cannot explore a story such as this without raising the issue of eternal souls. Andrew aspires to humanness, and humans have souls given to them by God. It is assumed through dialogue late in the movie that somehow Andrew has "grown" a soul and has achieved a state worthy of eternal life. Without making too sharp a point of it, this plot device may lead some children to conclude that one's soul is less a gift from God than an evolved state of being.

Sexual Content: Early in the film Sir gives Andrew a lecture on "the facts of life." Andrew's reaction? "Isn't it rather messy?" Later, he and Rupert discuss sex when Rupert develops an anatomically correct "skin upgrade" for robots. Without devolving into explicit dialogue, their conversation conveys the euphoric, intangible "ecstasy" associated with sex. Andrew's description of how he pictures sex includes a belief that sex "feels" the best when shared with a person one loves and cherishes forever. He compares the pleasure experienced during sex to going to heaven and coming back alive. After his upgrades are complete, he and Portia consummate their relationship (they can't get married because he isn't human) and live together for the rest of their lives.

Violent Content: None

Crude or Profane Language: Minimal except for a completely inappropriate sequence in which Rupert teaches Andrew how to swear (the s-word is used seven times in quick succession).

Drug and Alcohol Content: Sir and his wife sip wine on one occasion. Rupert drinks a beer.

Summary: Andrew's struggle for "human rights" conjures strong images of the racial struggles that have plagued mankind for centuries. His wish is to be treated as a human being brings to mind the speeches of Martin Luther King and others like him who have sought so valiantly to stand shoulder to shoulder with their fellow man. It's a noble and just cause, and this film proffers a worthy allegory for it. Meanwhile, Andrew's struggle for love mirrors that of all people, providing a tender showcase for moviegoers to revel in the exquisite beauty of relationships, God-given emotions and basic human needs.

The film's length (over two hours) and moderate pacing will prove daunting for younger children, while the needless exercise in profanity should dismay parents. Perhaps waiting for this movie to come out on video and exercising the fast-forward button on the remote may be the most effective way to get the most life out of Bicentennial Man.


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