She’s doing it for science, guys. In order to get funds for her research, Alma (Maren Eggert) agrees to do a solid for the ethics board, testing out a controversial new product for three weeks, something designed with only her happiness in mind. Sounds easy, right?
The product is a humanoid robot with extraordinary artificial intelligence. ‘Tom’ is made from Alma’s brain scans with a specific algorithm that guarantees he’s her perfect made, a soul mate in (almost) every sense, designed to meet her every need and her every desire, even the unconscious ones. Alma, remember, is not a customer but a beta tester, performing an experiment to make a report to the ethics committee in three weeks’ time, who will then decide whether robots like Tom should be allowed to marry, hold passports, or be accorded rights like a human. Alma is not looking for love, but Tom is made to suit her perfectly. Can she really resist?
This is absolutely not some romantic comedy, despite the fact that ‘Tom’ looks an awful lot like dreamy Dan Stevens (and is in fact played by him). This movie puts Alma into an incredible and fascinating situation. We use the term ‘soul mate’ rather loosely, but even the love of your life is likely not 100% your ideal mate. Humans are flawed. Tom is not. Not human, and not flawed, or flawed only in the ways Alma finds endearing. Will this revolutionary new invention eradicate the scourge of human loneliness, or will so much perfection and devotion ultimately feel oppressive?
These are interesting questions that aren’t so much asked and answered as lived and experienced. Eggert is really good, expanding and contracting as she examines her own (human) responses to this experiment. A complete stranger who knows her intimately is living in her home. He is utterly devoted to her and knows her better than she knows herself. But Alma is a woman of science. It is difficult for her to see beyond the clever algorithm, to see his dedication as anything other than simulated human emotion, simulated being the operative word.
What is to become of Tom? Director Maria Schrader tackles this theme at new and interesting angles, probing tentatively at our most vulnerable spots just to see what’s there. I loved her style, I loved how bravely and honestly and unflatteringly the introspection was conducted, I thought both Stevens and Eggert were wonderful – all in all, this was quite a nice surprise at the Berlin Film Festival, exactly the kind of film you hope to accidentally encounter when you reach beyond your comfort zone at the mercy of festival programming.