The main question left in my mind after seeing “Robot and Frank” was why haven’t robot butlers been invented yet, and what would I do with one when they are?
Most likely, the hapless robot’s daily routine would be an endless cycle of bringing me snacks and cleaning up the remains of those aforementioned snacks.
Frank, a dementia riddled ex-con played by Frank Langella, uses his robot to rob people.
You’ve got to hand it to the guy— he’s got ambition.
“Robot and Frank” is Jack Schreier’s directorial debut, and a great one at that.
The plot revolves around Frank Weld, a retired jewel thief who is living out his golden years in rural upstate New York.
According to the text at the beginning, the film takes place sometime in “the near future,” which means there’s nothing to tell you you’re in the future besides the phones, a few robots and that one car at the start of the movie that looks like someone bought a SmartCar and decided it had too much leg room.
Frank’s son, Hunter (James Marsden) grows worried about his father’s worsening dementia and buys him a robot that is programmed to help him out around the house and treat his dementia through the use of “cognitive enhancement activities” (i.e. hobbies).
True to the old man stereotype, Frank wholly rejects Robot’s company until he finds out that its programming is concerned only with his treatment, and includes nothing about following the law.
And so, Frank develops a begrudging friendship with Robot as he trains it in the art of burglary, and they plan to rob their 30-something yuppie neighbor down the road.
Many stakeouts and lockpicking training sessions later, Frank and his newfound partner end up with a couple million dollars worth of jewels. Naturally, things get complicated after that, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you.
Langella has surprisingly good chemistry with his robot counterpart, which is quite impressive considering that the task of delivering the robot’s lines had to be outsourced to a production assistant off camera because the person inside it couldn’t move the suit and talk at the same time.
As funny as it is to watch a robot and a senior citizen commit larceny, the best part is watching Frank and Robot’s relationship grow.
Robot’s self-stated philosophy is a kind of anti-existentialism. Humans can think, therefore they are, but Robot cannot, and therefore he isn’t.
What this means for “Robot and Frank” is that it is essentially a movie about a man assigning character traits to something that has all the feeling of a toaster, and that’s what makes it so interesting.
Robot makes a point of telling Frank multiple times that it “has no feelings,” yet, on more than one occasion, we see (what we perceive) to be evidence of Robot’s humanity.
One such moment is near the end of the film when he tries to convince Frank to wipe all evidence of the burglary from his mind.
However altruistic it seems, we know that this isn’t really because Robot has any affection for Frank, but because it is in his programming to keep him safe.
This absence of free will allows “Robot and Frank” to ask an interesting question: can something that is essentially on autopilot be “good,” or is thinking about a robot like a person as futile a task as wondering how the fridge feels about the molding cheese you forgot in the back?
Regardless of the existential quandaries that owning a robot may put you in, the distance between the fridge and the couch seems to grow farther every time I have have to walk it.