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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Human Nature (review)

Are you a man, a monkey, or a mouse? Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the brilliant lunatic who conceived Being John Malkovich, now gives us an equally bizarre, startling, and hilarious exploration of what it means to be human. At the one extreme of the human experience is anally mannered researcher Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins: Antitrust); at the other is monkeyboy Puff (Rhys Ifans: The Shipping News), raised in the woods by apes and nearly feral; in the middle, literally, is Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette: Stigmata), reluctant nature girl. In a mad-science experiment, like something out of a Victorian novel and shot by director Michel Gondry like an industrial training film, Nathan decides to civilize Puff to prove it can be done, as Lila tries to bring out the wild man in Nathan. Wonderfully weird, Human Nature is like The Elephant Man meets A Clockwork Orange meets Free Willy, encompassing along the way mice with table etiquette and a Disneyesque song about body hair. A deeply odd and oddly moving inquiry into the search for balance between civilization and savagery, civilization and freedom, it culminates in a final, enormously touching moment suggesting that no matter how romantic an idea it may be, there’s no turning back from civilization once we’ve been introduced to it.


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MPAA: rated R for sexuality/nudity and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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