The 2010 Sundance Film Festival opened its doors last night with fist pumps and cries to rebel, to destroy, to fight for what you believe in and to not be afraid to lean on someone for help, guidance or a solution. Thematically, the new regime at Sundance did a superb job programming their opening night slate -- spreading it across three different screenings (a full-length narrative, a shorts program and a documentary), all of which featured the aforementioned themes loud and clear. The festival had announced its return -- its rebirth -- and if you weren't game to jump onboard, these opening night films would grab you by the arm and toss you into the middle of the dance floor.
Most buzzed-about right out of the gate was Spike Jonze's 35-minute short, I'm Here. What was essentially a depressingly honest look at a deteriorating relationship set against a whimsical not-so-distant future where robots and humans co-exist, this, to me, felt like Jonze's most personal film to date. I know nothing of his prior relationship with Michelle Williams, or what went wrong there, but it was pretty obvious that Jonze crafted this "love" story -- about one robot who keeps giving to his self-destructive partner until he's nothing but a shell of his former self -- after experiencing this sort of thing first hand, either personally or through a close friend.
Sweet and heartfelt, yes, but a sobering reminder that we sometimes lose ourselves in these relationships that aren't healthy because we're in love with the idea of being with a person, or the idea of being in love -- of doing something different with your life that breaks away from everyday boredom and exposes you to what is perhaps our most dangerous drug: love.
When you step away from the film's central themes, though, you find yourself immersed in the fantastical mythology that Jonze and his team created. The robots themselves feel very "thrown together", constructed not out of new technology, but out of our 20 or 30-year-old computers and computer parts. These were robots who were designed to serve a purpose -- to take on menial work -- but they're also robots who are slowly evolving and recognizing their presence in the world; recognizing that they exist, that there's a reason why they exist and that they're allowed to celebrate this existence by dancing and partying and taping hand-drawn pictures of happy faces that say "I'm Here" to benches and street lamps and anything that will, at least temporarily, carry on their message, their legacy.
Funded by Absolut vodka, there's no sign of them at all inside the film, which should comfort those who may have thought this was all one big commercial cleverly wrapped in a fun, hipster vibe. Of course, on repeat viewings, one may spot a bottle on a table or a tagline on a bus stop, but it's not immediately recognizable. I'm sure many will ask Jonze whether he plans to revisit this universe at some point down the line, and I'm pretty sure he won't, but once this finds its way online (here's hoping iTunes does some sort of distribution with it), you genre geeks are going to have a field day dissecting this new world. And perhaps those of you in similar destructive relationships will take a step back, recognize that you still have a say -- that you're still here -- and maybe then you'll begin to piece back together what once was or should've been.