April 22, 2004

Cornell Cinema

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Typically viewed as cold and far from the realm of humanity, machines are the central point of focus in director Greg Pak’s film, Robot Stories. Far from being a mechanical tale, Robot Stories instead attempts to present a perceived impossibility by melding lessons of the heart with technology.

A compilation of four separate stories, Pak’s film explores multiple aspects of life in relation to technology. “My Robot Baby” introduces audiences to a couple who must prove their worthiness for reproduction by first successfully taking care of a robot baby. When technical malfunctions and personal predispositions interfere with the success of the couple’s endeavor, emotional truth is wrought from the proponents of disorder. “The Robot Fixer” is the story of a mother struggling to deal with a comatose son. Having never been very close to her son, she finds an obsession in the urge to complete his childhood robot collection, as if such an achievement would finally wake him up. Next, “Machine Love” deals with the consequences of human cruelty to even machines, as an office robot is frequently oppressed by his human coworkers. The last story, “Clay,” is about an aging sculptor who must choose between immortality by scanning his personality into a computer or complete humanity through the ability to die.

We are used to thinking of technology in terms of its ability to further our own lives and its economizing power. In Robot Stories, however, technology is used to bring people closer to their own humanity. Pak uses minimal special effects in Robot Stories. There are no stunning visuals or computer graphics because Pak always focuses his stories on the characters involved. Merely a component rather than a driving force, technology is presented in terms of its implications and consequences rather than at face value. Pak’s film delves deeper into situations that don’t seem extremely implausible given our current rate of invention. The separate incidents presented in Robot Stories could very well be a reality in a few decades.

Differing from conventional dramas, Robot Stories does not come with a prepackaged moral or lesson. Pak’s movie can be interpreted in many ways because it never restricts its message. There are no authoritative narratives or explicit truths to accept. The script, also written by Pak, revolves entirely around character relationships. Sparse dialogue, at times, only furthers the story’s scope because it opens the door for physical acting.

Actors in Robot Stories fill silences with immense emotion so that each pause remains pregnant with connotation. Audience participation is successfully invoked by each story simply because Pak never attempts to promote one correct method of interpretation. Different viewers could potentially extrapolate various meanings from an actor’s expressions and choices. Apart from the new spin it puts on the science fiction genre, Robot Stories is also refreshing in its casting of minorities in non-minority specific roles. Pak’s film is relevant because it possesses a broad spectrum of application, presenting average people in general situations. This, among other qualities, is just another example of the objectivity that Robot Stories has in its refusal to propagate a narrow vision of the truth.

A different interpretation of science fiction, Robot Stories attempts to illustrate the emotional implications of technology and how much mechanical advancements can actually change life. Far from being a bleak vision of the future, however, Pak’s film is instead a story about discovery and identity, how technology can catalyze emotions and bring us closer to humanity. Director Greg Pak will be present at all screenings of the movie.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang