Back to Back: CYBORG vs. THE REAL GIRL

I caught a one-showing-only screening of Park Chan-wook’s latest, I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK! last night, and I’m sorry to say I caught myself falling asleep a few times. After his vengeance trilogy he’s obviously trying to prove he can do the opposite, so it is very cute, earnestly whimsical, and candy colored: Amelie’s Science of Sleep, if you will.  Several scenes will put a smile on your face — “Not psy-cho: cy-borg!” — sometimes from the supporting cast of mental patients, and it is sterilely beautiful to look at from start to finish, but except for a few moments of genius I just couldn’t care too much about it.

I’m a Cyborg boasts some truly memorable Billy Liar-inspired fantasy sequences but the movie suffered from comparison with Lars and the Real Girl which I happened to see for the first time the night before. It’s bascially the same movie except much more humorous, insightful, and emotionally engaging at every point.

In fact, I think Lars had four of the best performances of the year — all in one movie.  Has that ever happened before?

Forget Ryan Gosling for a moment; Emily Mortimer (why do I love her so much?), Paul Schneider, and Patricia Clarkson have the difficult job of spending most of the movie double-acting: as their characters and simultaneously as their characters act in front of Lars. None of these actors wimped out by just acting as if Lars’ doll was a real person. I was very moved by the way their outward, upbeat behavior toward Lars never eclipsed the undercurrent of deep saddness and empathy necessarily behind it.

The final result, when everyone in the theater is chocking back tears despite their cognitive dissent, is a practical demonstration of what it is that movies do. It should not work. But it does. And it does so without resorting to manipulation, because the credibilty of the characters is completely earned.

Though late, Lars instantly entered my Top Ten; I can’t think of a more humane movie in 2007.

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One thought on “Back to Back: CYBORG vs. THE REAL GIRL

  1. Ryan says:

    Amy and I just watched Lars this week, and I agree with your take. Not at all what you’d expect from the logline of “Boy with emotional problems buys sex doll which he treats as a real person.” There were so many bad/obvious/unnecessary routes the script could have taken, but didn’t. Very touching, full of mature characters who learn true things rather than cliches.

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