When I was eight years old my father took me and a few of my buddies to the local theater to see the animated feature film, ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN. This was one of the most torturous theatrical experiences of my entire life. The movie itself was not that bad, but damn, it tugged on the heart. As the title clearly insinuates, dogs die in this film.
I remember as the third act started to come to a close and an uncontrollable sadness hit me in the back of the throat followed by the overwhelming fear of crying in front of my friends and my father. I didn’t want them to think I was weak. I didn’t view myself as just a “Big Boy”, I was a MAN!
The Battle of Tear Dam began with a few odd grunts that I tried to disguise as coughs. I looked away from the screen and focused on the ragged red curtain only to hear the voice of the dog angel calling to bring Charlie with her to heaven. My chest quivered and two tears slipped out of my left eye so I obnoxiously yawned and rubbed my eyes like I was tired. As the little girl asked Charlie if she’d see him again, my head started to hurt from holding back the tidal wave of emotion. I stuffed my mouth with popcorn and chewed it viciously only to have the sadness in me cause my body to jolt like I was electrocuted. Popcorn flew out of my mouth. My father gave me a look of disapproval as I pathetically started gulping down my soda. Finally, the end credits rolled and the house lights were turned on. I yawned and rubbed my eyes again before I could look my father and friends in the face.
This fear of showing emotion in front of others was not developed because of my friends or my father, although they definitely felt the same pressure to stay composed while a little girl says goodbye to her best friend on his way to heaven. This fear came from our patriarchal society that deems sensitive and emotional men as being weak and unattractive. That’s some heavy stuff for an eight-year-old to digest. No wonder my body was spazzing out.
The good news is, I have overcome this fear over the years and I’m totally comfortable having a good cry at the cinema. The bad news is, while our society has shown progress, it is still limited by all the machismo. This is why I can’t wait to share Other Worlds Austin’s Opening Night Film OMG, I’M A ROBOT?! with our audience. On the surface the film is a fun, quirky coming of age SciFi-Action-Comedy, but the subtext dives much deeper and explores what defines masculinity.
The film kicks off with the very emotional Danny Bernstein smothering his girlfriend with feelings, only to have her request a break because she is worried that he’s maybe too weak for her. This leads him into a downward spiral where he eventually discovers that he happens to be a robot. The discovery of his powers gives him the confidence to get back out there and try to win back his true love. That is all that I will say about the plot. I really just want to focus on the subtext of the film and not ruin it for everyone.
From ROBOCOP to TERMINATOR 2 to SHORT CIRCUIT, most of the cyborg films center around a man designing the ultimate emotionless killing machine, who then finds their humanity with the nurturing of a child or a female character. The writer/director team of Tal Goldberg and Gal Zelezniak go against the cliché by telling the story of an emotional man that realizes he is a machine with superpowers. If this were a Hollywood film, I’d put my money on him being a villain because in most cases the sensitive character who comes upon superpowers gets swallowed with passion and is driven to insanity. They are too weak to handle their power because they feel too much. The heroes tend to repress their emotions and hide behind masks.
I really want to dive deeper into the breakdown of the film and promise to write a follow up blog after the film is released. I can’t wait to discuss this with the Other Worlds Austin audience after our screening this Friday. And if you are at the festival and feel the need for a good cry because you connect a film, let it loose. The fake yawns and strange grunts are way more embarrassing and distracting than a few tears.
OMG, I’M A ROBOT?! screens at 7:00pm and 7:30pm on Friday, December 2. Click here for the full schedule.