Robot and Frank

September 3, 2012 1 Comment

In the “not too distant” future, there will be robot companions to assist those who fail to remember how to function in the world.  How much memory is required to qualify as the person one claims to be?

The touching, quirky “Robot and Frank,” directed by Jake Schreier and starring Frank Langella, offers a journey into the erosion of memory and the meaning of being.  Frank is a cranky senior who clearly mis-remembers.  His worried son provides him with a service robot, who can cook, clean and monitor “health.”  The story superficially revolves around the relationship between Frank and his ever-patient, gleaming white robot.  Contempt and frustration evolve as Frank determines that the Robot (who aptly remains unnamed) has “applications.”  The film invites us to feel the confusion that surrounds Frank’s being:  how forgetful is he, really?  Is he manipulating us? Can it be both?  Do we identify with Frank?  His children?  The Robot?  What happens to relationships when there is no memory?

When the robot explains that the erasure of memory has no meaning to a robot, we flinch.    This quiet little film has a marvelous cast (Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Peter Saarsgard) which adds depth and feeling.  Don’t forget to see this one.  Jolyn Wagner

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One Comment to “Robot and Frank”
  1. Bruce Russell says:

    It’s an interesting philosophical question concerning the relationship between memory and personal identity. For later person B to be the same person as earlier person A, does B have to remember some of A’s experiences at that earlier time? It doesn’t seem so, for aren’t we the same person as the three-year old from which we emerged? But that can be true even if we don’t remember any of the experiences of that three-year old.

    So some philosophers say that we don’t have to be CONNECTED by memory to our distant, earlier selves to be identical to them. It’s enough if we are CONTINUOUS with them. What does that mean? It means that if I can remember things about me a year ago, that year ago me can remember things about himself a year earlier, and so on back to my three-year old self, then I am continuous with that earlier person, and so identical to him. If there is the relevant continuity of memories among earlier segments of myself, then that earlier self is me even if I cannot directly remember anything about his experiences.

    But what if my memory only stretches back 5 minutes, as with the main character in Memento, and yet there is continuity? Maybe connectedness has to stretch back more than a few minutes for an earlier person to be me. Continuity is not by itself sufficient to found personal identity. It must be linked with longish connectedness. But people with severe Alzheimer’s or dementia sometimes remember very early events in their lives. But they lack sufficient continuity of the right sort. Both continuity, and sufficiently long connectedness at each stage of our lives, is required for personal identity…maybe!

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