Ruby Sparks

August 5, 2012 10 Comments

The power of the pen was never stronger in the new film “Ruby Sparks.”  Calvin (Paul Dano) is an almost thirty-something writer who created a  beloved blockbuster novel a decade ago.  Now, he sits before his typewriter (yes, I said typewriter) waiting to create the next one.  He sits and he sits and he sits, eyeing the blank page without a thought or any kind of life.  He dreams of a woman (Ruby Sparks, played by Zoe Kazan who also wrote the script) who somehow appears in his life as an engaging, loving partner.  And, he learns that he can direct her actions and her personality by tapping words on paper.  Perfect.  Or is it?  Such is the heart of this quirky little film, which explores the tenuous struggle between love of self and other.  Is the control provided by a solitary existence more satisfying than the pain and disappointment of “submitting” to another?  Is a mirror image the best choice?  Do opposites attract or merely destroy?  The cast is engaging and sincere.  Dano and Kazan are a real life couple whose chemistry on the screen invites us to buy into the premise without caring about the particulars.  Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas are wonderfully cast as Calvin’s mother and lover, two individuals who have also redefined themselves “for love,” and provide us with a reminder that Calvin and Ruby’s story is a familiar one.

So, if you could shape the behaviour of your mate by merely scripting it, would you?  Is that the ideal of love?  Is the novelty of the unknown worth the challenge of dealing with it?  This is a light-hearted film that dances through darker questions without preaching.  The end may appear a bit too cute and familiar, but truth be told, we are rooting for them, whoever they really are.   This is an engaging must see movie, to be savored in between Olympics events, of course!   (Way to Go Serena and Andy and Michael and Gabby!)  See you at the movies!  Jolyn Wagner

Rating of this film:  7.5/10  (7.5 couches)   What do you think?

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10 Comments to “Ruby Sparks”
  1. David Lundin says:

    Would a robot that you could define physically and program be the ideal mate? A Stepford spouse? Is it truer love to know the real person than your made-up idealization, often the basis of initial attraction? For raising these intriguing questions, which, be honest, have occured to all of us, I give this film an 8. If it had gone even darker and more exestential, I would have given it a higher rating.

  2. The film asks us to ponder how much change is a relationship worth? (the background relationship between Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas does seem to enforce the idea that change–Benning’s transformation from golf preppie to tree hugging hippie–was genuine, unforced and satisfying, although there is a certain value judgment here, I think, because Banderas didn’t take up golf! Why not? I agree with Dave that the film might have been better if it had dared continue with the dark themes that are present–the need/desire to control, the fear of engulfment in a close relationship and the inequity that is often present at any particular time. The only perfect match is with oneself(which Calvin finally understands) and how much fun is that?

  3. Dave Lundin says:

    This film resonates with other works such as “Lars and the Real Girl,” Hawthorne’s short story “The Birthmark,” “Pygmalion/My Fair Lady,” “Frankenstein,””Bride of Frankenstein,” “One Touch of Venus,” and even “Wierd Science.” If you could create the perfect mate, what would happen? Is a synthetic person that meets your exact specifications better than a real person who you can’t control? What is the changed nature of the attachment that makes it more or less rewarding? Is someone you create to meet your every need capable of a gratifying attachment or are you just relating to a version of yourself, which is hollow? What do you think?

  4. Goooooooood questions. There is a sacrifice of consistency and the familiar for the thrill of novelty, however, I side with sponteneity…in the film, Calvin decides that Ruby might speak French and voila! she does…there is something(intentionally in the film, I think) creepy about this…creating CHILDREN in your own image is icky enough, but a partner? Yikes!

  5. Bruce Russell says:

    I think several distinctions are being run together. The first distinction has to do with whether it is better to control another in order to get what you want or not. Second, is whether the other is a real or synthetic (robot?) person. Third, is whether that other is “just a version of yourself.” Let’s assume that it’s not a version of yourself; we often want to relate to people who have qualities and abilities that complement ours, not duplicate them. Such a person would not be a version of ourself even it we created it. OK, now given the choice, no one would want to relate to a robot if, instead, he could control a human and make him/her do what he wants. Robots are too plastic! So now we’re at what I think is the fundamental question: if we could, would it be better to control, or not control, another? Well, even here there are more distinctions to be drawn. Control EVERYTHIKNG? No! Who would want to be loved because you have given the other a love potion and she can’t do otherwise than love you? But what about those annoying habits: not flushing the toilet, biting her nails, not throwing her clothes in the hamper? Give me the remote control device so I can stop those annoying habits!

  6. Dave Lundin says:

    In reverse order: 3) I would not want a version of myself, but someone who is partly like me, partly complements me, partly opposite me, and partly completely and mysteriously themselves; 2) Robots or big dolls are out, at least at the current state of the art – jk; 1) This is the tough question – I think everyone needs some level of control in any relationship, but how much? I think this film, and others, makes the point that too much control gives you some superficial behaviors you might desire, but takes away the more important feel of empathic connection you can only get when someone else gives it to you because they want to, not because you made them do it somehow. And how much control do you let your partner have over you to gain their approval without losing yourself?

  7. empathic connection is something given not out of fear or control but freely…agreed…what makes it feel diffently than something that is extracted or demanded? good question but I think it has to do with those wonderfully early experiences when someone(usually a mother) is soooo head over heels in love with you(the baby) that she will awaken every hour to feed or change or console or whatever, just to be with you and you have to do nothing in return…however, when it is mutual, reciprocal I think it actually trumps this…what do you think?

  8. Bruce Russell says:

    Hey, now you two are supposed to answer some of the questions! But I don’t think any of the central questions here are about causes, e.g., about what caused people to feel empathy. They are questions about value, about what is desirABLE,that is, WORTH desiring, about what is good or better. Is it desirable to cause another to love you and to do everything you want her to do? Not with love,it would seem, because the value lies in her FREELY giving you her love. But it would be good to get rid of those nasty, annoying traits;it would be desirable, even if not morally permissible, to get rid of them without her consent. So it would be wrong to manipulate her in any way even though the outcomes might be good.
    I don’t think that such manipulation need “take away the feel of empathetic connection,” certainly not from the one being manipulated without her knowledge. She, I assume, is in the dark about the manipulation. And you, the controller, might still feel empathy with her, say, when her cat dies or she fails to get the job, or admission, she so wanted to get.
    Empathy need not be lost via the control. What’s lost is the good of freely given love.
    And your answers are??

  9. Brian Murphy says:

    Ummm . . . back to the movie? We saw it recently and we all (including daughter Lauren) loved it. I sat there and wondered: the set up is so great, but HOW IS SHE GOING TO END THIS? And I thought the ending sweetly satisfying.

    Daughter Lauren (about Zoe Kazan’s age) said, as we left AMC 30, “It is not fair that somebody should be that cute, that brilliant, AND can speak fluent French!”

    Did not know about the real-life relationship. Paul Dano is a lucky man!

  10. Bruce Russell says:

    I thought movies were occasions to do philosophy! 🙂 They’re sort of Rorschach ink blots for philosophers! No?!

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