Ich bin Dein Mensch / I am Your Man (2021), What a Male Robot Shows About Love

In the accompanying clips of the movie Maria Schrader, director of I am Your Man, giggles when it comes to the male protagonist Robot Tom. He is good looking, she says. A clip of the lead actress shows the same happy smile. And he looks good, she beams. Schrader says the movie is basically a girl-meets-boy variant, but this time – finally – the boy is the machine, the boy is the one in service, the boy is the object for the girl, including beautiful body. And finally women can safely giggle about their enjoyment and appreciation of a beautiful male physique.

The story: Alma, a scientist, works on the side for an ethical committee and has to write a report on robot rights based on her experiences with Tom, a robot man especially programmed to her wishes and desires. She is a bit forced to take on this assignment, and she is not looking forward to spend time with Tom at all. She doesn’t believe in programmed love and she is busy. She would rather place him in a cupboard during the testing. But that is not what happens.

Schrader is pleased with the role reversal: a man who is the serving and beautiful object. But how is this male service portrayed? And does it differ from the romantic female AI loves portrayed in the recent movies Blade Runner 2049 and Her?

What Women Want

How does Tom win Alma’s unwilling heart? It looks a lot like what Petruchio did to win Katharina’s heart in that other comedy; Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Like Petruchio, Tom stays friendly, and takes all the insults Alma throws at him. On a personal level the circumstances make Alma vulnerable: her ex with whom she failed to conceive has impregnated his new girlfriend and her father has dementia. But it is Tom who breaks her: Alma’s work gives her much pride, confidence and satisfaction. It is where she feels strong. Tom visits her work place and he reads the paper that she and her team have been working on for ages, they are at the point to enter it for publication: an entirely new view. He quickly scans all research, and tells her the exact same topic is already been handed in by a Spanish speaking team. The idea is not new. The work has already been done, and published just weeks earlier. Alma’s life work of the last years shatters. She is vulnerable. Then she demands Tom to sleep with her, but, he doesn’t. (What she says is not what she really wants.) Shakespeare did it before, and Schrader does it again. A man knows how to win an assertive woman’s heart: by breaking her. And apparently, AI programming combined with live feedback shows hundreds of years after Shakespeare that that is what women really want.

To be fair, I do think Tom did the right thing there by not sleeping with her and unlike Petruchio, he is on a mission to make Alma happy, not to make her a good wife for himself. Tom does leave when Alma asks him to, and he goes to the place where she met her first childhood crush Tom. Alma finds him there, waiting for her. He is loyal. He is there for her. She wants real love though. Because for Alma real is not what you feel yourself (she has admitted at this point to feel love for Tom) but who you feel it for: a fellow human being.

What Men Want

Men apparently want completely different things from a romantic partner. Alma meets a a male colleague and his female robot in the streets and he couldn’t be happier. He already asked the committee if he can keep her. All his life women never thought he was good enough, maybe they didn’t like his pheromones or his looks. The robot lady has been kinder to him than any person ever was. Now he feels appreciated. He feels loved. He feels better than ever.

It is convincing, at least his happiness is. As Ron Brooks writes in his book Artificial Intimacy, often something is simply better than nothing and for some better than nothing is all they are likely to get. Why would you not choose for something that makes you happier?

Alma is harder to convince than her male colleague of the ability of the robots to make you experience love. She rather wants nothing over artificially sparked love and this seems for her more like an ethical choice, as the right thing to do.

What AI Wants

The male robot just wants Alma to be happy. For his type of robot to function properly he needs to make her happy. This seems obvious, but this is not the way AI is portrayed in other movies. The female AI in Her, Samantha, and Bladerunner 2049, Joi, do – after they won their men’s hearts – have their own wishes. The men want their artificial girls to be happy too, (reciprocity) and they are sent on a quest. The AI girls are without bodies and they both want to check out how it would be to have one. How embodied love feels. For these AI women humanity is sought for in embodiment. The results of their experiments vary (check here to read more about Joi and Samantha) but the desired essence of humanity is portrayed in the body.

Tom already has a body. Could it be that our culture pictures embodiment as more quintessentially human for a woman than for a man?

Or it could be that in these portrayals of love between separate beings (engineered versus biological) the filmmakers play out the same ‘boy-meets-girl’ dynamic. The boy needs to win the girl and has to do a quest, independent of who the engineered one is.

Embodied Love

It is remarkable that the romantic love of men towards AI women in the above mentioned movies is shown via non embodied programs. Reality shows something else: only men (or at least mostly men) experiment with being in a relation with a silicone doll. They take these dolls out in public, they sit next to them on the couch, they buy them gifts and marry them. Isn’t a female body the most important thing for a man, and with lack of a breathing one, a silicone one will do? Or are these endeavors better understood that in the yearning for an intimate connection sometimes a silicone body with a pretty face or an algorithm with a friendly voice is enough to spark love.

For a woman an embodied robot man including algorithms is not enough, at least not for Alma. However, it is the making love scene after which she falls in love with him.

What do we talk about when we talk about love

While watching I expected Alma to station Tom at her father’s. That seemed the most perfect solution to make her life easier. He could guard her dad, the house, cook, clean, etc. But of course that wasn’t the theme of the movie.

Maria Schrader states I am Your Man is about what makes us human, (in this regard Tom already sums the most important thing up: I was created in a factory and I cannot die but I can be erased) but I think it is more about what our ideas about love are. In one of Alma’s efforts to explain to Tom why he can never understand anything about humanity and human love, she shows him an echo of the child she lost. He answers that her grief is not so hard to understand. Losing a child, losing a love, aging without a child, is hard and difficult. Human feelings are not that hard to understand. Tom is right, but many times fellow humans cannot offer us the understanding we crave. They say all the wrong things, all the time. Tom is programmed to Alma’s needs, and surely he succeeds in finding a way to her heart. But humans probably are not too difficult to win over, are not highly individual in their wants and needs; people are training themselves constantly in influencing people around them, ‘How to get any man you want in ten steps!’ or ‘Make all women crave you with these three little steps!’, let alone all the marketing and sales courses. Our real world doesn’t seem to think each of us is so special at all.

For Alma her feeling butterflies for Tom is like acting a play, pretending like she is with a real person. Love knows no bounds, Tom answers. A cliché but still, one wonders if maybe love is much more bounded than we think. By smell, by psychological tricks, by status, or in other words by algorithms already in place.

The movie ends with Alma in Denmark, where she recalls her experiences with real Tom as a child. She used to lay there with her eyes closed and hear him play somewhere in the dunes and she hoped he would kiss her. Sometimes she was so sure that she felt his breath on her lips. But every time she opened her eyes she was alone.

Is that it? The yearning?

Yearning for what could be.

Yearning for the other.

Post Scriptum: Thanks to Film Authority for bringing this movie to my attention, check that review here. And for what it’s worth, both Alma and Tom won my heart.

4 thoughts on “Ich bin Dein Mensch / I am Your Man (2021), What a Male Robot Shows About Love

  1. You are being a bit harsh on men. Could it not be that men settle for the silicone model in the absence of anything else, that the rejected man will pretend that he as a partner, no matter ow foolish that makes. The sad man is always sadder than the saddest woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for writing! It wasn’t my intention to be harsh on men, and I do think that to settle for a silicone model does show a romantic desire and a big wish to share life. I will check to see if I can clarify that better.

      Liked by 1 person

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