Robot and Frank
I’m all for time saving household appliances and technology. But am I ready to have a robot be the primary caregiver and relationship of my aging mother, or myself for that matter—even if it cooks and cleans? That is just one of the ethical and pragmatic questions raised in Robot & Frank.
Living in the near future, the aging Frank (Frank Langella) adamantly declares he wants nothing to do with the robotic health care aid his son Hunter (James Marsden) brings to the house. But after making yet another weekly 10 hour round trip to check on his dementia-ridden father, Hunter needs some help. His own family is suffering in his absence and the extent of his sister Madison’s (Liv Tyler) efforts is confined to brief phone calls from whatever far region of the world she is currently traveling in.
Yet while the elderly man initially balks at every request Robot (voice of Peter Sarsgaard) makes of him, he slowly begins to accept the mechanical being’s presence. Meanwhile, Frank, a former jewelry thief who still has a penchant for shoplifting, makes regular trips to the local library, as much for books as a chance to talk with Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) the woman behind the desk.
While in town, Frank discovers his new neighbor Jake (Jeremy Strong) is among the well-heeled yuppies who intend to remove all the old-fashioned books from the library and revamp it into a community gathering spot. Whether Frank can’t resist the lure of all the expensive bling hanging on the necks of the young professionals or he just wants to mete out a little comeuppance to his pompous neighbor, the retired cat burglar pulls out his old tools and begins teaching Robot the finer techniques of “breaking and entering”.
In many ways the script relies on Frank’s deteriorating mental capacities as a way to lessen the seriousness of his crimes, much like the story of Don Quixote excuses its hero’s unusual antics. However, this elderly protagonist is coherent enough to think his way through the steps of a robbery and the subsequent questioning he undergoes. That, along with his family’s compliance in his illegal activities and the script’s pervasive profanities, makes this film hard to recommend for family viewing.
However the discussion points the story generates might be worth the price of tickets for adults. For technology geeks, the script offers a fairly reasonable, if still very futuristic, depiction of what robotic care may look like. For those with aging parents or facing the onset of their own golden years, the story raises numerous concerns about elder care, society’s growing reliance on technology and the decline of human to human contact.
Robot & Frank seems to suggest that with fewer children, more working adults and increasingly far-flung families, mechanically provided healthcare is inevitable. However I’m still unsure if I’m ready to take medical direction from a highly advanced cousin of my microwave.