I’m Here

April 14, 2010

The other night, I suddenly remembered that Spike Jonze had a new movie out. Well, a short movie anyway. Everyone will probably only know him as the director of Where the Wild Things Are, and someĀ  might remember his great feature role in the movie Three Kings. To me and to tons of fans of ’90s music videos, Jonze made some of the most amazing, groundbreaking clips ever.

He always made his concepts consistently better than the songs he chose, and hell, all I like is music. Up until Where the Wild Things Are, the only thing I knew about his personal life is that he dated Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Also notable: even though she was his ex at the time, she lead the project to soundtrack the movie. That soundtrack kicked ass.

So I roped Courtney into watching the movie, which premiered at Sundance this year, and is now available at http://www.imheremovie.com/. The reason I cannot recommend the film enough is mostly from the fact that The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was the first book to bring tears to my eyes, and I’m speaking as a fourteen year-old boy. My mother was given the hardcover version by one of her college professors, and by the time I had grown up enough to emotionally interpret it, I realize I had scrawled “BAD MOMMY” into several pages with a red crayon as a temperamental three year old. Since my mother died over two years ago, this isn’t one of my favorite memories. Thankfully, the book’s theme is.

One thing, is for sure, Jonze apparently already has an affinity for interpreting children’s stories, as long as you can call The Giving Tree a children’s story, which is purely subjective. I haven’t seen Where the Wild Things Are, and it’s 2nd in line in my Netflix queue as we speak. But even if I’m jumping the gun, after all his past work, am I really in for any sort of letdown? Without spoiling I’m Here, I can tell you it contains a juxtaposition of The Giving Tree’s plot. Instead of a slightly paternal relationship between the man and the tree, we have a relationship between male and female robots living in a human society that pretty much matches our own. The main character Sheldon lives as a robot librarian, and besides a humorous segment near the beginning between he and an old lady on the street, that’s pretty much the extent of how robots are meant to serve humans in the future. It’s superbly blended into what seems like modern day Los Angeles and comes across as seamless.

The special effects are mind-blowing, but not in way you might think. Within the first few minutes, it’s fairly apparent District 9 has led us into an age of using CGI not as a crutch but as a guide. Sheldon and Francesca’s bodies are easily identifiable as human, but their eyes and mouths are unflashingly animated. It’s a cornerstone Spike Jonze moment: he wants us to connect to these humanoid robots, but he wants us to recognize that they move and talk like us first. When Sheldon first smiles at Francesca, it comes off first as surreal, but soon their facial expressions become emotional watershed moments throughout the entire film.

The very idea that someone bought into the idea that The Giving Tree was so emotionally potent in the first place made me happy, but Jonze took it one step further: he decided selflessness could bridge the gap between lovers as well. The relationship between the man and tree in the book was obviously unconditional, but I’m Here pushes it towards the boundaries of man and woman. It’s so risky in the first place, but it succeeds on this level. Applying that to my own relationship is so obviously relevant that by the movie’s end, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears. This is quite obviously one of the better films I’ve seen this year, and that says something when it’s condensed into some of the best 30 minutes you’ll ever spend watching something for free on the internet.