Completely and utterly absurd and often hilarious, Human Nature was the first collaboration between writer Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa, Being John Malkovich, Synechdoce, NY) and director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mood Indigo, The Science of Sleep). To call this film bizarre or self-conscious would be an understatement; while it’s coherent and certainly adds up by its conclusion, I can think of few other R-rated fantasies like this one. The film is basically a sex-farce about the animalistic urges that we as humans suppress on a daily basis, as well as a pointed observation on the role of outward beauty in society and how people judge others on superficial levels. Almost beyond description, the film juggles three story major story strands which result in an extremely heady brew. Rhys Ifans (so scary in Enduring Love, so funny in Notting Hill) is a feral man, raised as an ape by his father, who has been living as one with nature for almost his entire existence. Patricia Arquette, in a rather fearless and vanity-free performance, is a woman suffering from abnormal hair growth all over her body; she’s never been with a man and has zero self-esteem. Tim Robbins is a virginal, up-tight behavioral scientist who is trying to teach a pair of mice common table manners; eat with a fork, pull out the chair for your friend, etc. He thinks that if he can teach table manners to mice, he’ll be able to teach table manners to humans.
In his world, we’ve all become slobs with no idea of proper etiquette. Hysterical flashbacks show how his 50’s era parents drilled order and OCD-styled tendencies into their son. Robbins and Arquette meet through a mutual friend and sparks fly, while Arquette conceals her hairy secret from him. One day while walking in the woods, they come across Ifans, who knocks himself out while trying to run away from them. Robbins, ever the intrepid scientist, sees this as a major opportunity. He takes Ifans back to his laboratory and puts him into a large, glass-walled box. Forget the mice; now he has a human experiment! How a strange love triangle develops between the three characters will be up for you to discover. If all of this sounds mildly mentally insane, well, I’m not surprised. But coming from genuine artists like Gondry and Kaufman, the film is a whimsical endeavor. And while Human Nature will like prove to be challenging film on some levels for many people, it can hardly be denied that it’s stunningly unique, and very smart about humans, and, well, nature. Gondy’s cinematic DIY-aesthetic was in its infancy here, with visual motifs that would become frequently explored in subsequent films. The scenes alone of the mice eating with forks are worth a viewing. And one scene, in which Robbins teaches Ifans how to behave at an opera, is a true pisser. This is a fun, strange film that I promise you won’t forget.