Cinema 1544 was born out of a friendship. Troy Crowder and I cultivated that friendship lunch after lunch after lunch talking about mutual interests like sports and music and, of course, movies.
One day, over lunch at Caffé Italia as I recall, we realized that there were all these great, but often obscure movies out there that we knew about. Why didn’t other people know about these movies? How could we introduce these movies to those of our friends who didn’t know them? And, perhaps most importantly, our friends certainly knew about great but often obscure movies that we didn’t know. How could we encourage them to share those films with us? Long story short, Cinema 1554 was born.
Our first presenter was, as might have been fair, Troy. That was on October 12th, 2006. And despite the fact that Troy has since moved on and is no longer a participant, on October 13th 2016 we managed to get him to return to present a film for our tenth anniversary.
Naturally, before the film, Troy showed a short – and since we had difficulty getting technology to comply with us to show the short he wanted, he seetled on a short completely natural for him – Wisdom Teeth by Don Hertzfeldt. Here it is, in all of its mind-numbing pain.
For his actual film, Troy presented a movie he’d been trying to get me to watch, without success, since oh…before we actually started Cinema 1544. It’s not that I didn’t want to watch it, I just never came across it. And I’m just way too busy to go chasing it down, or so I am able to convince myself, anyway. So, finally, he fixed that. The film was Michel Gondry‘s 2001 feature film debut (and screenwritten by the great Charlie Kaufman, no less) – Human Nature. Let’s talk about the movie, shall we?
A hirsute man named “Puff” is testifying before Congress.
A naturalist named Lila is being interviewed by the police.
And a headshot psychologist who goes by Dr. Bronfman is aimlessly repeating his story in the afterlife.
How did they all get there? That’s what the movie is about to tell us.
Let’s start with Lila, because that’s how the screenplay does it. Lila was a perfectly normal young girl until at puberty she developed a hormonal disorder which resulted in her growing thick hair all over her body. She fought it for a while, but eventually, tired of constantly shaving and hiding her shameful condition she retreated to the wilds of nature where she allowed herself to live au naturel. But after writing a series of highly-acclaimed Waldenesque books, loneliness won, and Lila returned to society, willing to conform to society’s hairless expectations in order to land herself a man.
And she does – a socially inept psychologist by the name of Nathan Bronfman. Dr. Bronfman is a big fan of her books, and given that his major project is teaching mice table manners, a bit of an eccentric with a traumatic childhood.
One day while hiking in the woods, they come across a young man who was raised in the wild by his own eccentric father to believe that he was an ape. Transported back to Dr. Bronfman’s lab, the young man, named “Puff” after the childhood pet of a lab assistant, becomes the main subject of Dr. Bronfman’s etiquette lessons.
Things don’t really go very well until the night that Gabrielle, the faux French lab assistant who not only named Puff but who also has had a very obvious crush on Dr. Bronfman, manages to seduce her boss right in front of Puff’s plexiglass cage. And seeing the act of love, Puff decides that he quite definitely wants a slice of that, and that learning whatever manners he is being taught is probably the quickest way.
Puff becomes quite a model student, and as the relationship between Bronfman and Lila breaks down, Lila gets the idea that she could escape back to the wild with Puff and they could live together where he, as a wilding, wouldn’t care about her condition.
And so they return to the wild. Eventually Bronfman, broken up over the loss of Lila, hunts them down with the intent of killing Puff. But, he stupidly drops the gun and Puff shoots him in the head. For selfless reasons Lila decides to turn herself over for the murder, with the condition that Puff testify before Congress about human nature before returning to the wild. And he does…but after a highly televised exit into nature, the cameras depart and Gabrielle, Puff’s very first crush drives up. He emerges from the woods, hops in the car, and they drive away. The End.
Human Nature is quite a funny movie, and that in the end is its strongest suit. Gondry and Kaufman would team up three years later for a far more philosophical film in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so the lack of truly deep social commentary in the film is forgivable. That’s not to say that it’s devoid of such. The ending of the film simply reinforces the theme that was articulated throughout – that people are willing to do just about whatever they have to in order to get a little bit of nookie. Lila shaves, undergoes electrolysis, and puts up with a straight-up loser. Puff learns to use a salad fork. Are these really any different? And Puff, given the opportunity to leave this corrupt world and return to the sanctity of the wild, well, he arranges to stick around with his sugar mama. It’s human nature, right?