Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman may be building his reputation on such scripts as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but let us not forget that he had a small victory in 2002 the little-seen, underrated Human Nature. Unfortunately, the picture has been written off by too many critics as over-the-top, messy, and unresolved to its own ideologies, but this is a movie that could not end without being unresolvable. And what do critics want from Kaufman, exactly? They embrace his weirdness, are refreshed by his intelligence, then accuse him of being cynical, smug or fake. Could it be true that some people, even the ones who revere him, are not ready for Charlie Kaufman? Human Nature is one such instance, a film with exaggerated sketches of people who symbolize the humor and horror of living in a world out of balance. Forget Koyaanisqatsi Human Nature offers more illuminating confusion, testing the limits between civilization and primacy. And it's a hell of a lot funnier. For starters, there's Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette), a woman with abnormal hair growth covering her beautiful body and face. At first she acts the freak, working a circus side-show as a She-Kong, but then flees to live in nature where animals won't judge her. In her solitude from human beings she becomes an iconic nature author with a best-selling book (entitled Fuck Humanity). However, Lila returns to civilization for a very primal reason: She needs to have sex, and she hooks up with her complete opposite, Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins). Raised in a strict household of table manners, Nathan is a scientist, currently studying if mice can learn table manners. Obsessive-compulsive, but aroused by Lila, the two outsiders become a couple, albeit an uncomfortable one. While on a nature hike, they spot an ape-man (Rhys Ifans) whose schizophrenic father lost his mind once he read that Kennedy was shot. Seems ol' dad couldn't live in a world such as this and kidnapped his young son, raising him as an ape in the woods. Nathan takes him in, christens him "Puff," and as a science experiment teaches him not just table manners, but sexual conduct, poetry reading, and lofty language. Soon Puff is sitting with an ascot clutching a leather-bound classic, civilized while suppressing his urges. He's also deeply sad. As Nathan instructs "When in doubt, don't ever do what you really want to do." How could any half-ape be happy?
* * *
Though derided as trying too hard, there is instead something effortless about Human Nature, stemming from its assuredness of being different. Director Michel Gondry brings a gorgeous surrealism to the proceedings, where nature looks just as fake but nevertheless beautiful as civilization. Robbins is appropriately uptight, Ifans is hilarious, attractive, erudite and apish (to go from naked ape to distinguished gentleman is so easy for the actor one almost forgets how tough it would be for anyone else), and Arquette is, in a word, brave: What other actress would frolic on film naked, covered in hair, emitting "ooh-ooh" ape noises? And how many could not only get laughs, but deep pathos from the portrayal? Swinging from trees whilst singing a musical number (yes, the film has a musical number), Arquette looks like a demented Disney heroine, but she's sexy, gentle, and absolutely perfect. In fact, all the actors get Kaufman's material and fit every piece together. There are obvious themes to the script, a mish-mash of Rousseau and Freud (such as how our upbringings bear a consequence on our future actions, and how altering our behavior for another person or social dictum can severely confound us). But Human Nature goes steps further in becoming an absurdist screwball with compelling insight about how we perceive lovers, attraction, propriety, nature, and to a certain extent movies. Nothing in the film looks real. What is our perception of real anyway? Do we know? And better yet, why does it matter? That's never reconciled, which is precisely the point. New Line's DVD release of Human Nature presents a pristine transfer in both anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and full-frame (1.33:1), while audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Sadly, the extras are very little, with just subtitles and trailers. This picture deserves far more consideration. Keep-case.