When it comes to the advancement of technology and how it shapes and changes humanity in movies, the automations — be they humanoid or stereotypical machine-looking robots — usually evolve to become menaces upon society, villains created at the hands of people that got out of control. Or, in the case of Black Mirror, advanced to the point of complete and destructive immersion, lifestyles controlled by likes and simulated programming. In I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch in its original German), director Maria Schrader — working from a screenplay she co-wrote with Jan Schomburg and is inspired by the short story by Emma Braslavsky — unpacks human relationships with technology in a genuinely thoughtful way by turning it into an actual one. Heartwarming, elegant, and often profound in its exploration of loneliness and human connection, I’m Your Man is exquisitely charming and smart.
Alma (a phenomenal Maren Eggert) is a sociologist whose research involves the study of ancient languages to find whether people used poetry and metaphor thousands of years before. She works at a museum where her ex-partner Julian (Hans Löw) is still a colleague and takes care of her ailing father (Wolfgang Hübsch), whose dementia is getting worse over time. At the behest of her boss, Alma takes part in a study that sees her partnered up with a robot boyfriend named Tom (Dan Stevens), who was designed specifically to cater to her needs, be attentive to her wants and desires, and to ultimately fulfill certain aspects of her life to make her happy. (Tom even speaks German with an English accent because Alma likes it that way.) After three weeks, Alma must write an evaluation that will be taken into account regarding whether these advanced technological subjects should partner with other humans and enter society as beings who can evolve.
I’m Your Man is one of the most lovely, articulate films about the advancement of technology and how it can hinder interpersonal relationships while exploring how humans relate to each other. It also contends with loneliness and the nature of the human condition, which is built upon interaction and emotional connection. Alma describes the way she feels as pathetic, to which Tom responds that is because it’s something anyone can relate to. He can’t, which is also another reminder about how he is created to make Alma happy, even if all he can do is ultimately remind her why she is not. Alma and Tom’s relationship is very push-pull, with Alma being able to articulate her feelings about the situation and her own interiority through conversations with Tom, who listens without judgement.
The film’s exploration of Alma’s loneliness is not cynical, nor is it sidestepped by giving her a fairytale, perhaps one viewers were expecting. Rather, I’m Your Man subverts all expectations of what this kind of film should be and ventures into the raw emotions of Alma’s desire for connection, even as she openly rejects Tom’s attempts at doing exactly that. The filmmakers understand that everything Tom gives Alma — attention, care, conversation, sex — is still missing reciprocated depth despite the fact that she does come around to liking him. The film is deep and raw, yet also charming and, quite often, genuinely funny and heartwarming. It’s a strange mix that works, with the story often zigging when viewers think it will zag. Schrader and Schomburg’s dialogue is sharp and genuine, emotional and multi-faceted, with the former’s direction lingering on Alma in thoughtful pauses, as though to allow her (and the audience) the space to work through the strangeness of the situation while sitting in all the feelings it brings up.
Maren Eggert and Dan Stevens are also wonderful in their roles. As Alma, Eggert is witty and attentive, no-nonsense, and emotionally raw. Her reasoning begins to come to the surface as the film goes on and Eggert portrays the evolution of this character with care, giving an effective, devastating performance. Stevens, meanwhile, is charming, striking the right balance between human and robot. A tilt of the head here, a furrowed brow there as Tom adjusts his behavior accordingly reveals the nuance behind Stevens’ portrayal of him.
Relationships are complex and the film treats them as such. I’m Your Man certainly leans into its premise, but goes beyond its romcom-like setup to examine humans’ relationships to technology and each other. Alma’s reluctance to being a part of the study doesn’t fall into the usual traps this kind of role usually entails, which livens up the story and allows it to explore the characters and the subject matter on its own terms — all while staying true to its initial format. The film has entered the 2022 Oscar race for Germany, submitted under the Best International Feature Film category, and it certainly deserves any attention it gets.
I’m Your Man had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 15, 2021. The film is 108 minutes long and is rated R for some sexual content and language. It’s scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters on September 24.