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Bicentennial Man: Movie Review

Updated on January 31, 2017
Bicentennial Man movie poster
Bicentennial Man movie poster | Source

Bicentennial Man is a movie about an android robot named Andrew. Andrew is a flux on a mass production of robots set on a time wherein robots are commonly used by humans. What sets Andrew apart from other massed produced robots is that though he is equipped with the logic of the laws of robotics, he somehow started to think and make decisions. With learning capabilities, he was able to learn the ways of man so to speak. What makes Bicentennial Man a very interesting story is that it blurs out the line between what makes human, human. Moreover, the pursuit of Andrew towards freedom and being human posed issues of social and political importance in terms of class, ethnicity, and gender.

Social Class

What makes human, humans is that we are fashioned to be social being. As such, people band together to create communities with laws and regulations to facilitate a harmonious living. This form of social contract is manifested through the communities’ culture and its institution. And in every culture, people associate themselves to specific social class that identifies them in terms of social mobility through socioeconomic status. Meaning, a particular person or family could belong to a specific social class based on their economic status and influence in the community. For instance, Andrew’s ‘owners’ were a well-off family who enjoyed the luxury of the current inventions of their time. It's master was educated, have a stable and financially rewarding career that afforded the family opportunities to enjoy luxury, good education, and time. Time is a luxury that most people do not have yet Andrew’s owner have the time to teach Andrew about being human and answer questions on everything and anything under the sun.

The issue of social class becomes problematic for Andrew because as a mechanical ‘thing’, it cannot accumulate wealth, it’s like a computer, or an iPad, or a television. Moreover, what would it do with the money when there are no basic needs to be addressed? Of course in the film, Andrew wanted to build its own house, upgrade its system, and make itself more human-like. But the fact remain, why should a mechanical ‘thing’ be allowed to accumulate wealth? Here, the concept of social class and freedom are somehow intertwined.


Ethnicity

Race should only be used when pertaining to ‘human race’ and is not adequate or even politically correct to associate a specific ‘race’ to a person. After all, what parameters constitute race? In a world of post modernism, it is quite impossible to compartmentalize people to ‘races.’ i.e. if a child has an Asian and an African-American parent, what would be the ‘race’ of that child? I think the issue is ethnicity. Ethnicity does not merely pertain to the ‘origin’ but of cultural differences—i.e. American, European, Asian, American Indians, Korean, Chinese, etc. These people of different culture could trace their ethnicity because there is a collective sentiment in terms of culture and geography.

For Andrew, it was assumed on the film that since he is an American invention, therefore Andrew must be of American descent. The problem here however is that it is difficult to associate him to any social group. Andrew only has a pre-programmed memory chip, electronic eye, and a voice that evolved to something that sounded mechanical to a more fluid, human-like voice. There is no sense of belongingness, no shared trait, only an acquired culture. And going back to my original premise, culture is what makes man a social being. It is something that defines him and makes him different from an animal, and in this case, a machine.


Robin Williams as Andrew Martin
Robin Williams as Andrew Martin | Source

Gender

The most obvious dilemma in the case of a machine is gender. Humans are born male or female. Andrew, because he is an android was neither. Somehow it is quite unfathomable and I guess a very strong argument that robots could never be humans. Not just because they cannot biologically procreate, but also because man and animals are designed to be male and female and it is through this gender distinction that a person begins to conform with his/her society through social expectations and gender roles. What justification did Andrew used to choose to be a man? Is it because of the influence of his previous owner, ‘sir’? If he later decides that he wanted to be a woman, it could freely do so because gender would be something that it could choose. Humans are born with a pre-assigned gender and despite physical operations or sexual preference, the physical make-up of the body could never be changed—you either have a male or a female reproductive system, it is not a matter of choice.


Bicentennial Man movie trailer

Conclusion

But the more pressing question is the moral dilemma of what really makes man, human. Is it social class, gender, or ethnicity? Is it virtues or acquired knowledge? These questions boarders in the realm of philosophy in such a way that human traits associated to mechanical objects—anthropomorphism would literally manifest itself. In its 200 years, Andrew, an android, was able to physically transform itself to replicate a human being, even thinking and ‘feeling’ like one. But in a philosophical perspective, Andrew could never be human despite these superficial changes because he could never gain a soul.


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