Human Nature - * * * 1/2*

First a warning to all women: Shave before you see this movie. You’ll be glad you did.

“Human Nature” the movie is, not unlike human nature in life, sweet and cruel, kind and heartbreaking. The intellectual younger sibling of “Being John Malkovich” (same writer, Charlie Kaufman, and Spike Jonze who directed BJM is producer this time around) “Human Nature” digs a wider circle. Instead of sliding through the inner-workings of the lone Malkovich, “Human Nature” probes into our workings as individuals inside of society.

Our three main characters are Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette), Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins) and Puff (Rhys Ifans). Lila is a sensitive woman who finds isolation in a physical abnormality, then comfort in an isolated life of writing in the woods. Loneliness drives her back to the city and into the life of Nathan. Nathan has dedicated his life to the finer points of social polish such as table manners, specifically teaching them to lab rats. When he and Lila go for a hike in the woods they run into the half-human half-ape Puff swinging naked through the trees. Nathan becomes convinced that Puff is the perfect pure subject for high-level experimentation with electro-shock induced manners. Lila has her doubts but they fall to the wayside while she tries harder and harder to become a perfect woman (an eerie parallel – Puff being trained through wires and harnesses, Lila going through an equally cruel self-inflicted metamorphosis) and keep the love of Nathan.

The movie is told in the form of flashbacks with elements of documentary, purgatory and criminal investigation rolled in. “Human Nature” is frighteningly clever and concise with biting dialogue that never seems to fail to see under the veneer of “good manners” and “proper behavior” and yet stops short of drawing the conclusion that a return to nature is either practical or entirely desirable. In short, this movie will make you think. Not just think, it’ll come right out and make fun of you. Walk into the theatre expecting to squirm over your choices regardless of the degree to which you have embraced or rejected society and all of its little trade-offs.

It might even make you rethink whether you really ought to, or want to shave after all.

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