Reviews

Puzzlehead

Brian Holcomb

A scientist creates an android that becomes more humane than he is. But is he human? Their battle for the affections of young girl raises disturbing questions on the nature of humanity, identity and love.


Puzzlehead

Display Artist: Bai, James
Director: James
Cast: 'Galaida, Stephen', 'Shapiro, Robbie'
Studio: Zero Sum Productions
Distributor: Lifesize Entertainment
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2007-08-14
Website
Trailer

In some ambiguously deserted and depressingly grey future, (Is there any other kind?), Walter (Stephen Galaida) is a lonely scientist who has created an android version of himself he calls Puzzlehead (also played by Galaida). He teaches it chess, languages, mathematics, and music. For the first few months, Puzzlehead is not allowed to leave the house, but instead is made to endure hours of study to get his mind up to speed.

When he is finally allowed to go out into the world, he finds his daily tasks simple but the world itself to be a cold and harsh place populated by people who might shoot at you. Eventually, he discovers beauty and love in a young girl, Julia, (Robbie Shapiro), who works at a store across the street from their home. Not surprisingly, this is the same, quiet girl with whom Walter is also smitten. After all, like minds think alike.

But when Walter discovers that Puzzlehead has spent time with the girl and has feelings for her, he becomes enraged. In his jealous fury, Walter robs Puzzlehead of his human emotions and memories thus making him into nothing more than a slave-like robot. Walter continues the relationship with Julia himself by picking up where his machine double left off. Meanwhile, Puzzlehead slowly regains his humanity and memories and when his creator rapes the girl, he plots his revolt.

Of course he rebels and he should’ve done it much earlier since his creator, Walter, is a pathetic excuse for a human being. It’s no mistake that Walter is shown inflicting all kinds of brutalities upon his creation. He’s a scientist and he sees Puzzlehead as nothing more than some spare parts he threw together. He named it “Puzzlehead”, after all.

Writer-Director James Bai has made a very intriguing if ice cold film that, given its futuristic setting and premise, appears to be science fiction. But the sci-fi aspect is really just a cover. This is an out and out gothic story with its roots deep in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and the themes of the double. Bai takes the part of Shelly’s novel that most adaptations toss out, the moral education of the monster, and puts it front and center.

Puzzlehead is narrated by the title character instead of by the scientist who created him in his own image. The switch casts Walter as “the Other” and it’s his actions that are initially seen in a critical light. But as the story progresses we realize that what we are actually watching is a very familiar “doppelganger” story in which the characters are really two sides of the same person, each at war with the other and at war with their own selves.

The prize is, of course, a woman. Even in this bleak future, there remains sexual desire and in the great tradition of movie mad scientists, Walter’s genius fails him in bed and reduces him to a caveman looking for a rock with which to knock his conquest unconscious while he unzips his trousers. It’s clear that Walter finds it easier to recreate life artificially than to pro-create naturally.

Puzzlehead is very well made for an indie film on a very tight budget. It’s actually shot on film, (Super-16mm), which is a rarity in these digital days. The cinematography by Jeffery Lando handles the warm interiors and cold exteriors like a late ‘70s Dean Cundey. The world of the future is achieved much like Godard’s Alphaville through the use of industrial landscapes devoid of people. Everything seems bleak and alienated.

Bai’s screenplay focuses on a very small cast of characters played by an even smaller pair of actors. But this is part of the film’s effectiveness. The story develops into a tense chess game between the trio of characters whose motivations; moves and countermoves create a psychological inner drama that builds tension right up to the final wink at the end.

In many ways, Puzzlehead resembles David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers with it’s creepy twin gynecologists played by Jeremy Irons sharing the same woman and falling prey to jealousy and suicidal co-dependency. “Puzzlehead” even seems to be taking place in Cronenberg’s dark Canada of the imagination.

The DVD comes with a theatrical trailer, deleted scenes and a very informative commentary. This is set up to examine themes of identity and at the very base level, humanity. What makes a being human? Eventually, these themes focus down on the most familiar element of robot stories: Love.

Since the days of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis whose Thea Von Harbou penned theme was, “Between the hands and the mind is the heart”, robot epics have focused on this one specific difference: the human capacity for Love. The recurring theme is that love is so mysterious and intangible that nothing created by man could ever understand it.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Music

Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Music

Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.

Music

'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.

Music

10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.

Books

'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.

Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.