Lila (Patricia Arquette) has a hormonal condition that causes thick hair to grow all over her body, and seeing herself with no place in society, lives in the forest, where she becomes a best-selling writer. Nathan (Tim Robbins) is a scientist who is obsessed with manners, and is teaching mice how to behave at the table. Into both their lives comes a man (Rhys Ifans) who has grown up in the wilderness, believing himself to be an ape, and when all three of them meet up, the stage is set for tragedy.
After Charlie Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich, he scripted this absurd variation on The Wild Child, and as with Malkovich, a celebrated director of music videos, Michel Gondry, was hired to adapt it. But Human Nature didn't have the impact that the previous film or Kaufman's next scripted films had, perhaps because, on the surface, it is even stranger than them and, ultimately, cultivates and ambiguous attitude to the benefits of culture and sophistication. Or maybe not enough people went to see it, which is a pity, because the excellent comic acting alone makes this very entertaining.
All the characters are guided by their basic instincts, whether they admit it or not. Lila returns to civilisation because she is "horny" and is paired up with her beautician's brother Nathan, who is a 35-year-old virgin with a tiny penis. Lila keeps her body hair condition secret from Nathan thanks to regular shaving, and when they meet the wild man on a forest trip Nathan sees the opportunity for a grand new experiment. Can the wildman, now named Puff, be taught how to behave in polite society?
The answer is yes, to a point, although the other characters show that humanity might not be all it's cracked up to be. The film has a sentimental view of nature, showing it to be unpretentious and pure through, for example, Lila's musical number in the woods, or the duplicity of the civilised characters. One thing that is clear is that lying is an inescapable part of being human; we see this when Nathan begins an affair with his assistant Gabrielle (Miranda Otto), but keeps it secret from Lila when he finds out about her condition.
Another thing that emerges is that society punishes its inhabitants when they don't behave in the agreed manner, be it using the wrong fork, wanking in public or as extreme an act as murder. Puff struggles with his animal side, as he is presented as a learned wonder of science when he is secretly addicted to porn and prostitutes. And when the story has drawn to a close, we see that once you are educated, once you have your self awareness, you can never lose it, for better or worse. It's an oddly melancholy note to finish on, but you would have trouble disagreeing with it, even if the rest of the film may not convince you that nature is better than knowledge and understanding. Or is it all self-delusion? Music by Graeme Revell.
French musician-turned-film-maker who made his name directing innovative videos for the likes of Bjork, Massive Attack and The White Stripes, as well as a variety of TV commercials. His first feature film was 2001's surreal comedy Human Nature, written by Charlie Kaufman. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, co-written with Kaufman and starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, was his next project, a success that was not matched by The Science of Sleep which Gondry wrote himself. Be Kind Rewind was a charming comedy that only won cult acclaim, but superhero spoof The Green Hornet was a surprise hit in light of the grumpy reaction it received. Adaptation of cult novel Mood Indigo proved more difficult to find its audience, though coming of age yarn Microbe & Gasoline was more conventional.