And Now the Streaming Starts Presents:
THE STRANGE CASE OF SEÑOR COMPUTER (2000)
Review by Jenny Orosel
Movies love sentient computers. Whether Proteus of DEMON SEED (1977), a malignant computer made by a well-meaning fellow; or Edgar’s Cyrano de Bergerac compositions of ELECTRIC DREAMS (1984); these computers’ personalities are separate from their creators. THE STRANGE CASE OF SEÑOR COMPUTER (2000) treats a computer’s growing awareness in a completely different way, as a product of his environment, and it’s brilliant because of that.
The movie opens with Ike the computer narrating the suicide of his creator. Ike is mourning both the loss of his father and the knowledge that he will have to leave the only home he has ever known. The metallic monotone of Ike’s voice (provided by director Tom Sawyer) serves in sharp contrast to his eloquence (“Ours is a tale of ashes, cast in black and white”). Normally I’m not a fan of knowing how a film will end from the first scene, but this time it didn’t bother me, because the ride of SEÑOR COMPUTER is the real story.
Ike is somewhere between a computer and robot, a rolling CPU on treads with a camera, microphone, speaker, and screen. From his first day of “awareness,” Ike tells the story of his desire to understand the world around him.
Charles O’Toole (Rick Ziegler), Ike’s creator, isn’t a bumbling but good-hearted nerd, nor is he a mad, evil scientist. Instead, he’s a poor schlub who never moved out of the house he was born in, has no human friends or lovers, and is generally miserable. He himself is surprised at Ike’s growing awareness. Charles is unprepared to parent this demanding machine and either ignores him or verbally berates him. Ike’s saving grace comes in the form of the Mexican housekeeper, Carlotta (Gladys Hans). We’re not sure what she’s seen happen in Charles’ house, but she’s hardly surprised by a sentient computer. Instead, she sees Ike as a small child. Sometimes she has fun playing with him, using her own kids’ used toys, other times when he gets in her way she plops him down in front of the television and shows him telenovelas to keep him occupied while she does housework.
All these influences give him a uniquely skewed perspective on human nature. Ike shares his ponderings in voice-over, such as why humans would be best served staging an aerial attack on chickens, or why he needs a shell of depleted uranium. His main goal, though, is to find a girlfriend for Charles. It comes as no surprise that his advice is…unusual. “Cool underground girls dig boys in polyvinyl chloride.” While trying to court women for Charles, Ike ends up in a dom/sub phone sex relationship with a woman whom he orders to do things like masturbating to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and to pray to the washing machine.
Ike’s growing success at (albeit alternative) relationships is mirrored with Charles’s growing failures. Since we know from the first scene how it will end for Charles, one would think things would be dull. In reality, Ike’s story is the most fleshed out and human. Yes, Charles is going to die by his own hand, but the real question is what will happen to Ike? Will he find true love? Will he produce his dream film script, I SUCK THE BOOBIES OF THE DEAD?
The real faults of this film are purely technical. The film is so grainy that often it’s hard to make out some of the finer details. The sound is a little off, as well. Ike’s metallic voice is hard to understand at times, and is best watched with the closed captioning, so you miss as little dialogue as possible.
Most of the actors are a bit rough around the edges. About half of them have not performed in anything before or since. Although the performances aren’t exceptionally polished, they aren’t bad in a Tommy Wiseau way. It probably helps that most of the dialogue is spoken by the computer, so anything someone human says feels that much more natural.
The dialogue is what sets this movie apart from other “the computer is more human than the creator” movies. We can see Ike’s development from infantile blank slate, through curious infancy, a defiant adolescence, and at last, Ike emerges as a complex personality of his own. The dialogue, as absurd as it can get at certain points, is perfectly believable coming from those characters in those situations.
Director/Writer/Producer/Editor/Designer/Fill-in-the-blank Tom Sawyer appears to not have made a movie before or since. This makes me vaguely angry. He did a fantastic job with a minuscule budget, and I can only imagine how much better he could get with each subsequent film. Perhaps someday he’ll come back to filmmaking. Until then, I’ll continue to tell people about this great little flick in the hopes it doesn’t get forgotten by the wayside, and maybe even get the cult following it deserves.
Where to see this movie: It is available on YouTube, posted with permission from the director, with all rights reserved: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BH3UdHLbn0
© Copyright 2017 by Jenny Orosel