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Filmism.net Dispatch October 31, 2011

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The human species has a long history of anthropomorphising, and nowhere can you see our tendency to do so more than in the movies. From the time of the first Neolithic hunter caressing a stick he'd fashioned into a club and called 'Charlene', you can trace a line throughout history in almost every aspect of culture.

There are reams of psychology text about how we attribute human characteristics to things around us so we don't feel so alone in the universe, and maybe we like to think that just by loving something we can bestow a soul in it, as if love is the quality that sets life apart from the rest of matter.

It came to fruition in the machine age of the industrial era, and if Star Wars had come out in 1810, C-3PO and R2-D2 might have been a steam engine and a daguerreotype machine bickering endlessly about the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

The recently released Real Steel doesn't go as far as giving robots sentience, but audiences haven't loved the Rocky -esque heroism of the robot star any less and it's just one more example of our love of what machines can do for us (there's actually one scene of the scrappy underdog hero Atom staring at itself in a mirror when director Shawn Levy lets us wonder whether there might be a soul in there).

The interesting thing about our endless fascination for the human characteristics of robots is that movies are such a strong force in our culture they're forming a feedback loop. Someone invents a cool machine for a movie and artists bring it to life using puppetry, computers and wires. If it's a strong enough image you can bet someone will try to build the thing in real life, as someone did a device much like the Aliens power loader this week. See it working here.

All this high-minded philosophy eventually gave me a headache, so I went and watched Kung Pow: Enter the Fist to get my mind off it. And that got my mind off The Changeling, the scariest film I've sat through since An American Werewolf in London 30 years ago.

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