Slave to the drug

Rand is a programmer. He is currently working with his two friends on an artificial life project, which is an animated birdlike creature that flies, perches, and coos in a little virtual world on whatever monitor the software is made to run on. He'll respond to sound and movement and these guys have invested a lot of time and energy in the project.

Now, Rand is a somewhat shy guy, not the best with the ladies. His mindset, perhaps a cynical one, has feelings as a result of chemical interactions in the body, influenced by evolutionary pressures for species survival. This is a great perspective for working on an interactive artificial life form, but doesn't get him laid much.

When he meets up with Sarah, he blows it from shyness, and she goes home with one of his friends - the blowhard whose shallowness doesn't seem to get in the way of hooking up. Rand ends up getting a second chance with Sarah when he discovers she works at the children's center where they are testing out the software.

The relationship that inevitably develops is worn down by the clash of rationalism and romanticism between them. It’s the sort of issue that real people deal with, and it was nice to see real problems like this explored in a film, rather than the typical dances of lies usually portrayed.

These are the sort of arguments that - and this is my opinion here - a film shouldn't take sides on. Dopamine doesn't make that misstep. Each character is fully expressed, and get that sense of who they are and why they are that way. Taking sides just leads to a false, manipulated feeling.

Besides, this is merely a philosophical argument on free will, cast in a slightly different form. Rather than a preordained life as dictated by a supreme being, are our feelings and corresponding actions merely part of a hormonal state machine? The movie doesn't answer, though we are left with the suggestion that perhaps it doesn't matter, that our feelings are what matter to us, and they should both be felt and understood.

There's a lot of CGI in this film - the opening credits are fairly reminiscent of Fight Club, a well done and loud tour of the nervous system. We get an echo of these visuals whenever Rand experiences one of these chemical stimulations - usually from being around Sarah one way or another. There's also the more obvious presentations of the artificial life project, which is done quite appropriately. Heck, we even get a very close look at a linux desktop.

Altogether, the film is a joy to watch. We don't venture far into any side plots, so any lack of resolution isn't distracting. The actors are all very believable. Even the couple spots of voiceover (from Rand's Dad of all people) are fitting, though a bit on the nose. But most of all, the story is one that works on more than one level, in a way that we can all relate to. That's the most important thing a film can deliver.

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