Robot Dreams | "If only life mirrored the grace cinema affords us"

 New York City is built for lonely people. 

The towering skyscrapers, deafening city patter, and sirens blaring on every corner make it impossible to know, but it's true. 

Fueled by dreams and coffee, the concrete jungle is populated by bodies craving connection. The inability to verbalise it comes with the metaphorical plaster of ambition, grit, and a mutual arrangement to ignore the lingering irritant of solitude in a city boasting 8.3 million lives.

In Robot Dreams, Pablo Berger hones in on one of those millions, inviting us into the story of Dog, who makes the brave decision to acknowledge, privately, that loneliness has dominated for too long.

His routine dinner in front of the television sparks a life-altering decision when an advertisement offering a remedy for the neverending string of solo days entices Dog to buy into the dream. 

I spent a year and nine months between 55th and 54th St, 9th Avenue in Manhattan, with days soundtracked by the buzz of people lining the bars and restaurants of the city's infamous Hell's Kitchen. 

Stepping out my front door was trekking into the thick of a great pretence. My cynicism assured me that the people choosing company over solitude in these irrationally small establishments on a Friday night were doing themselves a disservice.

At least I acknowledged my lack of connection and didn't need to subdue it with dull, disingenuous company. No, I was being authentic among the sea of faces who were ignoring the call to heal and recognise that life on the island of Manhattan was painful. Lonely and painful.

Moving 3500 miles from home comes with a hefty price tag, though the financial one could never outweigh the currency of goodbye.

I saw a documentary at this year's Sundance called Daughters. During the film's emotional climax, one young girl tells her father he mustn't tell her goodbye because it comes with permanence. 

Even in youth, we understand the weight the word holds. Goodbye means something is over. A new will begin. Whether we like the outcome or not is tough shit.  

When I left for New York from the equally lonely London, I said goodbye to family, but I avoided meeting with friends. While it felt unintentional at the time - a harmless side effect of the stress that comes with packing up your life in a suitcase and boarding a one-way flight - it now feels like a deliberate protective armour I wrapped myself in to avoid the inevitable fallout that comes with a five hour time difference and lives lived thousands of miles apart.

It took less than a month for me to face the consequences of my actions. 

Suddenly, I was enduring a private two-person tragedy on the loneliest island in the world without a soul to halve the devastation with. 

Robot Dreams has no dialogue. Berger relies on relatability, and, like a slap to the face, it lands painfully. Cruelly. With a warmth that comes only following a stinging shock. 

Without the ability to mask annihilation of the heart with poetic words, something profound happens. We have to sit with Dog and Robot as they each individually process their separation, dreaming of the moment they reunite. They bask in the intoxication of a short-lived perfect platonic romance, so dreamy and idyllic it cannot be imagined any other way. 

There is a theme in movies at the minute where people go graciously. 

In Celine Song's Past Lives, we watch Nora come to terms with the life not lived, and in Robot Dreams, we get a similar ending, where the two friends part quietly, loving a second time having been able to love a first. 

If only life mirrored the grace cinema affords us. 

Perhaps the wounds would heal faster, less like scars and more like faded memories which return with the opening twinkle of a song that evokes a warm summer's day where the threat of a broken heart felt inconceivable.

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