Human Nature (2002) (R) ★★

Review Date: April 12th, 2002

The philosophical dark comedy Human Nature centers on three characters--an obsessive scientist, a female naturalist and the man they discover born and raised as an ape in the wild--and how they live in a world where both nature and society are idealized.


This movie explores the issues of man vs. nature. Lila (Patricia Arquette) is a lovely young woman but unfortunately has a severe hormonal condition that causes hair to grow all over her body. This forces her to leave society and join her comrades in nature. Even though she's happy to be communing, Lila realizes she needs human love. Enter Nathan (Tim Robbins), a scientist trying to teach mice table manners. Lila thinks he's the man of her dreams; he thinks she's nice. The two begin a relationship--without him knowing anything about her ''problem.'' Then their lives change when, while they are hiking, they discover Puff (Rhys Ifans), a ''wild'' man who had been raised in the woods as an ape by his mentally ill father. For obvious reasons, Lila feels drawn to Puff, while Nathan sees him as his ticket into the science journals: he'll transform Puff into an example of elegance and education. Puff goes along with it but his base sexual desires still secretly drive his actions. Ultimately, a power struggle over Puff's true fate ensues, evolving into a highly unusual love triangle.


It's an eclectic cast, to say the least. Arquette continues to choose quirky projects and can chalk this one up there with Lost Highway. Her performance as Lila certainly won't win her any awards but she manages to take the character successfully through a myriad of changes--from victim, to free spirit, to empowered woman. It's a gutsy part as well, since she's exposed throughout most of the movie, literally and figuratively. Robbins, on the other hand, isn't stretching much here, playing the cold and distant persona he's done so well in the past (i.e. The Player). Unfortunately, he's not particularly appealing or funny, making it difficult to find any redeeming qualities in his character. Ifans (probably the best thing about Notting Hill) shines as Puff and hones his comedic talents. The British actor gives a hysterical performance going from wild man to a sophisticated gentlemen who secretly is still a wild man. Also making a surprise appearance is Rosie Perez as Lila's electrologist. She doesn't add much to the film, but it's nice to see her again.


Human Nature was actually made a year ago by the French studio Canal + but the U.S. distributor waited until now to release it. It's not hard to guess why. This is what you would call a ''problem'' movie--one that doesn't really fit into a particular genre. Directed by French director Michel Gondry, the film does have a certain European quality to it but may have worked better had it been done in French with French actors. Gondry doesn't seem to have a handle on working with an English cast and frankly, we are a bit perplexed about the casting ourselves. Nevertheless, the film actually succeeds on some levels. At times, Nature is searingly funny, especially when Puff is trying to be ''cured'' of his sexual urges by electric shock or when it flashes back to Nathan's repressed childhood. Yet, all in all, Nature just tries too hard to be offbeat, funny and thought-provoking rather than concentrating on a meaningful story. It's just not as much fun going to see a movie that is basically a philosophy lesson.

Bottom Line

If you are interested in a philosophical discussion about man's desires to live within a structured society vs. his primal human needs, all veiled in a dark comedy, then Human Nature is for you.