“In The Year 2017, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find. A Cherry 2000 Is Even Harder.”
Unable to cope with the malfunction of his beloved robot girlfriend and unwilling to put up with the legal wrangling required to hook up with a real woman, futuristic yuppie Sam Treadwell travels outside the safety of the big city to hire a tracker in order to find a replacement Cherry 2000. Much to Sam’s consternation, the best available non-homicidal tracker comes in the form of E. Johnson, a very real woman who finds his attachment to an artificial lover both comical and pathetic. Sam’s real trouble, however, is that the only possible location for a Cherry 2000 lies on the other side of The Zone, a desert wasteland ruled over by the insane warlord Lester and his band of killer suburbanites. After a series of close calls with Lester, Sam and Edith finally locate what they’ve been searching for, but the only escape route left to them will force Sam to choose between the robot he swore he wanted and the real woman he might just possibly have fallen in love with.
Let’s just get it out of the way, okay. Yes, this is a movie about one guy’s desperate search to score a new sex gynoid after he loses his in a tragic dishwasher accident. But come on, is the idea really that shocking? After all, fembots have been around since the very beginning of stories. Most sources cite the first mention of mechanical women as Homer's Iliad in which Hephaestus, god of fire, goes about his work assisted by, as the Rieu translation puts it, "golden maidservants hastened to help their master. They looked like real women and could not only speak and use their limbs but were endowed with intelligence and trained in handwork by the immortal gods." The story actually containing the first use of the word robot was Karel Čapek's 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) which ends with a male and female robot falling in love and becoming the new Adam & Eve for a devastated Earth. And as for the movies, well, their first artificial person was, of course, a woman, the malevolent Hel (named after the Norse goddess of death) who attempts to use sex and debauchery to lead the men of Metropolis to destruction. No matter the media, men just can’t seem to tell stories about mechanized beings for too long before they feel compelled to put them in a Maidenform.
The question Cherry 2000 wants us to ask is… why? Why, when over 49% of the human population consists of real live females, do guys feel the need to create and mate with fake ones? And we know Cherry 2000 wants us to ask this question because, well, it tells us to… about every ten minutes… all the way to the end of the movie. Whether it’s his friends badgering him to have contractually consensual casual sex with real women, E. Johnson’s incessant scorn over what she’s been hired to find, or Six Fingered Jake’s (Yeah, this is one of those movies where characters have names like Six Fingered Jake) utter failure to understand how there can be romance with a robot, Sam Treadwell spends most of the running length of Cherry 2000 being confronted with the question of his choice of girlfriends. The fact that the movie never gets around to answering the question as forthrightly as it asks it is beside the point. Let’s at least give it some credit just for asking.
Actually, Cherry 2000 is one of those fun goofy post-apocalyptic tales that throws out all kinds of little details, but leaves it up to you to figure out what they mean. (If they do mean anything. This is still Cherry 2000, not a Bergman film.) Some things seem designed to tell us something about the world the story takes place in, such as the fact that the chief industry appears to be refurbishing old electronics like toaster ovens. Oddly enough, however, there still seems to be the resources available to keep producing new models of sexbots such as the blatantly school-girlish Bambi 14 or the homo-erotic Handyman/Cowboy robot available in the lobby of the hotel Sam stays at. What’s that about? And some things appear to be there just for fun, like the hotel clerk’s live cat which she keeps inside a sealed water cooler bottle on her desk. How did it get in there? Where does it go to the bathroom? The answers are left to our imagination. And then there are some things…
Well, there are some things in the movie that just don’t seem to exist for any other reason other than the fact that the people who made it wanted them to be there. I’m thinking in particular of the main action set piece of the film. Somewhere near the middle of the movie Sam and Edith arrive at the Colorado River, and even though there are clearly visible routes which they could cross, Edith claims the only way is to have the car picked up by one of those magnetic cranes and have it swung across the gorge. Why not? And, of course, when our heroes are only half way across, Lester’s goons show up and start shooting at them. With rocket launchers. Why not? It’s okay, though, because not only do Lester’s guys miss every… single… time, but Edith just happens to have a rocket launcher of her own. And hers is bigger. So big, in fact, that at one point she manages to destroy an entire butte with a single shot. Why not? Finally you get to the point of the whole scene, which is to have this cherry red (naturally) Mustang suspended over Hoover Dam with Melanie Griffith’s stunt double standing on the roof while surface-to-air missiles shoot all over the place. And just to add an exclamation point, they let it freefall about twenty feet while stunt-Melanie bounces around on the trunk. It’s a really, really cool non-CGI piece of work that makes absolutely no sense, but is part of the whole reason you watch movies like this in the first place. So why is the crane there? Who cares. Why not?
But I digress. Most of that stuff is window dressing to the main themes Cherry 2000’s wants you to consider. (Although it’s hard to quit thinking about that cat. Is it neutered? Does it spray in there?) And now, just a mere 22 years after Cherry 2000 was released, those themes are more relevant than ever. In the past few years we’ve seen a spate of fembots popping up around the world, everything from Osaka University’s creepily human-like Actroids to Sega’s recently released 15-inch tall (yet more busty than Barbie) robotic 'girlfriend' dubbed EMA. In fact, humanoid robots have come far enough along that Dr. David Levy, in his recently released book Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, feels confident in predicting the future of human-robot interaction with a specificity that would make Nostradamus’ head spin. "My forecast is that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots… If you went back 100 years, if you proposed the idea that men would be marrying men, you'd be locked up in the loony bin. And it was only in the second half of the 20th century that you had the U.S. federal government repealing laws in about 12 states that said marriage across racial boundaries was illegal. That's how much the nature of marriage has changed. I think the nature of marriage in the future is that it will be what we want it to be. If you and your partner decide to be married, you decide what the bounds are, what its purpose is to you.”
You don’t say? Well, we’re not quite there yet, but obviously, what passed as a post-apocalyptic future back in 1987 when Cherry 2000 was made is pretty much just around the corner now. Which does raises some questions. (Besides all of the cat related ones like where do the hairballs go? I have a few cats, so I KNOW there has to be hairballs. Do you turn the jar upside down and shake it?) The chief one which comes to mind is… so what? What’s so wrong with the idea of human robot-marriage? After all, Levy claims it’s simply a natural extension of the human tendency to form attachments to things (animals, machines, whatever) and then anthropomorphise them in our own image. But that doesn’t seem reason enough. After all, a 2007 AP-AOL poll claims that 37% of car owners believe their cars have personalities, 20% even name them, but except for the (mercifully) isolated incident, you don’t see too many people trying to have sex with or marry them. Well, since the movie ultimately disapproves of the practice, maybe the movie can provide some answers as to why it shouldn’t be allowed.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple as, much like the cat in the bottle situation, what brought about Sam’s preference for robotic romance isn’t overly explained in Cherry 2000. But there are some clues sprinkled throughout the film, and they’re found primarily in the encounters Sam has with various women over the course of the story. Right off the bat, the first lady we meet is the titular (not a dirty word) Cherry herself who is not introduced as a sexbot, but rather as Sam’s dutiful wife/girlfriend waiting for him as he arrives home after a hard day. They greet, make small talk, have dinner, discuss work, all the things you would expect couples to do. The movie gives no hint that Cherry is anything but flesh and blood until the pair get romantic in the kitchen and a leaky dishwasher shorts her circuits. (We’re all adults here. Go ahead and ask how something designed for, um, intimate encounters blows a fuse when some water gets on it. Then explain it to me.) The point is, the movie goes to great lengths to show that Sam sees Cherry as more of a person rather than just some motorized sex doll. (20 years before Lars And The Real Girl. Take that, art films!)
In fact, if it were just about sex, Cherry wouldn’t be necessary at all. There are plenty of other sexbots available on the market. Heck, the Bambi 14 schoolgirl model even comes with a cat. (Although, oddly enough, not one in a jar.) And, as we see when Sam is forced by his workmates to spend an evening at a local night club, casual sex with real women is also readily available. Well, at least as long as a person is willing to put up with attorneys. See, in the future of Cherry 2000, lawyers sit at every table negotiating legal contracts between potential hook-ups. Everything is included in the paperwork from number of coital occurence to wake-up time. Everything, that is, except the slightest hint of personal connection between the two parties. “Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” the Catechism tells us, and that’s more than evident in the society Sam lives in. With sex basically reduced to a bartered leisure time activity, the men and women in Sam’s world appear totally isolated from one another. Or as Pope Benedict XVI put it, “When, therefore, men or women pretend to be autonomous or totally self-sufficient, they risk being closed up in a self-realization that considers the overcoming of every natural, social or religious bond as a conquest of freedom, but which in fact reduces them to an oppressive solitude.” A person could almost be tempted to celebrate Sam’s search for something deeper, even if it is with a robot.
Except that’s not quite what he’s doing. As we learn when Sam runs into his old girlfriend Ginger out in The Zone “married” to the movie’s main villain, Sam has tried relationships with real women before. In fact, it was Sam’s own emotional detachment which drove Ginger to flee to The Zone and become involved with Lester in the first place. Seeking a more traditional lifestyle than what was being offered in the big city, Ginger was naturally drawn to the society created by Lester in the wasteland, a place where everybody dresses like members of a 1950’s country club, wives and children are doted on, and the family eats dinner together every night on the patio. Sure, Lester and his men also happen to be murdering psychopaths, but, hey, no husband is perfect, right? The point being, Sam had a chance to build a relationship with a real woman and chose not to.
You see, Sam wasn’t just rejecting casual sex, that in itself could almost be considered noble. Instead, Sam was also ultimately rejecting meaningful sex. As the Catechism reminds us, “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion… The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Because of Cherry’s artificial nature, there could never really be any true communion or self-giving on her part, only what Levy’s book refers to as a kind of pre-programmed “reciprocal liking”. And since Cherry’s programming was going to force her to say and do the things Sam wanted anyway, Sam basically had to give nothing of himself at all. Or to put it bluntly, the whole relationship with Cherry was about Sam and Sam only. The best evidence of this in the movie is the mini-disc containing Cherry’s files which Sam carries with him at all times and occasionally plays back so he can hear her voice tell him how wonderful, loving, strong, and virile he is. The first time Edith hears Sam listening to this, her expression tells us she understands quite well what a self-centered pathetic tool he is. And so do we.
In the very first book of the Bible, it states matter of factly that “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” and that upon seeing woman, man cried out "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Unfortunately, it took a long time for the ancients to begin to realize all of the implications in those verses, to realize that, as Pope John Paul II writing in the Apostolic Letter “Mulieris Dignitatem” pointed out, “Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other "I". This is a prelude to the definitive self-revelation of the Triune God: a living unity in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” In fact, they were so slow in coming to that understanding that women in Old Testament times were often stuck in cultures where they were little more than property. Sort of like Cherry, forced to give, but seldom to receive in return.
By the time Jesus came around, He was having none of it. “It is universally admitted” Pope John Paul II contends, “even by people with a critical attitude towards the Christian message - that in the eyes of his contemporaries Christ became a promoter of women's true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity. At times this caused wonder, surprise, often to the point of scandal: "They marveled that he was talking with a woman" (Jn 4:27), because this behavior differed from that of his contemporaries.” And following the example of Jesus, Christianity, and therefore western civilization, has slowly (if not always successfully) moved ever closer to the ideal of true communion between the sexes. But as the recent American Religious Identification Survey noted, more and more people are abandoning their religious beliefs, apparently oblivious to what is being thrown out the door along with them. And that is perhaps why we now find ourselves on the brink of a society where the silly future portrayed in Cherry 2000 may become the sad reality envision in Levy’s book. And we can’t say we weren’t warned because Pope John Paul II saw it coming twenty years ago when he produced “Mulieris Dignitatem”. “The awareness that in marriage there is mutual "subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ", and not just that of the wife to the husband” he wrote, “must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behavior and customs. This is a call which from that time onwards, does not cease to challenge succeeding generations; it is a call which people have to accept ever anew.”
Sadly, none of this explains the cat.