In Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams, and this film based on a short story by Isaac Asimov, Robin Williams has brought to the screen a series of characters who are all involved in the spiritual process of "gentling the heart." While many reviewers have been highly critical of these touchy-feely dramas, this talented and sensitive actor is modeling for us what Buddhists call "training the heart." This inner work is an essential path and practice for anyone on a spiritual journey. Williams is to be commended for doing such pioneer work on the screen.
Richard Martin (Sam Neill) surprises his wife (Wendy Crewson) and two daughters with a new NDR-114 robot that the youngest girl (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) names Andrew. This shiny household appliance cooks, cleans, and looks after the children. Soon Richard discovers that Andrew is quite unique he shows evidence of creativity, curiosity, and an inquiring mind. And his friendship with "Little Miss," as he calls the youngest daughter, blooms as she grows into a young woman (Embeth Davidtz).
After asking for and obtaining his freedom, Andrew finds his own place to live and then goes on a journey to find other robots of his kind. With a stroke of good fortune, he meets Rupert Burns (Oliver Platt), a robotics inventor. Together they find ways to upgrade Andrew's nervous system and his external appearance. Reunited with Little Miss, who's now an older woman, he is entranced by her look-alike granddaughter Portia. Their journey together in love covers years of friendship and his attempts to be officially declared a human being. As Andrew tells Portia, "I would rather die a man than live forever as a machine."
Director Chris Columbus brings the same tenderness to this android's 200-year quest to achieve full humanity as he did to the father's desire to spend more time with his children in the immensely popular Mrs. Doubtfire. Andrew's wonderful relationship with Richard Martin, whom he calls "sir," is one of mutual respect. As this father tells his daughters: "Though Andrew is technically a piece of property, he shall be treated as if he is a person." More of us need to adapt this wise and hospitable attitude toward the technology with which we live.
Best of all, Andrew is a near-perfect example of the spiritual practice of kindness. His saying, "One is glad to be of service," is the mantra of anyone who is spiritually realized. Bicentennial Man is a film to take to heart.