I’m Your Man: Directed by Maria Schrader

Director Maria Schrader first encountered I’m Your Man’s source material, the short story “Ich bin dein Mensch” by Emma Braslavsky, from her agency. “I had heard from afar about a short story that was being adapted for film,” she says. “I didn’t know anything more about it than ‘woman meets robot,’ but that was enough to capture my interest.”

The premise was two steps from the classic “boy meets girl” formula. “But they were two big steps: ‘girl meets boy,’ and ‘girl meets robot-boy.’ “

In a love story that transcends “modern romance,” a woman must navigate her relationship with the robot designed to be her ideal partner.

Alma (Maren Eggert) is an accomplished researcher at the famous Pergamon Museum in Berlin, leading a team studying ancient cuneiform writing. In order to obtain research funds for her work, she grudgingly agrees to participate in extraordinary study, one in which she is an experimental variable: For three weeks, she must live with a humanoid android tailored specifically to her unique character and needs. But Alma is unsentimental and skeptical when she meets Tom (Dan Stevens), a robot almost totally indistinguishable from a flesh-and-blood man. Tom’s algorithm learns from Alma, so that he may adapt and change to fulfill his programming to become her perfect partner. While he’s a technical marvel created solely to make her happy, his initial attempts are awkward and ridiculous, and Alma is horrified. But his constant analysis of Alma’s reactions allows him to penetrate deeper and deeper into her real longings. I’m Your Man is a comically romantic tale about the questions of love, longing, and what makes us human.

The dream of an artificial human is an ancient idea and appears in antiquity as a mystical or artistic act of creation requiring the help of the gods. Prometheus made people out of clay and water, and Pygmalion built a female statue, fell in love with it, and asked the goddess Aphrodite to breathe life into it. Eventually mankind wrested the reins of creation out of the realm of the supernatural; from the first mechanical automatons to the frontiers of artificial intelligence, our synthetic creations didn’t have life breathed into them by gods, but by craftspeople who used wires, pulleys, and microchips. In contemplating robots as romantic partners, the question of the “ghost in the machine,” of the soul and of the consciousness, becomes central once again, as it did in our past.

The short story’s premise is that we can have robots made for us that would adapt to our individual and unique needs—that we can have the perfect partner custom built. “It sounded like a love story which I hadn’t yet touched,” Schrader says. “I was also attracted by the opportunity to develop something lighter in tone, something comedic which I hadn’t yet done as a director. I just reacted to that simple pitch, and that was the start of a creative dialogue between producer Lisa Blumenberg, editors Jan Berning and Katharina Dufner, and writers Jan Schomburg and myself, which continued until the film’s completion.”

Blumenberg describes Schrader as “our dream director, from the beginning. She threw herself with verve into the script work with Jan Schomburg. The two of them have transformed Emma’s literary model and made it into something of their very own. The script with its complex, original characters impressed not only the supervising editors Jan Berning and Katharina Dufner and myself.”

“Having been one of Germany’s leading actors before starting her career as a director Maria understands the needs of the performers better than almost anyone else,” Blumenberg says of Schrader, who starred in many films, including Aimée & Jaguar. “She gets great work out of the stars in front of the camera by guiding them with precision, authority, and love. She stays cool, calm, and collected under the daily pressures of filmmaking. She never loses sight of her creative vision. She has a great sense of humor which is essential for a project like I’m Your Man.

Stories about artificial humans often hover at the intersection between fascination and horror. Will mankind lose control of its creations and be surpassed and possibly destroyed by them? From the medieval golem to Ex Machina, whenever Man plays God, stories end in destruction or death. But Tom (Dan Stevens), the android paired with Alma (Maren Eggert), is more technologically advanced than his artificial antecedents. Free from personal ambition, having no fear, and devoid of the urge to free himself, Tom poses no threat. His programming is the most beautiful task one can have: to make another person happy.

Programmed as the perfect life partner, Tom’s function is to drive away loneliness. But the suggestion that a robot could be made to fulfill a person’s longing is an idea that Alma detests. Robots, she believes, are meant to monitor flight paths and traffic lights, mow lawns and control security systems. But love, feeling, happiness and sorrow, these are reserved for humans alone. To her, Tom represents an illusion. Is Tom a reality that awaits us in our near future?

“Jan Schomburg and I were writing together for the second time following Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe,” says Schrader. “For I’m Your Man we were looking for a light and playful tone, but a tone that wouldn’t shy away from the story’s big themes. We thought about setting the story in the future and decided against it. In a world in which we are already guided by algorithms, the idea of a highly developed robot like Tom is already present, even if in this particular form it remains as distant as a dream.”