The Mechanical Bride
Directed by Allison de Fren
The Mechanical Bride is a documentary about men who love “artificial” women. The focus is limited to people in love with objects that take the form of people, and this helps maintain its focus. What sets this film apart from an episode of “Strange Sex” on TLC is the intelligence and sensitivity in which it approaches its subject. This is not a feature meant to showcase “freaks” but take a sincere look at why some people turn away from humanity and develop emotional relationships with inanimate versions of women. Rather than merely bolstering arguments, the interviews in the film bring a unique human element that transcends words, bringing a new level of intimacy to these men’s experience.
The evolution of ideas, concepts and relationships with these objects is intelligent and effortless. The film truly comes together as a well-written book or thesis might, utilizing choice interviews as a means of bolstering its arguments. Rather than merely being supporting pieces of evidence though, this human element suggests more than any words could, as we are able to look beyond what is being said and understand what exactly is being experienced by these men.
This is hardly the first film to discuss sex dolls as its main topic, but it nonetheless offers new insight into the subject. The decision to include the Real-Doll doctor, the go-to man for all Real-Doll repairs, adds an interesting perspective to the film. Mirroring the film’s opening monologue, relating the Real-Doll phenomena to the classical myth of Pygmalion, he becomes the figure-head “artist” of the film. Though he is not the designer of the doll (we meet many of them, including some women), he has a unique perspective on the intimacy that the doll has with its “owner”. Almost all his repairs are from normal wear and tear, but he shows us one doll that has been destroyed almost beyond recognition. He describes it, “it’s like he fucked off her arms and legs”. In disgust, he suggests that some people should not be allowed to own these dolls. For him, they are not sexual objects, but art objects. Their resemblance to the human form though, makes this sort of destruction all the more eerie.
This image stood out for me the most, because even bloodless, the image evoked a response similar to that of seeing images of real people hurt and injured. The cruelty of a destroyed sculpture of a human seems to hit more than anything else, but we know it isn’t real, why does it evoke such powerful feelings? I am not sure, if it is as some suggest that it points to the psyche of the aggressor as someone capable and desiring of hurting real humans as well. It is obviously a possibility – but it seems like a far reach, at least in terms of the mind’s immediate response. I think on a primal level, our mind does not even process human-like objects as being inhuman, they look like humans, and therefore they are. This explains the horrific paranoia evoked by films like Invasions of the Body Snatchers, which play with our conception of the human form. Much like our reaction of repulsion towards objects that are nearly human, but not (uncanny valley), why can’t there be a similar response to objects that we know aren’t human but we believe to be? It is no doubt a reflection of our desire to imbue our own creations with a soul.
The Mechanical Bride is a fascinating thesis on phenomena which piques the interest of many. The sex-lives of others have always been a point of fascination for a large portion of the population, and those who choose to maintain sex-lives with non-animate objects provide a very unique curiosity. The Mechanical Bride is a multi-faceted documentary that deals with this subject with a surprising about of sensitivity, which allows its subjects to express themselves with unfiltered sincerity. What the future may hold is where the documentary leaves off, suggesting the possibility of a robotic future, and in turn, how this might change our relationship with sex even more.
– Justine Smith