Rand and his business partners work on their artificial intelligence project.
“Dopamine: a nitrogen-containing organic compound formed from dihydroxyphenylalanine (dopa) during the metabolism of the amino acid tyrosine.” It preceeds the formation of a hormone and acts “as a neurotransmitter in the brain.” Unless you have training in bio-chemistry, this might not mean anything to you, but it is important to understand that the title refers to body chemistry and not drugs. (An early scene in the film shows Rand, the lead character, buying some speed or “no doze” kind of drug from a street dealer, which could confuse the viewer as to the title’s intent.)
Dopamine is actually a modern love story about characters who live in the realies of today’s workoholic society. Their lives are imbued with the incredible technologies available to them, which often consumes their lives. Shy, these people are often afraid to open up and make commitments with others because they have been burned before. We are brought into this world through the opening title sequence, which features a collage of shots from San Francisco, where the story is set, molecular DNA models, and examples of 3-D animation. This is the world of Rand (John Livingston), a computer programmer working 80+ hour weeks with two other partners, Winston (Bruno Campisi) and Johnson (Reuben Grundy), in a software startup company. The company is doing development work for a Japanese corporation to create a digital pet created by Rand and named Koy-Koy. Koy-Koy is a animated bird who responds to the computer user through techniques of artificial intelligence. The company representative is pleased with the results of their work, but wants the partners to run a marketing test at a local pre-school.
Rand’s project is to create Koy-Koy, a virtual pet bird.
The film first focuses on Rand’s life. Besides his work world, we also find out about his family. Apparently an only child, he still regularly visits his parents who have been happily married for over 50 years, but recently devasted by his mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s Disease, unable to recognize anyone, at least on the outside. A lot of Rand’s opinions about romance and life have been influenced by his father’s (William Windom) view that love is mostly a chemical reaction, a human response to a scent code. If a perfect love, like his parents had, can be thwarted by the ravages of time and disease, what’s the point of even engaging in it unless there is a perfect chemistry present? With Rand’s shyness and over-intellectualizing about relationships, it is no surprise that when he first meets Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd) in a bar after a long work day, he doesn’t show any interest, even though it is clear that Sarah is interested in him. Instead she goes off for a one-night stand with Winston. But fate intervenes and the two meet again when his software development team goes to the pre-school for their market research. Sarah is one of the teachers at the school, and although she is hostile to the idea of the market research being conducted with her kids, eventually she thaws and gradually gets to know Rand. They first connect on an intellectual level, and there is some interesting writing and even better animated responses (especially the scene where we see Rand’s “chemical” reaction to the scent of Sarah’s hair), as the two discuss whether love is purely emotional or physical. Besides her work as a teacher, Sarah is a painter who believes in the emotional power of love and wonders why Rand spends so much time working with a computer animation instead of dealing with real people. Sarah also has secrets and guilt of her own that influences the relationship and prevent her from making a full commitment to their relationship. How Rand and Sarah work out their feelings about each other and deal with the other baggage in their lives makes up the balance of the film.
Rand gradually develops a romance with Sarah, a pre-school teacher.
Dopamine is a film that was introduced through the Sundance Film Festival, and is a refreshing take on the American romance film. First of all, the lead characters have real I.Q.s and talk about ideas and the true nature of love. It’s more of a drama than a comedy; more of a tribute to the spirit of love than about getting together and having sex. There is a lot of good character development as we get to know Rand and Sarah. Each has their flaws and good points. They are not typical “beautiful people” like we normally see in Hollywood romantic films. Congratulations to director Mark Decena, who co-wrote the film with Timothy Breitbach, for making romance work with normal working people like those that you could actually meet in the San Francisco Bay Area. John Livingston gives a solid performance as Rand. He seems very believeable in his role because he doesn’t come across just as a computer geek, but rather a reserved young man unsure of the direction his life is taking. He loves working with artificial intelligence and resents having to respond to the demands of marketing when it affects his creations. He uses his intellectual abillities to create barriers and escape from confronting his emtional needs. You can believe that he would work 20 hour days to create a computer girlfreind for his creation Koy-Koy rather than pursue his own real life girlfriend. Sabrina Lloyd at first seems to be the typical self-assured young career woman, ambivalent about relationships. The strength of her performance is as you get to known her better, she reveals more of what her true standards and vulnerabilities are. Sure she will go out with Winston for a one night stand; but because there is nothing true in the relationship she refuses a second encounter. The cinemaphotography gives a nicely nuanced view of San Francisco, not the normal tourist kind of shots. There are some great bicycling scenes as we see Rand riding through the city. This film grows on you as you view and think about it. The most enjoyable thing about Dopamine is that is gives you a creative take on human relationships.
Rand rides his bicycle near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Rand’s coffee gets spilled while working on the computer.
John Livingston in his role of Rand wears chocolate brown low cut chucks throughout the film. Now that they have been made available again, brown chucks are starting to be worn by more people in California. This is the first recent film where you see them worn by a lead character. There aren’t a lot of closeups in this film, and the best shots of them are when you see Rand riding his bicycle around the city of San Francisco.
Rand rides his bicycle around the city and in monthly “Critical Mass” events.
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