To make a film that examines people who have turned silicone companionship into an actual loving relationship seems almost too easy as a way to mock and belittle those who have chosen such a lifestyle. But to her credit, director Melody Gilbert (The Summer of Help) has plenty of compassion for her primary subjects, including John, a retiree who seems inseparable from his Real Doll “wife” Jackie. John pushes Jackie around in a wheelchair to meals, dresses her for special occasions, and politely fields questions from curious onlookers who don’t quite understand his chosen significant other. Having had Jackie for several years, her extremities are falling apart or otherwise mangled. John is saving up money to get her a new body, and we somehow get caught up in the thrill of the promise of that moment as well.
Silicone Soul is mostly about men who view their Real Dolls as something more than inanimate, but Gilbert as takes the time to visit with a woman who brings eerily realistic baby dolls to Alzheimer’s patients who positively light up when presented with what they think is a real child. One of my favorite subjects is an artist who has a collection of Real Dolls that she uses in her compelling photography work, posing them in provocative poses both alone and with human models. The results are quite beautiful and intentionally freaky.
But it’s John’s story that carries the most emotional weight and provides us with the film’s best moments; in particular: a retelling of the first (and only) time he brought Jackie to a holiday dinner with his extended family (at his open-minded sister’s request) and was met with open hostility, cofounded behavior and ultimately a kind of rejection usually reserved for racist uncles or smelly second cousins. It’s fairly clear that John doesn’t view his doll as a sex toy, and he becomes visibly hurt if someone is unkind or refuses to recognize her as a caring, loving soul. You might go into Silicone Soul for a laugh or to look at someone in the hopes of feeling better about your own life. But many of the people featured here seem like good people, perhaps lonely or even damaged, seeking comfort wherever they can find it in a world that frequently rejected them long before these dolls entered their lives.
The film is screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 5pm; and Monday, Jan. 28 at 8pm.
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