This article is part of the Motherboard Guide to Cinema, a semi-regular column exploring foreign and obscure speculative films.
The year is 2017: getting laid comes with a terms of service agreement, homemade sex robots and the internet of blowjobs are actual things, and 'firenados' are turning the Western portion of the US into an apocalyptic wasteland. This is our reality, but if this also sounds like the setup for a cult sci-fi B movie, you wouldn't be wrong. The movie is called Cherry 2000, and its vision of 2017 is uncannily prescient for a film released three decades ago.
Directed by Steven de Jarnatt and starring a young Melanie Griffith, Cherry 2000 tells the story of a hapless chap named Sam Treadwell who breaks his Cherry 2000 sexbot after trying to fuck it in his flooded kitchen. When he brings Cherry to a mechanic to see if he can save her, the mechanic sys there's nothing to be done and neither he nor anyone else would have such an old gynoid model in stock any more. In the year 2017, Cherry 2000s are considered a rare antique, and when the mechanic returns Treadwell's Cherry 2000 memory disk, he laments that Detroit doesn't make sexbots like it used to.
Treadwell is understandably distraught at having fried the love of his life's motherboard, although he never tries just putting her in rice for some reason. To cheer him up, his friends convince him to try his luck with real humans at the Glu Glu Club, a popular night spot where lawyers stand around waiting to negotiate the terms of one night stands between people who meet each other at the club. Treadwell finds that human dating in 2017 is in many ways just as empty as his relationship with a robot, so rather than try to love a meatbag, he opts to track down a replacement Cherry 2000.
This brings him to meet a tracker E. Johnson, who specializes in retrieving things from the lawless, apocalyptic region of the United States known as Zone 7. Together, Johnson and a reluctant Treadwell journey into this inhospitable zone, where they end up being chased by a militant cult all the way to the old gynoid factory housed in the ruins of a Las Vegas casino. Only after finding a replacement Cherry 2000 does Treadwell realize that his cold human heart actually loves Johnson. This sets the viewer up for perhaps one of the funniest, albeit cruel, denouements in cinema history, in which Treadwell abandons his beloved Cherry 2000 by asking her to go find him a Pepsi in the middle of an endless desert.
Cherry 2000 is at once a lowbrow action film, lowbrow scifi film, and lowbrow romance. Thematically it's kind of like Her, if Her had multiple scenes featuring gratuitous machine gun-fueled violence and a tenth of the budget—but as director Steven de Jarnatt put it to me, Cherry's campy, low budget aesthetic is all "part of the charm."
"Whatever we made was not necessarily what anyone thought we were going to make or wanted to make," de Jarnatt told me over Skype. "It's the result of really not having the time and the money to really get the whole thing rockin' on all cylinders visually and everything. But it has this great supporting cast, great costumes, and an amazing score that makes it all very odd and different."
There's no doubt that Cherry is odd, different and—quite frankly— fun, but watching it in 2017 can be a little unsettling. The film is, of course, pointing to the absurdity of trying to find love in a world where your two choices are having an attorney negotiate your sex life or just fondling a robot. Indeed, the only way the two human protagonists in the film are able to find love is by venturing into a hellscape and almost dying repeatedly—we get it, love hurts. Yet in a world where getting fooled by Tinderbots is a legitimate dating hazard and we stand on the cusp of the sexbot revolution, this cinematic absurdity can feel a little too… real.
In the 2017 inhabited by Treadwell, sexbots have become an entrenched part of American culture and owning one is no more fantastic than owning an automobile. Whether our reality will come to mimic art in this case remains an open question, but de Jarnatt believes there's still good reason to believe that at least some humans will continue to stupidly love one another.
"It's more difficult to deal with a living, breathing, person who doesn't bend to your will," said de Jarnatt. "I think as they get closer to building an actual physical robot that simulates a person, people will opt for that. I feel sorry for them, but some people don't want to mess with the chaos of a human relationship."