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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Love: Real or just a chemical reaction?

All that is romantic about falling in love is soon dispersed in the passionate opening scene of “Dopamine” (Sundance Film Series). As Rand (John Livingston, TV’s “CSI” and “JAG”) and Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd, TV’s “Sports Night”) begin kissing intensely, Rand doesn’t describe the butterflies in his stomach or his weak knees, but rather, the chemical processes in his body. A bizarre mood-killer, his explanation of the pheromones and adrenaline rushing through his body and the dopamine surging through his brain is as effective as a cold shower – it’s comparable to making out with your chemistry professor. “Is that all I am to you, then? Chemicals?” Sarah asks.

Whether love is indeed merely chemical or something greater is the basis of the controversy in “Dopamine”. Named for the natural chemical that our bodies produce when we “fall in love,” the film deconstructs ardor, and our reasons for succumbing to it. It is an insightful film about the magic, or the lack thereof, of falling in love.

Software designers Johnson (Reuben Grundy, “The Princess Diaries”), Winston (Bruno Campos, TV’s “Jesse”) and Rand are assigned to test their invention, an interactive computer creature named Koy Koy, in its projected market, young children. The night before they are designated to report to a kindergarten classroom with their software, they meet Sarah at a bar. Despite her blatant interest in Rand, Winston makes the first move and ends up taking her home with him that night. Later on, after an awkward sex scene, we find the designing team in a classroom that coincidentally belongs to Sarah, giving Rand his chance to develop a relationship with this intriguing woman.

As he does, much more is revealed about the characters – perhaps too much. The audience discovers that Rand’s parents’ relationship is the origin of his pragmatic opinions about love, which are inevitably problematic. His mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and he has watched his parents’ love for each other slip away. Then, Sarah tearfully reveals to Rand that she became pregnant at age 17, gave up her child for adoption and has been troubled ever since.

While these plot elements are intended to show the similarities between very different types of love, they serve more as a distraction. The acting is occasionally awkward; the chemistry between the two lovers seems especially forced. However, this also makes their courtship seem realistic – after all, no relationship is a fairy tale, and it is almost refreshing to see a script that acknowledges this.

The characters resolve their differences in an ending that seems more like a beginning. As director and screenwriter Mark Decena says, “The film is a prequel to a love story.”

Also noteworthy is the manner in which Decena and Breitbach (screenwriter) chose to write the script for the film, which won a Sloan award for excellence in science. The characters Winston and Sarah were created by Breitbach, while Decena chose to write Rand.

“The germ of the story came from this over-analytical sensibility of what love is,” said Decena. “That story line enabled us to create the characters that were in conflict and bring them together to create a synthesis. With the script written this way, there was some ownership to it, like, ‘Oh, she would never say this.’ It was my first script, and it just felt natural.”

When asked if the choice of characters reflected personal traits, Lloyd (playing Sarah) joked, “Mark (Decena) wrote the nice boys and Tim got the bad ones.”

Lloyd went on to contemplate “Dopamine’s” theme.

“The fun thing about this movie is that it makes people think and question (love) – they’re intrigued,” said Decena, adding that the film has “resonated with people who have lost love. It has two people who have lost something at opposite ends of the spectrum – a mother gives up her child and a son loses the love of his mother, and this disparate background helped them find active love.”

So, which types of personality do the director and the actress consider themselves to be – hopeless romantics or stoic pragmatists?

“We’re still trying to figure that out. I think that sometimes it really is partly chemical. I don’t think we always choose who we’re attracted to, I think sometimes it’s that animalistic instinct,” Lloyd said.

“I agree,” concluded Decena, “I think that the intent of the film is to recognize both (views) and let the viewers decide for themselves. Rand lets himself believe, and Sarah – I wouldn’t say she’s more analytical, but they have to give themselves to each other a little more to find love.”

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