This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture


We discuss The Mechanical Bride

Lauren McKeon

During Toronto’s Hot Docs closing weekend, I watched a fascinating film called The Mechanical Bride. The U.S. film, directed by Allison de Fren, is a 76-minute journey into the world of men and their life-sized dolls: how they’re made, how they’re fixed, how men relate to them, how they have sex with them, and how manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of robotics to make the dolls move and moan. The film takes a curious, and often tender, approach to the dolls, which are life-sized, but often not life-proportioned. (Take, for instance, the double H breasts, or the wobbly rubber mouths that effortlessly open far wider than any woman’s could.)

Honestly, I expected to feel nothing but creeped out by these doll-owners. Instead, I felt moved by the old man who bought a used doll after his wife died, strangely compelled by the young man who took his doll out on sushi dates. Other men played video games with their dolls. One, a military man, wanted to marry his doll and carry her over the threshold before he married his real life fiancée and had to box his doll forever. The men even became angry when they heard, or saw, other men mistreat their dolls—tearing holes through the doll’s very lifelike vaginas, or even breaking fingers. Men like that, they thought, shouldn’t be able to own dolls. These men’s dolls had likes and dislikes, they had personalities, they had souls.

I almost forgot why I didn’t like the idea of life-sized, over-sexualized dolls in the first place.


But at the very end, one of the men—very articulate, very young—says something along the lines of, “If I ever date an organic woman, she will have to accept my doll. If I’m lucky she’ll like her. If I’m really lucky, she’ll like-like her.” Chances of that happening aside, there is just something so ick about the term organic woman. It sets us on the same playing field as dolls—our differences are a matter of material, organic versus plastic—when we aren’t even in the same stadium.

No matter how tender the doll owners are, or how closely their relationship incorporates companion, not just sexual, aspects, there is no getting around the power imbalance: any interests the doll has are those her male owner wants her to have, she goes wherever he takes her, projects whatever image he wants her to, exists solely in the boundaries he’s given her. They are all constructs of him; he is an absolute god. Indeed, as one manufacturer says when explaining the dolls’ popularity, it’s all a little bit caveman. The owner can essentially act out the ultimate power fantasy: drag woman by hair to cave, satisfy natural instincts, never hear a word. This is, by all accounts, refreshing and a welcome break from today’s feminist-beholden woman.

It’s not and it’s not. While the reasons for owning dolls are complex, so are women. We are not dolls. We are loud, and difficult, and smart, opinionated, sometimes logical, sometimes not, and about a hundred thousand other, different adjectives, words, personality traits, and interests we define and give ourselves. As long as that list is, however, organic is not on it.

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