Mark Decena

You’ve heard of the birds and the bees but what about Koy-Koy and dopamine?

Women’s magazines and self-help books continually offer new theories about romantic attraction but whether one believes in fate or fix-ups, I think most of us agree that there’s some sort of chemical reaction at play when determining whom we consent to date again and to whom we offer some derivation of “don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Or, as the father of computer programmer Rand (John Livingston) tells his son while summing up his lifelong love for his wife whom now remains stationary on a couch stricken with Alzheimer’s, their chemical spark was ignited because, simply put, they “set each other off.”

The argument that love’s chemical processes result in dopamine wherein your body releases a highly addictive pleasure drug during courtship resulted in Rand and his two coworkers, Winston (Bruno Campos) and Johnson (Rueben Grundy) participating in the three year development of a virtual friend, a computerized, interactive bird they named Koy-Koy which provides the same narcotizing stimuli for the lonely and/or friendless. When their employers want their brainchild tested, the three colleagues-- admittedly suffering from cabin fever of being trapped in a small, sunless room working on code-- reluctantly consent to offering Koy-Koy a children’s classroom full of would-be friends.

However, it’s the attractive teacher Sarah (Sabrina Lloyd) that captures the attention of not one but two programmers after they meet one night in a bar without realizing their futures would be intertwined. When the troubled, commitment phobic Sarah lets her guard down temporarily to begin spending increasing amounts of time with the smitten Rand, they find their burgeoning relationship tested by his overly analytic, scientific explanations of love that provide little in the way of assurance that their coupling is different from those of animals. And, with all his theories, Rand manages to not only kill the romantic mood but contribute to the distance between the two lonely souls.

It’s precisely this distance that’s echoed in the audience as Dopamine suffers from the same cool, detached emotion that surrounds the world of computer programmers, which isn’t helped by its unlikable heroine and the production’s claustrophobic execution. Yet, it’s an admirable attempt for a film that should definitely spark—if not chemistry—then discussion, director Mark Decena’s Dopamine (written by the director and collaborator Timothy Breitbach) won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was chosen for both DVD distribution in the Sundance Film Series and regular rotation on Redford’s prestigious premium cable network.