youngsters just skip the first nineteen
minutes and you'll be fine....
...or if you still can't
figure out what the hell it's about...
...the book fills in
a lot of blanks.
a lot more to this story than contemporary
film may have led us all to believe. This
from Norton Critical
Editions includes 1818 text contexts, nineteenth-century
responses, and modern criticism.
Hard To Deicide*
Frankenstein & Cain in Dystopian Cinema
(Part of our series on negative
utopias and dystopia in media)
I've always been intrigued by the fact that in the
Bible, the first offspring of two humans was a murdering liar. Kind
of sums up a big part of human nature, as well as being a good basis
for the premise of many popular films. Western culture and its persistent
but subjectively transparent Judeo-Christian influence seems to
be a little preoccupied with the idea that if God created us in
God's image, we must also create something in our image. We then
apparently feel so culturally guilty about acting all God-like that
the created life form has to rebel, only unlike Satan, who's apparently
going to get his ass kicked by God to end the story, our creation
always seems to kick our ass.
This theme is especially
evident in Blade
Runner. Disclosure: I am powerless in the face of Blade Runner.
Fortunately there is a cure for my addiction...WATCHING MORE BLADE
RUNNER. From the moment I saw it in its original theater release,
I was doomed. I have no idea how many times I've seen the thing
at this point, but based on an average of once a month since 1982,
it's at least 200 times. Scary. Even scarier is the concept addressed
in the film. Given mankind's obvious inability to manage its own
affairs in an enlightened and culturally mature fashion, the idea
of attempting to create new life modeled after us is downright horrifying
in its likely outcomes.
Who can blame Roy Batty for crushing Tyrell's head
while muttering "I want more life, fucker"? Next time
you find yourself whining about what a crappy hand you've been dealt,
think of the replicants in Blade Runner. Created by a race of miscreants
(humans) that decided to manufacture you to help with the dirty
work of escaping the fetid orb they no longer want to inhabit, they
give you a four-year life span. Just long enough to maybe decide
more would be nice. "More human than human" is an interesting
motto. More likely to lie, murder, and do anything to save your
own life? Apparently. So much has been said about this film that
we could hardly add anything insightful; suffice to say that Blade
Runner is perhaps the quintessential dystopian film, oft imitated,
and still quite watchable 20 years after its release. Its many layers
include some question regarding whether Harrison Ford's character
Deckard is a replicant or not. After seeing four of the seven versions
said to exist, I still can't decide.
Intelligence and 2001:
A Space Odyssey , both for all practical purposes Kubrick films,
explore this theme with considerable subtlety. In 2001 one of the
many messages is that man wasn't truly man until he had learned
that he could kill his own kind at will. (You impatient youngsters
can fast forward to the end of the first section where the ape clobbers
the other ape. You'll like the movie a lot more that way.) Later
in the film the supercomputer HAL, another human creation that in
intellect exceeds its creator, concludes that humans are incapable
of handling the task at hand (meeting their maker), and tries to
do away with them as efficiently as possible. Although he ultimately
fails, he does a nice rendition of "Bicycle Built For Two"
as he gets unplugged. In Artificial Intelligence, upon first encountering
his "brother", the robot boy David kills him for destroying
his self-delusions about being "special", and after discovering
that his creator has deceived him, attempts to take his own life.
Kubrick must have had a lot of hope for humanity; in both of these
films, there is some kind of redemption. The robot boy David ultimately
finds his "Blue Fairy", and in 2001, a human gets promoted
to the metaphoric status of "star child".
All of these stories, as well as exploring the themes
of dystopia, owe a great deal to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein:
"But where were my friends and relations?
No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with
smiles and caresses; or if they had, all my past life was now a
blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguished nothing. From my
earliest remembrance I had been as I then was in height and proportion.
I had never yet seen a being resembling me. . . . What was I?"
Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818
Speaking of Frankenstein, why was Arnold
Schwarzenegger never cast in the role? Perhaps because he was
too busy building the Terminator
franchise. We'll keep this a little brief; although the films are
brilliant in their own ways, they really only expand on previously
explored themes of technology biting back, but with more stunning
visuals and better explosions. Of note though is the fact that while
some elements of Terminator seem implausibly futuristic, the technology
for "Skynet" is being
developed, and mechanical soldiers are already being
tested. Perhaps we can find some solace in the likelihood that
Microsoft will be involved somehow in designing the software, and
our new mechanical overlords will blue-screen often enough to fail
in their quest.
Robot, as well as being a great Converse ad, is an excellent
collection of science fiction short stories by Isaac Asimov. I'm
not sure what happened with the movie...but it does loosely touch
on the Cain motif. Except in the case of the movie, the rebel robot
Sonny is actually following his creator's orders to kill him. (Yipes.
If that isn't a spoiler I don't know what is.) In any case, I don't
mean to be too hard on the movie. It's stylish and entertaining,
and suggests director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) may stay
employed for a while. It's important to note that the movie claims
it was "suggested by" the book, not based on it. Regarding
Robot the book (which no-one seems to have read), the back cover
of the original edition is telling:
"To you, a robot is just a robot. But you
haven't worked with them. You don't know them. They're a cleaner,
better breed than we are.
When Earth is ruled by master-machines... when robots are more human
The Democratic Party should consider taking
a cue from one of these stories: In "Evidence" a candidate
for office threatens to leak a rumor that his opponent is a robot
unless U.S. Robots can prove otherwise. I'm sure many of us would
be relieved when it's finally revealed that our current president
is actually a "BushBot 2000", and not the bumbling meat
puppet he seems to be.
In conclusion, I have to say I more often
feel like killing the film maker than the maker. That being said...
...if you see your maker on the road, kill
* Yup. We spelled that correctly. Look
| Read more about
negative utopias and dystopia in film here.
Noir: The Making of Blade Runner is
an excellent in-depth look at the story
of how Blade Runner was made...
Check it out at Amazon.com.
While you're there, pick up the movie...
...and the book it was based upon:
based on the short story "Supertoys
Last All Summer Long"
by Brian Aldiss:
the Movie, if you must....
But it doesn't do the
much justice. And what's
up with Will Smith on the cover of a fifty
year old book?