Saturday, December 13, 2008


Godard’s Alphaville (1965) is a movie about the horrors of a future whose genesis exists in the present; and how these horrors affect the soul of humanity. The film, shot in dark and light, opens with a flashing white light in a sea of darkness. The white light represents the beacon of hope amidst the darkness that defines Alphaville. The light flashes in patterns and therefore is sending out a message for anyone willing to bear witness to it.

That beacon is answered in the form of Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), a spy from the Outlands, whose mission is to retrieve or eliminate a Dr. Von Braun from the clutches of Alpha 60, the force that runs the inhabitants of Alphaville. We later come to understand that Dr. Von Braun and Alphaville are essentially one and the same. A painting of a white dove being released behind the opening credits presages his success.

Eddie’s other mission is to shed light on the inhabitants of Alphaville, which is made evident by the particular points of light that illuminate that opening sea of darkness. Among those points of light are lit up apartments in otherwise dreary complexes, rows of streetlights lighting the way for an elevated train, and the accentuated headlights of Eddie’s white mustang as it approaches Alphaville (the mise-en-scene: a white knight riding into town on his white steed with holstered pistol and a flame thrower of a lighter).

Off screen, Alpha 60 explains to us (as Eddie rides into town) the reason for its existence: “Reality is too complex for oral communication.” The troublesome complexity turns out to be the human emotions that are anathema to any organization. Thus, we’ll see people who think for themselves are suspect and those that admit to feeling are eliminated. The names of the streets (Enrico Fermi Street, Heisenberg Boulevard, and Mathematical Park) confirms Alphaville is built upon mathematical formula and the use of the dictionary (continuously updated as words having emotional impact are eliminated) as Bible confirms Alpha 60’s relentless reorganization of society (“A natural ambition of any organization is to plan all its actions.”) The extremes by which “unknown quantities” are minimized are depicted in a pool located on the SS floor with obvious connotations.

In this strange world, the ratio of men to women who fall prey to the swimming pool is 50:1, which is counterintuitive with respect to previous emotional quotients established by Godard in his women. For example, Camille (Contempt, 1963) is depicted as an (almost out of control) emotional woman. One would think the ratio Godard would use in Alphaville would reflect this, and be presented the reverse of what it is, reflecting the higher emotional quotient needed to hang onto emotional aspects of humanity. But Godard does not, and the reason for this can also be found in Camille: her willingness to compromise her emotions when a tactical advantage can be gained. Examples of this are when she props up her husband Paul emotionally, even as she is obviously upset at him; or, when she seems willing for Paul to finish the screenplay in order to keep the flat. The connotation is that women are able to ascertain when it’s advantages to give in. This connotation is depicted by the number of women (including Natasha) literally prostituting themselves in the name of the organization. Godard’s further condensation with respect to women is that it is Eddie (a man) who rescues Natasha (a woman) from Alphaville. To Godard’s credit, he allows the responsibility of re-reeducation to remain with Natasha.

The pool scene is where we first lay eyes on Alpha 60, (Dr. Von Braun as played by Akim Tamirof) when Natasha (Anna Karina), the doctor’s daughter, connects us to him visually with a peck on the cheek. Earlier we had been introduced to Natasha as someone who had lived in the Outlands when she was younger, and at the same time someone who no longer knows (among other human emotions) about love due to the controls established by Alpha 60. The extent of Natasha’s reeducation is noted by her nodding “yes” when she means “no” and vice-versa. This same characteristic is also seen in Henry Dickson (a collaborator of Eddie) who has to use his hands to correctly orientate the movement of his head when he means to nod “yes”.” Henry eventually chokes during his use of (unauthorized) words, specifically the word “love.”

Alpha 60 equates the evolution of the man’s organizations to its destruction, and sees itself as the logical means of that destruction. On the immediate stage, Eddie has to destroy Alpha 60. On the larger stage, man has to be careful the humanity of man is not lost to man’s want to organize. And on the individual stage, Natasha’s has to relearn the meaning of the word “love.”

At film’s end, Eddie destroys Alpha 60, rescues Natasha from the organization’s henchmen, and escapes from Alphaville. Despite its references to 150 light years and galaxies, all the mise-en-scene is from the present, signaling that man should be wary of present day organizations and their particular characteristics that inhibit our ability to remain human. Against humanity, are the characteristics on an organization that are in their favor: time; and, the fact that every present is irreversible. Using this logic, Organizations win, Humanity loses.

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