Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Aeon Flux: Sci-Fi for the sake of itself

Clones, dystopias, women in tight leather doing acrobatics; they’ve all become staples of sci-fi over the years. In any give genre, certain conventions become so familiar and obvious, that the bulk of them begin to blend into one another, and they become somewhat indistinguishable. Such was the case with Aeon Flux. It was merely, just another sci-fi flick.

The first five minutes of the movie were both as lively and informative as a chapter in a textbook, and served to set up the entire film via narration done by Charlize Theron, as her character, Aeon.

Welcome to Bregna, it’s a “utopian” society where the remaining humans on earth live. Hundred of years prior, a terrible virus had almost knocked out the entire race, and probably would have, if not for Trevor Goodchild, a brilliant scientist who discovered a cure for the pestilence. But all is not as wonderfully idyllic as it might seem, besides the attractive and brightly garbed population, people have been known to disappear, and the entire city lives under a strict police state. Beyond that, citizens complain of trouble sleeping, and displaced memories. There is unrest brewing among the populus.

Then there are the Monicans, covert operatives who work under a bedraggled Fances McDormand, known to them only as the “Handler”. They are on a mission to discover “the truth” and take down Bregna’s government, run by the scientist Trevor with the help of his brother Oren, and a stoic group of advisors. How and when did these Monicans originate? Unclear. Equally unclear is the method by which they communicate with one another and access the Handler. At times it seems to be triggered by a chemical substance (implying a psychic encounter rather than a physical one….huh?) at other times, by their touching of a metal ball bearing implanted in their bodies.

Early on, in a hasty attempt to give Aeon’s character some motivation, we learn that her sister Una is killed by the police, when they mistake her for Aeon. Aeon’s voiceover after this event states, “I had a life, …now I just have a mission…” The “Handler” puts Aeon on a mission to assassinate Bregna’s mastermind, Treveor Goodchild. But when she gets her lucky break, something goes terribly awry; Aeon cannot bring herself to kill him, and finds herself magnetically drawn to him.

This movie was very boring, particularly in the first half hour. Aeon Flux is like many popular releases today; character development is a luxury it cannot afford. Certainly not with a mandated quota from the studio for a dizzying array of FX and T & A shots/sequences.

So many science fiction films, particularly those of recent years like The Matrix, The Island, and even A.I. are based around this general feeling of discontent that we in modern day society feel. That we are not ourselves, or we are not who we think we are; that we are nothing more than power sources for machinery, clones or robots. I think that these are both interesting and relavent ideas to explore, given the fast paced consumer culture we live in. Some of these films, like the Matrix, explore these themes successfully, others like The Island, less so. Unfortunately Aeon Flux falls into the latter category; it doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Bregna’s big “secret” is that all the humans living within it’s walls are clones. The cure that Goodwin found for the virus inadvertently made all humans sterile. So to keep the human race alive, DNA was stored from that first generation of survivors and recycled into embryos which were then inserted into a surrogate mother’s womb. In essence people were living over and over again as different incarnations of themselves. This was also the reason for the memories that people experienced of things that had never happened to them. I think I understand the reason for the writers putting this in there. They wanted to convey that people were only meant to live once –that you can’t erase emotional content out of memory, that there is more to life than the scientific data and facts. But it also doesn’t make any sense. For a film that emphasized its scientific details on the methodology of cloning, it seemed senseless to also imply that memories were imprinted in DNA. It’s ridiculous. (Though this does explain why Aeon feels for Trevor Goodwin –they were husband and wife in their past lives).

What’s more is that the story’s solution to this conundrum is that magically, women in Bregna have started to become pregnant again without insemination, because “nature had found a way”. As much as I wanted to laugh out loud in the theatre about their blatant rip off of Jurassic Park (remember Jeff Goldblum’s little tirade?), I just rolled my eyes at the futility of the film’s clunky plot.

Absurdity abounds in this movie. For example Pete Postlethwaite’s character, “the Keeper” lives in a giant hot air balloon. He wears a dress and guards Bregna’s supply of human DNA, it also appears he has been alive for four hundred years…maybe. But as with so many other elements of this film, Postlethwaite’s character was bizarre for the sake of itself. He might of easily been a hologram of Charlie Chaplin singing Old Ang’s Eye everytime someone climbed into his balloon. Now I don’t mind absurdity, in fact sometimes I love it. But it seems to me that in the best contexts it has a greater purpose or meaning. Aeon Flux was just a conglomeration of familiar sci-fi images and themes that we’ve seen before. There were some interesting concepts, and striking visual elements, but it all felt so labored, not at all fluid, as it clunked along from one plot point to the next. It was a sci-fi mosaic without the big picture.

Aeon Flux reminded me of The Island, in that they both deal with the subject of human cloning in the future. But The Island, (as much as I disliked the film) had stronger, better founded commentary on the moral ambiguity of cloning. People had begun to clone out of a sense of frivolity and luxury. A terrifying, but nevertheless, logical future step in a society of materialistic perpetuity; added comfort at all costs. In Aeon Flux, the situation was different. Trevor Goodwin had saved the human race from the terrible virus, but extinction faced them nonetheless. He had no other choice but to clone humans, lest the human race go extinct. For centuries, he tried to find a cure for the sterility, and in the end, he did. As it turns out, Una, Aeon’s sister had been part of one of Trevor’s many test groups, and had gotten pregnant. This was the real reason that she had been killed. (That was another messy thing about the storyline, it had both Trevor Goodwin and Mother Nature solving the infertility problem at coincidentally the same time.) Oren, Trevor’s brother, wanted to live forever, and wanted to maintain the cloning status quo, which was clearly corrupt and perverse. But he was ultimately defeated by Aeon and Trevor at the end of the movie. In the end it was all a fairly straight forward throughline: cloning was needed to keep the human race alive, when it was no longer needed, it would be banned. Ta da! Maybe I’m just thick skulled, but I find it hard to argue against using cloning if the alternative is human extinction. So what exactly is the film’s argument about cloning?

I thought director Karyn Kosama made some interesting choices with her production designer and VFX guys. The sets and costumes were impressive, and while I can’t imagine the film had a very high budget the visual FX were not at all shabby. Some of the technology in the film looked cool and inventive, though explanations and elaboration on it was scant. I really liked the design of Trevor Goodchild’s living quarters, his bedroom area was like a tatami room, and a lever opened up the floor to reveal a retracting spiral staircase. His study was decorated in the style of a late nineteenth century British library with an Asian twist, and when another lever was moved, a stark white modern laboratory was revealed. It was cool stuff to look at. Pity there wasn’t much more of it in the film.


Anonymous DoorFrame said...

I can't believe you went to see it!

Did they really say that "nature found a way"? I was just watching Jurassic Park on tv two nights ago.

Did you ever watch the cartoon? I could never get into... the writers seemed to have a maniacal attraction to not making sense. The cloning thing, in the cartoon, probably had something to do with the fact that in the second season our female lead died at the end of every episode (a pre-cursor to Kenny).

Who's going around making live-action remakes of MTV cartoons, anyway? What's next, The Head? Geez, that would be awful.

Actually, I'd give a live action version of the Maxx a shot... at least that story line actually fit into something around two hours worth of cartoon time. Does anybody even remember that cartoon anymore?

I wish they would put all their old cartoons out on DVD, there's three different shows I would be happy to buy and none are for sale.

5:23 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Oh Doorframe, you should know by now, I will and do go see absolutely most anything and everything. Particularly if its in the sci-fi, horror, fantasy genre.

Literally the line was "Nature found a way" identical to Jeff's line in J.P.1, which I couldn't believe myself.

Never saw the cartoon, heard tell about it though. MTV is lazy about a lot of things...but I'm sure eventually they'll put out all their stuff on DVD.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous DoorFrame said...

MTV probably won't put out most of their stuff on DVD. I was investigating why they hadn't put Daria out on DVD at one point and found this site where people are hounding the MTV people in charge of DVDs about it. Although they're optimistic, it sounds as though MTV doesn't care and there's no real reason for them to bother.

"because the retail market has gotten so flooded, DVDs are not selling as well as they used to, unless they follow a big movie release or are for a popular current show."

Anyway, when they put out The Maxx, Daria and Downtown, I'd be happy to send them money. Happy.

They don't want my money.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Don't say that. You're crushing my dreams of seeing The State on DVD.

8:46 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Ah, the state, I loved the state!!

9:19 PM  
Anonymous nach said...

lest we not forget clone high

6:27 PM  

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