Alphaville

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #25: Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville.

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Watching this film, one of the first things I re­al­ized is that Jean-Luc Godard has no idea how to make con­vinc­ing sci­ence fic­tion. The next thing I re­al­ized was that Godard was mere­ly us­ing enough of the sci­ence fic­tion id­iom to dis­play and en­act his di­alec­tic bat­tle be­tween love and log­ic. From this point of view, the in­con­sis­ten­cies and patho­log­i­cal in­abil­i­ty to ful­ly sus­pend dis­be­lief are of sec­ondary con­se­quence to ob­serv­ing philo­soph­i­cal gym­nas­tics that on­ly the French are ca­pa­ble of. Alphaville is a city con­trolled by a com­put­er called Alpha 60, whose goal is to re­make hu­man­i­ty in his own im­age, pure­ly log­i­cal and with­out even the slight­est abil­i­ty to ex­press emo­tion. Alpha 60 al­so sounds like you’d ex­pect a guy who smokes through a stoma to talk. Thank God the Intergalactic Secret Agent Lemmy Caution has been sent from the Outlands to do a lit­tle re­con, kill a man and de­stroy Alpha 60 if he can. As a bonus he gets to sleep with Anna Karina.

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Since this was shot in the 60s it feels pret­ty dat­ed, be­cause the sci-fi is cul­tur­al, it be­comes anachro­nis­tic in its set­ting; where­as some­thing like The Day The Earth Stood Still brings in all the sci­ence fic­tion from an ex­tra-ter­res­tri­al source, and while dat­ed, re­mains be­liev­able. Alphaville is more on the or­der of Philip K. Dickian, psy­cho­log­i­cal trau­ma fraught with para­noia. Alpha 60’s om­nipres­ence fa­cil­i­tates cul­tur­al com­par­isons to Orwell’s 1984 and David Bowie’s song Saviour Machine. At the same time, the 60s were the per­fect time to find vi­su­al cog­nates to re­flect the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment of so­ci­ety. You’ve got to think in that frame of mind to rec­og­nize build­ings that look like punch-cards though. Much like sci-fi from that pe­ri­od couldn’t pre­dict per­son­al com­put­er or the dig­i­tal age, and you end up with space­men us­ing slide-rules.

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At one point Lemmy is in­ter­ro­gat­ed by Alpha 60 to de­ter­mine whether he can be suc­cess­ful­ly as­sim­i­lat­ed or whether he should be ex­e­cut­ed. He man­ages to present the com­put­er with a co­nun­drum that even­tu­al­ly short cir­cuits the thing, si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly free­ing and de­stroy­ing most of the in­hab­i­tants of Alphaville. The ones who had be­come ful­ly log­i­cal and emo­tion­less, who had for­got­ten words like weep­ing and red­breast, went mad and died when the lights went out. Only those with some emo­tion­al bear­ing left to them had the abil­i­ty to sur­vive the death of log­ic in the face of uni­ver­sal po­et­ry wield­ed by the ug­ly crag of a man called Lemmy Caution. Light is both safe­ty net and the yoke of log­ic in Alphaville, and it is on­ly in the dark re­cess­es of in­ter­galac­tic space, and in the hu­man heart that emo­tion can find the strength to tri­umph.

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