What to make of Godard’s New Wave sci-fi classic ‘Alphaville’

Journalist Ivan Johnson aka secret agent Lemmy Caution "hides" and watches a fellow agent make love to a seductress third class.

Journalist Ivan Johnson – aka secret agent Lemmy Caution – “hides” and watches a fellow agent make love to a seductress third class.

Alphaville is a strange flick. On the one hand, writer/director Jean-Luc Godard plumbs the depths of questions about individuality, spirituality, love and the struggle between humanity and technology in a rapidly evolving world. On the other hand, there are times the film is so awkward that it’s almost difficult to watch (although, to be fair, Godard made three movies that year and four the previous year, so time and budget were likely the culprits behind troublesome moments, rather than his ability as a visual storyteller).

That said, the end product is undeniably alluring. Godard’s Alphaville is a place without laughter or love, virtually no music, no passion beyond base sexual needs, a world where constantly redacted dictionaries are bibles and E-mc² is liturgy. In one scene, those who violate the tight, emotional bonds – by laughing, crying, even just caring – are forced to “walk the plank,” up to the edge of diving board, and then shot as they scream their last words in defense of their acts of humanity. As the lifeless bodies hit the water, beautiful young women in matching swimming attire dive in and perform synchronized swimming moves as they retrieve the dead bodies. Crowds watch and cheer as the swimmers perform. It is simultaneously absurd and prescient, a mocking of those who cry out for death and cheer as the blood begins to flow. Humanity is constantly denigrated and tamped down, all for the betterment of the logical society of Alphaville.

What I found most interesting was just how much the science fiction that followed Alphaville mimicked so much of its dystopian future. For example:

* The Matrix – In Alphaville, the supercomputer Alpha 60 controls all. It monitors all communications, calls forth its own “agents” to suppress any who would break out of the rigid system it provides. The world we see is the mask; the real action happens behind the scenes with Alpha 60 and its programmers.

* Blade Runner – Rick Dekard and secret agent Lemmy Caution are cut from the same film noir cloth. Neither understands what they’ve stepped into; both are determined to finish the job.

* Brave New World – Alphaville is a land of sex without love, pills that keep you content. Both Aldous Huxely’s and Godard’s worlds deny any true love or passion, making sex as rote and necessary as having lunch or dropping a deuce.

* 2001: A Space Odyssey – Alpha 60 is HAL. Both understand that the body counts don’t matter, it is the end result, the desired goal, that is most important.

* Divergent – You don’t fit into the pre-determined roles set up by society? In the Divergent series, you are cast out. In Alphaville, you’re lured to a theater and gassed as you enjoy the show.

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