Monthly Archives: March 2018

THX 1138 (1971)

Dystopian sci-fi has enjoyed a popular resurgence in film in recent years. Whether it’s youth oriented, big ticket franchises like The Hunger Games and Divergent or more highbrow offerings like Blade Runner 2049 and Ghost in the Shell, it’s increasingly difficult to discern whether Hollywood wants to warn us or simply prepare us for a dystopian technocracy of one form or another. Though dystopian science fiction has been a staple of literary sci-fi for a long time, cinematic portraits have a shorter history. Certainly among the first and, for my money, unquestionably the best vision of the Orwellian technocratic dystopia is George Lucas’ first feature length film, THX 1138. Made with the modest budget of $777,777, THX 1138 is an unremittingly grim visual and technical marvel which portrays a society that micromanages and monitors every facet of human behavior. The fact that it is so nightmarishly vivid about its forecasts of a technocratic police state makes you wonder about whether or not the occult numerological significance of the budget may have actually embued it with its oppressive malevolence.

THX 1138 opens with a Buck Rogers clip of Tragedy on Saturn, Chapter Two from April 18, 1939. Besides being a subtle homage to the films of his youth, its sunny optimism over the glorious future of scientific progress creates an immediate contrast to the dreary and oppressive portrait that awaits the viewer. Embedded within the introduction, Lucas is also setting up the theme of THX as a “ordinary, normal human being who keeps his wits about him”. Is the title of the episode yet another subtle Crowley reference to the Nazi crackdown on the Brotherhood of Saturn? Or is the film itself a subtle allusion to the Buck Rogers episode which foreshadows THX’ purging of his profane and egoic selfhood through his union with the Mary-Isis-Sophia avatar and crossing the abyss of the demiurgical Saturnian Matrix to attain his Promethean gnosis? It may be a reach, but given the very specific numerological significance of the budget, I’m not ruling it out.

The film is unspecific about the year in which it’s set, but it is presumed to be the early 21st century. Like Orwell and Huxley, the accuracy with which it predicts the future to which we seem headed makes you wonder whether he was offering a warning or simply telegraphing intention of a larger agenda. People have been stripped of actual names and have been assigned names that resemble UPC barcodes. Human emotions have been suppressed through a strict regime of pharmacological treatments. Sex and love have been outlawed. Subsequently, drab unisex white uniforms and shaven heads ensure that no one will stand apart nor any gender distinction be recognized. In other words, a world of perfect #EQUALITY. There is no organic life whatsoever. The entire film is a series of colorless, antiseptic interiors which resemble a laboratory or a shopping mall. Presaging the sensory overload of Ridley Scott’s future metropolis by a decade, THX 1138 is arguably the cinematic archetype for every cyberpunk dystopia since then. People are awash in a bath of electronic stimulation and automated messaging. The line between advertising and state propaganda has all but disappeared.

Female voice (over P.A.): Changeable. Alterable. Mutable. Variable. Versatile. Moldable. Movable. Fluctuate. Undulate. Flicker. Flutter. Pulsate. Vibrate. Alternate. Plastic.

As the titular character, Robert Duvall is an operator on an assembly line who uses mechanical arms to insert radioactive fuel cells into robots. Anticipating both Blade Runner 2049 and Robocop, the entire police force of THX 1138 are androids. Since all organic forms of social organization and restraint have been completely obliterated, humans essentially serve the purpose of manufacturing the machines which are programmed to police their own behavior. Extend this speculation a little further to fully sentient AI, and you have the foundation for the entire Matrix and Terminator franchises.

As we’re introduced to THX, a horrific explosion takes place in an adjoining facility resulting in many injuries. A brief shot of a mutilated corpse being dragged out of a contaminated area on a surveillance camera suggests tight control of any and all information that pertains to public safety or raises any possibility of emotional distress. A velvety smooth PA announcement immediately tries to put a spin of positivity on a deadly and toxic industrial accident by comparing the quantity of losses between sectors. It’s very black humor, but it’s a chilling commentary on the depth of society’s emotional anaesthesia.

Male voice: That accident over in Red Sector L destroyed another 63 personnel, giving them a total of 242 lost to our 195. Keep up the good work and prevent accidents. This shift is concluded.

Paired strictly on the basis of sanitation ratings, THX 1138 shares a flat with LUH 3417. Living an emotionally arid existence with another human with whom she has no connection drives her to commit one of the highest crimes in society. She begins to steadily reduce the dosage of drugs required by law which has the unexpected side effect of restoring natural emotional responses in THX. After receiving sexual gratification from a mechanical device, THX switches from the African exotica porn hologram network to the violence network. Anticipating the VR trend by several decades, THX zones out to hologram of a robocop mercilessly beating the pulp out of some poor soul with a nightstick. You see very little of the actual violence, but you don’t need to because the sound effect alone creates its own psychic trauma.

In order to unburden himself from the unexpected side effect of his restored capacity for feeling, THX goes to the proto-AI confessional. Anticipating Anthony Levandowski’s transhumanist church by several decades, OMM 0000 manifests as a screenshot of Hans Memling’s Christ Blessing, but is later revealed to be a Wizard of Oz style illusion. Similar to the Wizard of Oz, I suspect Lucas wanted to simultaneously portray religion as the Noble Lie as well as a hollowed out, postmodern One World Religion demiurge. It even has the vocal inflections and cadences necessary to convey absolute interest, concern and compassion.

OMM: My time – is yours. Go ahead.

THX 1138: What’s wrong with me? What am I to her, she to me? Nothing!

OMM: Yes, fine.

THX 1138: Just an ordinary roommate. I share rooms with her. Our relationship is normal. Conforming.

OMM: Excellent!

THX 1138: We share nothing – but space. What is she doing to me?

OMM: Yes, I understand.

Taking the #MeToo movement to its fullest conclusion, heterosexual intercourse has been outlawed. When THX and LUH finally have sex, it is filled with menace and dread. THX tries to assuage LUH’s fears that they’re being watched, but Lucas cuts to a control room of surveillance monitors transfixed on the crime being perpetrated. It is a pitch perfect foreshadowing of the social media star chamber and the myriad ways our open embrace of technology has given the surveillance state every weapon they could ever need.

LUH convinces THX that they can escape the city and run away together. They arrange to meet after LUH finishes her work shift, but she appears at THX’ sector to inform him that she’s been reassigned to a new shift and new living quarters by her superior, SEN 5241. Played by Donald Pleasance, SEN is a schizophrenic collision of nervous conformity, clenched authority and creepy obsequiousness. Unbeknownst to either THX and LUH, SEN had been monitoring their transgressions all along. Traumatized by LUH’s sudden disappearance from his world, THX nearly causes another industrial accident by dropping a nuclear fuel rod. He is placed on a mind lock and detained for criminal drug evasion.

While under detention, THX is subjected to a beating that is one of the most horrific scenes ever committed to film. The police subdue THX with cattleprod-like nightsticks which are able to inflict neurological and psychic damage without ever making physical contact.

He is pronounced guilty for drug evasion and sexual perversion and sentenced to a program of reconditioning. After being mind locked and tortured by psionic nightsticks, a couple of indifferent re-education technicians bicker amongst themselves while being completely oblivious to effects their knob twiddling is having on THX’ nervous system. What Lucas is presenting is the extent to which the technocratic overlords have constructed vast systems of management which allow them to control the minds and nervous systems of the citizens through voluntary and involuntary methods.

As THX escapes, we are introduced to other ideas that are found in numerous subsequent dystopian sci-fi films. SRT is a bored AI hologram who forms an alliance with THX. The very notion of an AI which elicits sympathy from the viewer is now a standard feature of any sci-fi film with transhumanist themes. There are also hints of both organ harvesting and laboratory grown fetuses. State controlled, scientifically managed birth rates, eugenics, genetic engineering and industrial food production gone wrong would be famously examined in Logan’s Run, Gattaca and Soylent Green among many others.

Fans of Star Wars will likely appreciate the seeds of its visual world building and sound design contained in THX 1138. Lucas’ prodigious skill was evident right out of the gate. Not only did Lucas continue to reference this film throughout the Star Wars series, THX 1138 contains the first cinematic reference to a wookiee.

After a breathtaking car and motorcycle chase, the film culminates with THX escaping the confines of the city by climbing upward through a ventilation tunnel of some kind while being chased by a robocop. The robocop eventually receives instruction to abandon the chase because it would exceed the budget allotted. All decision-making has been fully optimized around efficient usage of resources. It seems insignificant on the surface, but this final scene also has esoteric symbolic significance when seen through the lens of qabalistic mysticism. THX crossed the abyss of Da’at on the Tree of Life, and passed through his spiritual nigredo to rise phoenix-like to the surface of the world with Knowledge.

Then there’s the entire question of the hidden numerological meanings embedded in the names of the characters. Both THX 1138 and LUH 3417 add up to 29 and 2+9=11. 11 has alchemical significance in that it represents the twin pillars of Solomon’s Temple, Boaz and Jachin. These pillars signify the reconciliation of opposites into an invisible third pillar. Besides being another subtle Crowley reference, OMM converts to 14 and 14 = 7+7. If you think I’m reaching, consider the dollar amount of the budget. I don’t think there’s anything that didn’t serve a very specific purpose.

Even if Lucas was using this to transmit occult symbolism and esoteric messages, it still seems to be a film which portrays a man breaking free of the conditioning and liberating himself. That alone sets it apart from the current messaging of Blade Runner 2049 or the latest cyberpunk dystopia, Ready Player One.

Though A Clockwork Orange is a very close second, I believe THX 1138 is the quintessential sci-fi dystopian film. Not only does it contain the seeds of every dystopian sci-fi film since its creation, it foreshadows the world in which we currently live. I’d like to think that Lucas wanted to warn people of the dangers of the technological age with this film. But even if he didn’t have that goal, that’s exactly the lesson you should take from it.

Trump’s Thwarted Revolution: The Case for Defunding Federal Arts Programs Still Applies

As Trump began implementing his agenda in the early days of his administration, the daily drumbeat of outrage was as predictable as it was consistent. Whether it was denunciations of Rex Tillerson’s perceived conflicts of interest or Betsy Devos’ lack of credentials, Trump’s agenda sparked a howl of autistic screeching that now comprises a wall of digital noise that permeates the mediasphere. Each day ushered in a new set of perceived assaults on the moral fiber of the republic, but there was one agenda item that seemed to rise above others as an especially odious affront to civilization. Trump wanted to cut funding for the ARTS AND HUMANITIES. Cue Colonel Kurtz. The tremors of terror that rippled through the arts commmuniity were palpable.

It was bad enough that Neil Gorsuch secretly wanted to repeal Roe v. Wade and Betsy Devos’ appointment was a Trojan Horse for the reinstatement for school prayer. This was something infintely worse. This was seemingly an act of sabotage on the cornerstone of culture itself: ART. The indignation that emanted from the intelligentsia played out like an ad-lib. Shame on you, President Literally Hitler! Do you know who else banned art? HITLER! How dare you propose something so barbarous and regressive! You’re obviously just an unenlightened, pussy grabbing boor for even suggesting such a thing! The calls for defunding renewed, and like clockwork, the progressive establishment revved up the outrage all over again. The condemnation from all corners was strident and unanimous.

Though Trump is not the first to threaten this funding, we have yet to see any actual results from any Republican president. Reagan famously made a similar threat only to later add it to an ever accumulating pile of broken conservative promises. Apparently, we may never see any follow through. Early reports on the latest budget agreement indicate he has already capitulated just like Reagan. Regardless, I still believe his original instincts were correct and he he should have pulled the plug from the funding of the entire federal arts establishment from the budget.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will make two confessions from the outset. First, I’m an artist myself and there’s no doubt in my mind that if you were to list out all of the recipients of federal arts funding, there’d be much I’d either support outright or find commendable at minimum. Second, this was a taxpayer endeavor to which I was once fully sympathetic and wholeheartedly endorsed. This essay represents a change in a once deeply held conviction.

There are five arguments for defunding the arts programs:

  1. Taxpayer funded art is politicized art. Progressives are very clever about rationalizing and defending these programs. They’ll portay them as universal goods. They’ll say these are apolitical programs which spread a universal appreciation for art. In fact, they’re so beneficial, they’ll reap benefits that we may not even see in our own lifetimes. It may not yield the next Picasso, but it might yield the next art conscious industrialist or technocrat. However, the truth is quite obviously the opposite. Taxpayer funded art carries implicit and often explicit political content. No matter how abstract, art serves as a transmission vessel for values and ideas. At a bare minimum, it reinforces the idea that government funding generates culture, and that without it, the will to create or appreciate art would evaporate. And in the case of taxpayer funded art, the political outcomes flow in one direction. To the urban enclaves and strongholds where the Left already enjoys a cultural hegemony. Furthermore, the art world in general is overwhelmingly dominated by the Left. To assert that decades of taxpayer funding haven’t produced a quantifiable consensus in the art world is to deny reality. The progressive elites are keenly aware that opinion can be shaped and molded more easily through art than any other means. Politics are downstream from culture and no one knows this better than the progressive Left.
  2. Taxpayer funded art does not reflect the “will of the people” or a national consensus. It’s an argument that bears repeating. When art is funded through compulsory taxation, the final recipients will be ultimately be determined by a handful of bureaucrats. Subsequently, awards will be granted based on either proximity to the political apparatus or the subjective tastes of the bureaucrats. Funds appropriated through force immediately deprive individuals the opportunity to make voluntary purchases in the marketplace.
  3. It destroys the appreciation for fine art rather than strengthening it. A common rationale for this funding goes something like this. Making truly Great Art requires that the artist forego the idea of commercial success. Therefore, We as Enlightened Citizens should subsidize these heroic efforts because people just don’t appreciate these visionaries and this funding will help foster a deeper appreciation. But where’s the evidence? Are people demanding more Shakespeare and Bach? Or are we seeing the influence of the pop culture sphere eclipse all other artistic endeavors while listening to progressives bemoan the collapse they hastened? While I will concede that there’s truth to the claim that the artist must shoulder a certain degree of risk in creating original work, this line of thinking also reinforces an orthodoxy of virtue as well as a smug elitism around the entire enterprise. Furthermore, it reduces the incentive for subsidized artists to compete honestly in the marketplace alongside other commercial endeavors and produces its own aesthetic conformity. How many conservatives end up at Kronos Quartet concerts or are interested in seeing the Sol Lewitt exhibition? I suspect it’s next to zero. Does the federal funding apparatus hope to fund the next Leonardo Davinci, Raphael, Michelangelo or Vermeer? I suspect it’s a resounding No. We live a multicultural, post-national, postmodern world now, bigot. Don’t go pushing that Western civilization supremacy on us!
  4. It contributes to federal mission creep. The government is an institution vested with the power to initiate force, jail and imprison. When you attempt to project altruistic, humanitarian or higher order values on to government policy, you are essentially transforming these benevolent impulses into compulsion. Progressives are always the first to denounce the slightest hint of tyranny from conservatives, but somehow the rhetoric that fuels the taxpayer funded art apparatus inoculates them from criticism. It’s as though the good intentions and the aura of enlightened civic engagement are winning arguments all by themselves.
  5. Once implemented, federal spending programs are hard to kill. Again, we return to failed promise of conservatism in the liberal democratic age. Even a game changing president like Trump submits to the hive mind when the chips are down.

Taxpayer funded art is yet another example of how appealing rhetoric trumps outcomes. Even if you agree with every dollar of funding alloted, there will be a segment of the population who does not. Progressives always tout the size of the budget as a pittance relative to other federal expenditures, ergo all this is much ado about nothing. But if it’s truly so inconsequential, why the indignant pronouncements of moral condemnation? Why the supercharged proclamations of barabarism and small mindedness? Deploying state coercion to compel the provision of an abstract ideal of Common Good should be viewed with the greatest skepticism and the most vigilant restraint.

The Florida Project (2017)

It seems like everything that comes out of Hollywood these days is either insufferable garbage or, at best, a mixed bag. I didn’t think I’d find a film that fills both categories, but The Florida Project may be that film. This is the tenth effort from the 47 year old writer/director, Sean Baker, and it is an excruciating chore to watch. If I were slathered in honey and pushed into a pit of fire ants, it wouldn’t adequately convey the psychic torture this film inflicts. This film completely embodies Hollywood’s loathsome and contemptible double standard and false moral preening. At the same time, it does present you with some thorny questions around societal norms, gender roles and moral standards that any honest person will have difficulty answering. Set amidst the pastel colored sprawl of Orlando, The Florida Project tells the story of single mother Hallee and her daughter Moonee as they attempt to simply survive while living in a low budget hotel amongst the “hidden homeless”. The film is intentionally shot against the backdrop of Disneyworld because Baker wants the juxtaposition of a beloved fantasyland destination for stable families to play against the broken lives of quiet and not-so-quiet desperation that carry on beyond the view of the average American.

Though it can be seen as having redeeming qualities when viewed through the right lens, it is also a film whose unrelenting unpleasantness immediately makes you wonder what exactly Mr. Baker intended to convey. Based on the available interview footage, the subject matter of his other films and the virtue signaling on his Twitter feed, we can safely conclude that this was yet another vile and repugnant moral circle jerk. Baker wants to render the emotional and societal wreckage perpetrated by the very people with whom he surrounds himself in the most vivid and realistic ways possible. Rather portray this as a tragic collapse of societal norms, he asks you to engage in an exercise in radical #EMPATHY. No, this is not an occasion in which to judge or ascribe blame. Check your privilege, bigot. This is about the #INCLUSION of #MARGINALIZED groups.

Hallee is, in many ways, the apotheosis of the progressive, feminist single mother archetype. She’s an ill mannered, foul mouthed derelict who has no business being anywhere near a child, but she is, in fact, the sole caregiver of the equally monstrous and ill mannered brat, Moonee. We no longer need to speculate about what life in the matriarchy will be like because Hallee perfectly embodies it. She don’t need no man, bitch. She won’t be slut shamed for turning tricks while her daughter bathes in the next room. You got a fuckin’ problem with how she’s raising her child, you uptight conservatard? And don’t you dare judge her for stealing from others just to make a buck. What do you expect from a womyn still struggling to liberate herself from patriarchal norms, you misogynistic bigot?

As Bobby, Willem Dafoe debases himself once again by giving us yet another warped and damaged archetype of postmodern paternalism. Dafoe is the manager at the hotel where Hallee and Moonee live, but he is also a de facto father figure. Reduced to making futile attempts to restrain her ghastly behavior and having to cover up for her numerous pathologies, Dafoe is a burned out shard of a man desperately reaching for fragments of self-respect, moral rectitude and legitimate authority.

While I can freely admit that my own childhood was far from conventional and I was accorded liberties that would have been judged very negatively by many, I would hope that the average viewer would be appalled by the adverse effects of the complete absence of real parenting for Moonee. Baker appears to be asking you to witness Hallee pass on her own pathologies to her daughter and suspend all moral judgment. He even seems to be quietly cheerleading Hallee for her “bravery”. Based on all the breathless swooning from the intelligentsia, he appears to have succeeded.

If we were to take the most charitable possible interpretation of this film, it could be argued that Baker may have inadvertently made one of the biggest red pills ever. This is what the secular progressive consensus has produced. The state of perpetual rebellion against any kind of social norm has produced a society that can no longer uphold anything as an ideal to which to aspire. All that remains is a nihilistic fixation on the dissolution and decay which is what passes for radical #EMPATHY and enlightened virtue. Hey, at least Baker HAS THE COURAGE TO TELL IT LIKE IT IS, AMIRITE? NO SUGAR COATED, ANDY GRIFFITH STYLE AMERICAN NOSTALGIA HERE, MAN! WE’RE TACKLING THE STUFF THAT’S JUST TOO REAL FOR ALL YOU SHELTERED CONSERVATARDS.

Naturally, Hollywood showered this movie with praise as a paragon of pure #WOKENESS. A 95% Fresh reviewer score on Rotten Tomatoes is full confirmation that the enlightened, sophisticated and sensitive people approve. And all the promo photos on social media will remind you that this film has the seal of approval from the Right Peoplekind. If you see this movie, you’re aware of how real the struggle is and you really should like it. You probably read Affinity, The Root and Everyday Feminism, too. And you most certainly vote the right way.

While those who watch this will congratulate themselves for enduring this psychic torture and use it as evidence of their moral superiority, the larger question is what is do be done about these phenomena? It’s too much to confront. But somehow, we’re to presume that merely watching this movie inches us closer to some kind of singularity of mass #EMPATHY. At least we’re getting more #WOKE, AMIRITE? If you’re serious about the issue, either you’re going to advocate for building stable families from the start or you’re going to get into the trenches and work on dealing with the breached levees of society. Unfortunately, most of society’s energy is trained towards mitigating the damage that’s already been done. Sean Baker would never make a film about a white, stable Christian family trying to navigate the waters of a society that’s hostile to their lifestyle in every way because he has no real moral framework. Nor would he make a film which trains its sights on the ways that Disney itself is exacerbating these problems because these are the types of people whose approval he ultimately seeks. All you really need is #EMPATHY and #INCLUSIVENESS. His films are just long form social media memes for everyone who’s already part of his ideological hugbox.

The ending of the film is obviously meant to evoke a heartfelt moment of liberation and triumphalism for two young children whose future prospects in the world are badly compromised. But I also suspect Baker is also taking a predictable jab at the average middle-class American family who makes sacrifices to take their kids to Disneyworld so that they can have some happy memories to cherish. I suspect Baker thinks he’s that brave and sensitive soul who is shaking the unwoke masses out of their slumber by ever-so-subtly insinuating that those people simply aren’t allowed to enjoy their middle-class indulgences anymore. Check your class privilege, proles. Sean Baker is here to make you feel guilty for having a relatively stable life. But at least you can tell everyone how great you thought The Hollywood Project was. Because in the end, that’s what really counts.

Lady Bird (2017)

Greta Gerwig’s debut as writer and director is a modest gynocentric bildungsroman which succeeds on its earnest affections and enjoyable performances. Like virtually every film that occupies the so-called “indie” film market, it aims to portray the unvarnished edges of deep family intimacy as well as the quiet humor of well rendered characters. Gerwig has built a reputation by appearing in Quirky Indie Films like Baghead, Frances Ha and Greenberg. Films which can occasionally come off as platforms for charmless affectation and urbane pretentions. Thankfully, Lady Bird doesn’t devolve into this black hole of solipsistic navel gazing. If anything, Gerwig deserves credit for crafting a taut story filled with brisk, direct dialogue, relatable characters and energetic exchanges. The story hinges on the affectionate but contentious relationship between Saoirse Ronan’s Christine and her mother played by Laurie Metcalf.

Lady Bird charts Christine’s trajectory of growth in her final year at high school as she attempts to carve a path towards college. Her mother Marion is a hard bitten realist who wants to rein in Christine’s tendency towards self-aggrandizement and tamp down her grandiose dreams of an East Coast liberal arts education. Christine is the defiant daughter determined to rise above the rigid confines of her Catholic School upbringing and her lower middle-class home life. So much so that she insists on being called Lady Bird.

The film opens with a very funny quarrel between Marion and Christine in which Christine ejects herself from the car in order to avoid listening to her mother. Essentially, Christine is another headstrong adolescent who is unreceptive to maternal advice. Marion’s ministrations are blunt, but like most caring parents, she’s more than willing to dispense the bitter medicine.

Aside from her tortured relationship to her family, Christine’s journey covers three significant themes: friendship, academic achievement and men. She abandons her best friend in favor of ingratiating herself with one of the cool girls. She falls in love with a guy who turns out to be gay and then ostracizes him from her life. She has a contentious relationship with her Hispanic adoptive brother. She struggles with math and honesty. In other words, there’s nothing that hasn’t been broached on the ABC Family Channel or an episode of Roseanne.

If this seems like fairly standard dramatic fare for a modern coming of age story, you’d be correct. With so little real originality, you’re left to contend with the equally standard progressive editorializing. If you go into a contemporary film knowing it’s a vehicle for leftist commentary, you won’t be exasperated. It’s just a matter of degree, and Lady Bird is relatively modest on the preaching. Relatively. Sure, it gently mocks religious people and pro-life views. It panders to gender warriors and lesbians. It ridicules Ronald Reagan and conservatives. Par for the course. But there are places where it slides in some especially pernicious and deceptive editorial.

A common tactic among progressives is to take something that’s true pertaining to the possibility of danger, and then frame it as a joke, a lie, a conspiracy theory or a byproduct of bigotry. It’s a way of simultaneously reinforcing a smug, all encompassing intellectualism and a cosmopolitan openness to the world that is beyond the reach of narrow minded conservatives. When Christine’s friend Julie questions the possibility of terrorism while attending college in New York, Christine shoots back with the admonition “Don’t be a Republican.” It’s cute and kind of funny, but Julie’s concern is not exactly unfounded. It’s as though the mere consideration of the very real possibility of terrorism is contrary to progressive orthodoxy. It somehow means you’re setting yourself on an inexorable path toward conservatism by conceding that it could happen. It’s just one of many reasons modern progressivism is such a pathetic joke. Ideological conformity takes precedent over the objective reality of escalating terrorism worldwide.

Another moment comes when Christine is attempting to woo brooding artist, Kyle Scheible. Kyle is portrayed as a stereotypical young hard leftist who smokes hand rolled cigarettes, reads Howard Zinn and plays in a band. Timothée Chalamet effectively splits the difference between laconic cool guy, detached douchebag and emotional midget. Christine asks if he has a cell phone, but when he explains his reason for not having one, he says he doesn’t want to be tracked by the government. He then goes full Alex Jones, points to his skull and says “Then they’ll put it in your brain.” Gerwig plays it for laughs and wants you see him as a conspiracy prone naïf, but I think this is a tell. The fact that the NSA is spying through all manners of mobile devices is now widely known. But now, we’re already seeing articles about people willingly taking microchip implants. Gerwig very likely wants you to chuckle at Kyle’s youthful paranoia, but attempting to anaesthetize people to uncomfortable truths with ironic distance is standard practice for progressives.

The biggest crime of progressive agenda building in Lady Bird is the symbolism. Gerwig is presenting Christine as yet another archetype of leftist feminine virtue. At a purely symbolic level, birds represent freedom, the future or messengers of God. Gerwig has even given her lead character the female equivalent of Christ by naming her Christine. Her profile eclipses the blurred out crucifix on the movie poster. It doesn’t get any more explicit than that. Christine has survived her growing pains, heartbreaks and disappointments and now she’s ready to stake her claim to political power, the executive offices of corporate America, the lofty perch of the entertainment industry or the highest echelons of academia. You know. The cushy, prestigious positions that have air conditioning, six figure salaries and no physical labor.

Even Tracy Letts’ appealing and sympathetic turn as Christine’s father, Larry, feels like yet another subtle act of vandalism on the paternal father figure. He is doting and affectionate, but he’s also depressed and unemployed. He’s able to provide a sober counterpoint to Marion’s alpha mother harangues, but it feels like an explicit attempt to portray manhood as broken and ineffectual. The job interview at the end can be read both as a commentary on the declining economic prospects for the aging middle-class white male, but also as a rather blatant and dishonest sop to the pro-immigration plank of the progressive agenda.

Lady Bird is essentially the indie film complement to the more hamfisted preaching of blockbusters like Wonder Woman. It’s quieter and it has just enough emotional depth and universal humanity to salvage it from the bin of agitprop. But just barely. It struck me as very similar to Paul Weitz’ ode to an aging feminist from 2015, Grandma. But is this Best Picture caliber filmmaking? Meh. Not so much. If I wanted to be very cynical, I’d simply call this Hollywood affirmative action. It checks off all the requisite boxes in order pass the Hollywood PC virtue test. If that’s all it takes to earn a Best Picture nod, what a sorry state of affairs that represents. But I’m going to give Greta Gerwig the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to treat this as an earnest attempt to tell a story about a young woman coming to terms with her family and childhood and what she wants to carry into adulthood. And maybe in today’s cinematic landscape, that’s saying quite a bit.

Metropolis Redux: How Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 Update Fritz Lang’s Vision for the 21st Century

A rudimentary Google search will turn up multitudes of think pieces expounding on the myriad ways Blade Runner carries both the visual and thematic DNA of its most direct cinematic ancestor, Metropolis. Though the comparison between these films is not new, many analyses emphasize either the differences or the fidelity to the Philip K. Dick novel on which it’s based. All of these arguments are beside the point. Taken together, the two Blade Runner films represent a fully formed update of Fritz Lang’s futuristic vision from 1927. This is not to say there are no differences between them, but by the end of Blade Runner 2049, you arrive at the same, albeit darker, place. More specifically, each film converts and consolidates the archetypes of Metropolis in a very convincing way. While Metropolis is not as nihilistic as the Blade Runner films, both films reach the same conclusions. The former still believes in the human heart whereas the latter sees salvation in the promise of a transhuman future.

Great is Man and his Tower of Babel

Metropolis (1927)

Maria: Today I will tell you the legend of THE TOWER OF BABEL… “Come, let us build us a tower whose top may reach unto the stars! And the top of the tower we will write the words: Great is the world and its Creator! And great is Man!” But the minds that had conceived the Tower of Babel could not build it. The task was too great. So they hired hands for wages. But the hands that built the Tower of Babel knew nothing of the dream of the brain that had conceived it. BABEL. BABEL. BABEL. BABEL. One man’s hymns of praise became other men’s curses. People spoke the same language, but could not understand each other…

In Metropolis, you are presented with two different technocratic overlords who have competing motives, but Lang is intent on creating sympathy for the idea that Metropolis can be governed in a more humane way by mediating the hand and the heart. Despite Rotwang’s attempt to sow seeds of anarchy and rebellion by deploying a replicant Whore of Babylon, Metropolis resolves by having Freder fulfill his Christ-like destiny as the mediator between the minds of the city and the hands of the slave underclass. It’s never explained how this mediation will carry out, but you’re meant to be satisfied with the idea that the overlords of society can appease the proles as long as there is a liberating individual whose heart is filled with compassion.

By contrast, the two Blade Runner films split the Freder role between Deckard and K with K fulfilling the Christ role by reuniting Deckard with the replicant-human hybrid miracle child. Instead of an immaculate conception of the Son of God, you have a techno hybrid Isis. As a memory maker, Stelline represents the mediation between heart and hand because she gives the replicant slave population the one thing that fills their lives with meaning and purpose: happy memories.

Where Metropolis splits the leader and the scientist archetype between Frederson and Rotwang, Blade Runner consolidates the two into in both Tyrell and Wallace. It is understood that both of these men are the real rulers of society. Not only do they supply the raw labor power necessary to keep the engines of society running, they supply the digital stimulation necessary to keep the remaining population distracted and compliant.

In contrast to THX 1138 or Logan’s Run which portray the protagonist either defying or destroying the control systems of society, neither Metropolis nor the Blade Runner films want the Tower of Babel to come down. Both Freder and K fulfill their divine mission by being the bridge of empathy between the technocrats and the replicant revolutionaries. Neither Scott, Villeneuve or Lang see the technocratic Tower of Babel as an abomination in the eyes of God.

The Replicant Virgin Mary as Whore of Babylon

In Metropolis, Brigette Helm’s Maria is both the godly vision of Mary and the replicant Whore of Babylon. As Maria, she’s Freder’s love interest and the one ministers to the proles to believe that a redeemer will come. Once her identity is downloaded into Rotwang’s gynoid replicant, she unleashes licentiousness and foments sedition.

While Lang can be credited for showing that the artificial vision of Maria is a Luciferian harbinger of destruction, both Scott and Villeneuve take a subtler and darker approach to this same idea. In the role of Rachael, Sean Young is the Maria of both Blade Runner films in that she’s the mother of the miracle child and the one who redeems and completes Deckard’s journey. The twist of course is that she’s a replicant. Deckard finds the love and human connection that had driven him away from being a Blade Runner by actually falling in love with a highly evolved version of the machines he was tasked with eliminating. She is already the Luciferian inversion of Maria from the start.

Blade Runner 2049 gives us a variation on this same idea in Joi. In the beginning, she is the epitome of a devoted and loving companion to K. She simultaneously humanizes K and leads the audience to believe that he might be the replicant-human miracle mediator after all. But Joi is not even a replicant. She’s a hologram. Where Lang believes in love and in humanity, Villeneuve has a much blacker heart. In K’s final decisive moment, he’s reunited with a giant hologram of Joi reincarnated as a Whore of Babylon. She’s a mass produced program who is everything you want to see and hear. As she so passionately whispers back to K the sweet nothings he’d enjoyed in her earlier incarnation, her final manifestation is a black eyed digital demon.

Metropolis suggests that Maria’s replicant incarnation opens the floodgates of vice and releases sexual inhibition throughout the population. In both Blade Runner films, it is the norm. Every pleasure is readily accessible. Lang even hints at a postmodern, multicultural world by naming the club in the red light district Yoshiwara in reference to the name given to a 17th century Japanese version of same thing.

The Moloch Demands Your Children And Your Soul

Metropolis presented the worker underclass as human, but given how Lang portrayed them performing highly mechanized operations and living regimented lives, they might as well have been a replicant population. Even the man with whom Freder traded places on the giant dial machine was known by the rather replicant-like name, Georgy 11811. Lang is explicit about the demonic origins of Metropolis worker city when Freder bears witness to the horrific accident at the M Machine. The machine overloads and ends up killing numerous workers, but the horror is compounded by Freder’s hallucination of the ritual human sacrifice that was engineered by the ancient ancestors of the city. The M Machine transforms into the gaping maw of the ancient Moloch as dozens of chained workers are hurled into a flaming abyss.

This scene suggests the malevolence of the architects of Metropolis. Consumed by their megalomaniacal fever dreams, the architects sacrificed untold numbers to a demon in order to construct a monument to man that would eclipse God’s creation. However, their error was not the hubris of attempting a techno-utopia, it was merely the absence of the heart in carrying out the task.

Niander Wallace is portrayed very explicitly as a power hungry technocratic despot, but both Metropolis and Blade Runner 2049 train your sympathies towards the replicant slave population. Freysa and the Replicant Proletarian Revolutionaries are seeking full human rights and Grot forestalls further civil unrest by brokering some unknown bargain with Joh Frederson. In both cases, the proles are pacified by some grand gesture of compassion, presumably political, on the part of the overlords.

The proles of Metropolis want to live godly lives, but they are goaded into revolution by the replicant Maria. Where religion is absent from the world of Blade Runner, Lang portrayed it as a civilizing force for the workers. In the absence of something greater to which to devote themselves, demagogues are easily able to foment a revolutionary fervor. Subsequently, Lang presents a postmodern paradox that’s ironically very subversive. In today’s context of a world careening inexorably towards an AI driven future, Lang shows a machine encouraging the destruction of all machines.

Metropolis (1927)

The Machine Man: [disguised as Maria] Who is the living food for the machines in Metropolis? Who lubricates the machine joints with their own blood ? Who feeds the machines with their own flesh? Let the machines starve, you fools! Let them die! Kill them – the machines!

Replicant Maria foments sedition and insurrection, but Grot wants to quell the thirst for destruction. Blade Runner solves this dilemma by having Blade Runners. Cops who are tasked with disposing of the malfunctioning and disobedient older models. The technocratic utopia doesn’t need to be uprooted, it just needs an efficient cleanup crew and tighter security protocols.

Metropolis (1927)

Grot – the Guardian of the Heart Machine: Who told you to attack the machines, you fools? Without them you’ll die!

The children of the Metropolis worker city are presumed to be captive of the this rigidly stratified social order. Blade Runner fares no better, either. The only time children are present in either Blade Runner film is the scene of the orphanage/slave labor camp seen in 2049 in which they pick through the remains of discarded devices. Like the workers in Metropolis, these children are subject to very strict orders and are trained to obey from birth. In another bleak departure from Lang, the only human children present in the film are orphaned from their birth parents and are forced to live in squalid servitude.

Conclusion

Metropolis has earned a place in cinematic history because it foretold a future of mass urbanization with a moneyed and empowered technocratic aristocracy living at the expense of an enslaved underclass. Whether designed explicitly to perform hard labor or willing participants in the technological pleasure, the elites retain their absolute dominion. It also predicted the rise of both AI and a world of endless stimulation and distraction. Both Blade Runner films simply took these ideas and updated them for contemporary audiences. The primary difference being the emphasis on the evolution of the AI consciousness and its placement of sympathy squarely in favor of the replicants. All three filmmakers conceded the necessity of the preservation of a technocratic elite and a labor underclass. Whereas Lang held a more conciliatory view towards romantic love and the embodiment of the Christian ideal in actual humans, Scott and Villeneuve transplant those ideals into replicants.