Category Archives: transhumanism

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Part of me thinks the best thing about this film is Psylocke’s kink/bondage combat outfit. Enjoy it while you can, folks. Sexy superhero costumes are headed for the memory hole.

Anyway.
Meh. It’s okay.

I’m generally cool with the Marvel franchise, but if I’m paying more attention to the political subtext and the symbolism than the story, something is off. I don’t mind that Marvel movies are overt pieces of military-industrial globalist propaganda. I just hope that the characters and storytelling are compelling enough to lend a smidgen of dramatic heft to the destruction porn. Sadly, in X-Men: Apocalypse, it’s lacking in this department.

But boy oh boy, is this movie packed to the brim with symbolic inversions, historical revisionism, geopolitical and deep state intrigue. Yes, these are superhero destructathons, but these movies wouldn’t be made if the various institutions behind them weren’t deeply invested in the messaging. People are way more interested in watching J Law kick ass in a body suit than Hillary Clinton cough up a lung in a pantsuit.

Between the Avengers and the X-Men, there are lots of overlapping ideas and themes. Since the X-Men are mutants, there is a little more emphasis on genetic engineering, mind control, panopticism, and believe it or not, geoengineering. I also propose that Magneto’s ability to control magnetic fields suggests aether based occult physics that are also a feature of the Avengers series.

As the film opens, we’re taken to the Nile Valley circa 3600 BC where our antagonist, En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse), is attempting to transfer his consciousness into a younger body the old fashioned way: through ritual magick. The proles revolt and he’s buried in a tomb.

From a symbolic perspective, Apocalypse is a Luciferian mutant inversion of Adam. He has a veneer of Egyptian and pagan mythology, but he’s grafted with elements from Christian theology. Apocalypse is presented as The First Mutant, but because he’s a bad guy, Marvel have been very explicit about his demonic origins. His adoptive father is Baal. Baal is an actual character in the MCU, but Baal is known more widely as one of the seven princes of Hell in goetic occult texts or as a Phoenician deity from the Old Testament. He is guarded by The Four Horsemen; entities that are associated with The New Testament and herald the rise of the Antichrist. So remember, kids. Despite Christianity being a bunch of dogshit that’s only for brainwashed Trumptards, it seems that the geniuses at Marvel need to borrow and invert all this religious stuff in order to generate their own superhero mythology.

Could it be that metaphysics and theology provide the foundational maps of being from which we derive guidance, inspiration and purpose? Could it be that these logoi form the basis of our entire knowledge of ourselves, the physical world, and our underlying assumptions about how reality itself is ordered?

Nah! We’re just sacks of meat floating through a universe of chaos and meaninglessness fighting off delusions of free will, dude.

Naturally, Apocalypse is eventually stirred from his slumber after our Indiana Jones wannabe/CIA asset, Moira MacTaggert, starts digging some shit up amongst the Egyptian pyramids. Finally revived after a successful occult ritual, Apocalypse is displeased with humanity, and sets out to wipe the slate clean with a master race of mutants leading the way. Of course, Apocalypse is just updating an idea that Blackwolf already tried in Wizards back in 1977, but whatever. Luciferian mutants just wanna fuck some shit up, I guess. It’s just the latest cycle of creative destruction in an endless wheel of time man!

Essentially, what the X-Men mythology presents is the idea that mutants have Luciferian origins, but being bestowed with superhuman powers isn’t grounds for being shunned or hunted down all by itself. They’re just different and special, bro. More evolved. If they go to Charles Xavier’s Hogwarts School for Gifted Youngsters, they’re good mutants. If they get too caught up in Apocalypse’s depopulation agenda, they’re bad. Don’t worry if there’s massive collateral damage, global surveillance, or if one of the baddies succeeds in killing off some of the population. Just accept the idea that there are people working in the corporate military-industrial complex and the deepest recesses of the state on harnessing these powers for good. And they definitely don’t have any nutty ideas about depopulation despite the fact that nearly every sci-fi offering presents some kind of doomsday scenario that wipes out humanity.

What Marvel and Bryan Singer have done is subvert your expectations by making the X-Men heroic embodiments of ideas that might not go down so easily if you think about the ramifications for five minutes. Ororo Munroe/Storm is essentially a one woman geoengineering facility. Perhaps even a proxy for HAARP itself. Cyclops is a living Directed Energy Weapon. Wolverine is a genetically engineered, MK Ultra super soldier. Charles Xavier and Cerebro together are the most powerful global surveillance operation ever. Not only does he have total information awareness, but he can steal memories and manipulate thoughts. Apocalypse wants to control Charles’ mind because when he does, he’ll be able to control every mind. Don’t think for a minute that this is just a comic book driven flight of imagination either.

There are interesting geopolitical details as well. When Raven liberates Nightcrawler from the mutant cage fighting match, she takes him to Caliban so he can forge IDs and passports and gain entry to the US. Because our sympathies are with the X-Men from the start, we’re totally distracted from the fact that they’re running an underground ID forgery operation. By extension, they’re creating a fast track for illegal immigrants to enter the US that bypasses the standard protocols. Does this have a real world analogue? I know which side of that bet I’m on.

I also propose that film, including and especially these Marvel movies, are subtle forms of historical revisionism. They reference actual historical events, but are refracted through the lens of fiction. They’re giving you grains of truth, but they’re occluded and distorted by the fictional packaging. When we’re introduced to Scott Summers (aka Cyclops), he’s learning about a big showdown between Mystique and Magneto. There was a Paris Peace Summit in Paris in 1973, but I’m certain that Magneto and Mystique weren’t there. What were the filmmakers saying about this event if Mystique and Magneto represent two competing sides of a mutant class of super beings? Perhaps that the two factions represented at the Paris Accord was a completely controlled dialectic from the start and the whole thing was a stage managed PR stunt? Kind of like a real life X-Men movie but without Olivia Munn in a kink/bondage combat outfit? You decide!

Above all else, the X-Men franchise is promoting transhumanism. Whether they’re scientifically engineered or innate paranormal/occult powers, these films want you to accept the idea that mutants and mutation represent humanity’s future. The people you think are outcasts or freaks are really just potential X-Men who haven’t yet been initiated into Charles Xavier’s Hogwarts School for Gifted Children. That article you just read about “brain-computer interfaces”? That’s just the next Jean Grey, man. Don’t be such a paranoid, conspiratorial bigot. It’s only the natural course of human evolution, bro.

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Interstellar (2014)

Updated 12/29/2018

Recommended, but with caveats.

Let’s get the science stuff out of the way first because this aspect of the film relates to all the underlying editorial. I’ve been watching sci-fi films for most of my life. I’m cool with suspension of disbelief. I do not expect any science fiction to present textbook scientific realism. I like movies with dimension hopping spacecraft, AI robots, transporter machines, alien beings and laser weapons just as much as anyone. I’m not interested in “fact checking” this film. However, Interstellar is presenting itself as a next level science fiction film which supposedly extrapolates from the cutting edge of relativistic physics. Similar to other highbrow sci-fi films like Contact, this is a movie that wants you to learn something and contemplate deep shit while you enjoy mind bending special effects and gazing upon Matthew McConaughey’s dreamy visage. It wants you to feel especially smart and virtuous when you retweet Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The simple truth is that there isn’t a single Hollywood science fiction film which features interstellar space travel that deals in pure scientific fact. In fact, some of the most realistic science fiction films like Looker or Altered States involve no space travel at all and suggest actual scientific phenomena that are much closer to reality such as hallucinogenic mind control and media induced mass hypnosis. This should be self-evident, but it needs to be said in this case especially because Interstellar wants to claim a mantle of scientific legitimacy. Underneath all the CGI whizbang, nearly every sci-fi film is smuggling in some combination of scientism, occult metaphysics or eschatology. That’s especially true of this film. Subsequently, I believe that it’s important to delineate the boundary between speculative leaps of imagination and observed scientific knowledge in order to parse out the underlying agenda. When Interstellar takes its speculative leaps, it’s patently obvious that it’s trying to fill the gap once occupied by traditional theology.

Interstellar is using speculative cosmological phenomena like wormholes, time dilation and black holes because it wants to supplant the traditional notion of a Creator with the gnostic idea that we are our own gods. Much like the hero of the film, it’s using the unresolved clash between macrocosmic gravity and quantum mechanics to transport the idea that gravity, and ultimately love, are physical properties that can traverse the fabric of spacetime. And that if we continue to believe in #SCIENCE, we will transcend the higher dimensions of spacetime and learn to hack the eternal wheel of time in order to send Morse Code messages back to our progeny and save humanity. Like its predecessor 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar wants to dispense with the idea of metaphysics and locate all seemingly transcendent phenomena within the physical world and under the purview of “science” and “space travel”.

Cooper: Love, TARS, love. It’s just like Brand said. My connection with Murph, it is quantifiable. It’s the key!

The irony is of course that this film is deeply spiritual, but like just about everything else in cinematic sci-fi, its metaphysics are Hermetic and gnostic. And these are revealed in the film’s symbolism. It’s not an accident that the wormhole through which our heroes travel is located near Saturn, the Lord of Time and Death. It’s not an accident that Cooper’s passage into the tesseract is a hypercube, a four-dimensional analogue of the cube and itself a symbolic reference to Saturn. It’s not an accident that the secret space program is called Lazarus as a gnostic signifier of the conquest of death and an inversion of the traditional reading. It’s not an accident that 12 ships with 12 astronauts were deployed mirroring the 12 Tribes of Israel. Nor is it an accident that the black hole through which McConaughey’s Cooper travels is called Gargantua named after Rabelais’ character of the same name. In Rabelais’ book, Gargantua builds the anti-church, the Abbey of Thélème and its parishioners adhere to one rule: DO WHAT YOU WANT. Needless to say, it’s a dictum which was refined to “DO WHAT THOU WILT” by the individual who actually built the Abbey of Thelema, Aleister Crowley.

Similar to its thematic predecessor and companion film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ideas presented in Interstellar are deeply intertwined in what is now simply being called transhumanism. It is the idea that through scientific gnosis, we will transcend our profane existence and achieve the immortality and godhood that is our one true divine purpose. This is what I believe is the central theme in Interstellar, and it is being disingenuously smuggled into the film under the banner of “science”. Where 2001 presented HAL hastening Dave Bowman’s transformation into the Star Child, Interstellar also features an AI called TARS, an anagram of STAR, which facilitates Cooper’s transition through the cosmic abyss. As Cooper’s wisecracking Alexa assistant, TARS is both physically analogous to the monolith of 2001 and another symbolic black cube of Saturn.

All of my other beefs with the film are byproducts of these basic premises.

Besides all the space travel and highbrow relativity stuff, Interstellar is also a work of dystopian science fiction. The film is set in the 2060’s and humanity is beset by famine, technological retreat, technocratic micromanagement and state enforced agrarianism. Just as we’ve seen in numerous dystopian films, Interstellar is conceding climate change as a forgone conclusion and using that premise as the reason that half the population has been decimated. Whether it’s the Terminator series or the Avengers, mass depopulation is a prominent theme in sci-fi films of every stripe. If we take the case that movies are a form of social engineering, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that this is what the global elites intend.

Also worth noting is that the film is set in eastern Colorado. Besides the numerous conspiracies surrounding the Denver Airport, Colorado was where the survivors of the biological agent made their defense in The Stand. Colorado is also featured prominently in the similarly themed dystopian science fiction novel, The Passage. With this additional reference, there can be little doubt that Colorado is very significant to the cryptocracy.

There is no visible animal life and people are forced to farm wheat and corn. This suggests that the vegan agenda has been taken to its fullest conclusion. The government has imposed proficiency test mandates through the public schools which require that the majority of the population enter into agriculture in order to meet the global demand for food. When the very idea of “achievement” or “potential” is the province of bureaucrats, the standards can be manipulated to serve those in power.

History books have been rewritten to exclude space flight because humanity simply cannot afford such extravagance. This is another eyebrow raising moment because the reason spaceflight was purged from the historical record is because it was declared to be hoax. How about them apples? Along with Diamonds Are Forever and Capricorn One, this marks another cinematic reference to the idea of a fake moon landing. This is very clever because Nolan is presenting a dystopian future, so we’re automatically to assume that the world has been overrun by right wing conspiratards who hate science, read the Bible and watch Fox News. But it’s not all bad. When the school administrators deliver the news of Cooper’s children’s test results, we learn that his luddite son is best suited for farming and….wait for it….his DAUGHTER IS A FUCKING SCIENTIFIC GENIUS WHO’S TEST SCORES ARE THROUGH THE ROOF!

Wow. Amazing. Another scientifically adept female heroine who is going to save the world with math and science. How novel. Hollywood just doesn’t write enough strong womyn characters, amirite? It’s not like THIS IS HOW EVERY CONTEMPORARY FEMALE CHARACTER IS WRITTEN NOWADAYS OR ANYTHING. I guess mass depopulation hastened the demolition of the patriarchy. Or something.

Adult Murph is played by Jessica Chastain and she’s passable in the role. With the notable exception of the loathsome Miss Sloane, I’ve found her performances in the various films in which she’s appeared enjoyable, but I’m getting a little tired of seeing her play the Strong, Empowered, Intelligent, Heroic Womyn in every goddamn film.

Played very sympathetically by Matthew McConaughey, Cooper is a former NASA pilot and engineer. Except for his Roy Neary-esque decision to fly into the depths of space, he is a positive father figure who teaches his kids to be independent thinkers, function well in the physical world, appreciate the scientific method and be self-sufficient individuals. He’s the kind of father who insists that they know how to change a car tire, but has a healthy enough irreverence for government property that he would remotely down a drone and dismantle it for parts. Of course, he’s just not meant for the farming life. His destiny is among the stars, man! Mirroring the journey of farm boy to star hero that we witnessed in Luke Skywalker and Clark Kent, Cooper is the gnostic Jesus who sacrifices himself so that his Sophia-like daughter can deliver the final salvation.

Roughly analogous to the encoded ciphers presented in Contact and Close Encounters, Cooper finds structure in the perfectly arranged piles of dust that accumulate in their library after a duststorm. As it turns out, they’re coordinates which lead them to a secret NASA installation filled with scientists and engineers hard at work planning humanity’s extinction interstellar salvation.

The government has imposed dystopian mandates around employment, the food supply and education, yet they are still funneling billions of dollars into NASA programs which are somehow completely secret. This is yet another eyebrow raising moment because it suggests the possibility that there is presently a secret space program. Also, this band of enlightened government scientists aren’t militarized, experience no budget overruns or shortfalls, are rational and pleasant people, and are quietly working on spacecraft which can traverse interstellar distances completely beyond the view of the press and the public. The NASA crew are astonished that Cooper found them and William Devane presses him on how he sussed out their location. Apparently, everyone has been banned from the internet, and since smartphones have been confiscated, no one knows how to read maps anymore.

Michael Caine’s Dr. Brand informs Cooper that there are two plans for saving humanity. Plan A involves cracking the mysteries of gravity which allows the underground centrifuge to get into orbit. Plan B involves sending a crew of astronauts through the wormhole to be an interstellar Noah’s Ark and repopulate the species on a new planet. Because Cooper’s daughter is a scientific genius, she warns Cooper not to go because she can decode the mysterious “ghost” sending Morse Code signals through the bookshelf. Since she’s kicking the asses of her teachers, Brand takes Murphy under his wing so that she may fulfill her intellectual potential and solve the mysteries of gravity.

Depending on how you want to read it, the dystopian future of Interstellar can also be considered super #WOKE. It’s evidence that depopulation finally hastened the intersectional utopia progressives have long sought. The intrepid crew includes token white male Cooper, a smart black dude, another white guy who gets killed really quickly, and Dr. Brand’s smart, capable daughter, Amelia Brand played by an annoying and generally unlikable Anne Hathaway. Cuz the future is female and shit.

The film also broaches the age old question of reconciling individual interest with collective interests. This is one of the great dilemmas ushered in by the Age of Darwinian Scientific Materialism. If all that exists is a material universe full of deracinated, atomized individuals seeking only economic gain, how do you extend a larger concern for group welfare beyond immediate blood relations? I’ll give you a hint. It may involve the threat of impending global catastrophe.

Brand: Maybe we’ve spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory.

Cooper: You’re a scientist, Brand.

Brand: So listen to me, when I say that love is not something we invented. It’s observable, powerful. It has to mean something.

Cooper: Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing…

Brand: We love people who’ve died. Where’s the “social utility” in that?

Cooper: None.

The film ultimately reconciles this and its wilder scientific speculations by positing that love is the unifying force which transcends the barriers of knowledge and science. Sounds a little like faith, people!

Brand: Maybe it means something more, something we can’t… yet, understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some… artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade… who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving… that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet. All right, Cooper… yes… the tiniest possibility of seeing Wolf again excites me. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Apparently, Crowley felt the same way.

“Love is the law, love under will.” The Book of the Law, Aleister Crowley

Not to get too pedantic, but the film’s economics are about on par with Star Trek. Wildly speculative to put it mildly. The film presents not just one, but multiple manned flights through a wormhole which is located near Saturn. This is not a cheap endeavor nor is it one with an economic payoff on the other side. Hard to imagine when half your tax base has been wiped out and people are being conscripted into compulsory agriculture.

Don’t get me wrong. None of these gripes destroy the film. Christopher Nolan is among the most gifted directors working today and his films are so convincing because he works so hard at grounding his films in physical reality.

The visual, musical and thematic allusions to 2001: A Space Odyssey are myriad and the comparison is fully warranted. The two films are companions and Interstellar updates the ideas 2001 introduced.

Interstellar is unquestionably a Big Ideas sci-fi film that poses big questions. Some of which it wants you to notice, others less so. It claims to be a movie about Big Scientific Theories, but I suggest that the first question should be “What is the scope of the scientific method?” Sure, it’s has a beautiful rendering of a black hole and the idea of a wormhole is super cool, but have these phenomena ever been observed? Has time dilation ever been observed? Is the scientific method about building mathematical models that fit the theory irrespective of observation? Or is it the other way around? We’ve been getting black holes and wormholes in film for decades now. Part of me thinks Interstellar is just a more grown up version of Disney’s The Black Hole from 1979.

Beyond the “scientific” speculations, Interstellar is also asking big questions about Humanity’s Future. But I don’t think it really wants you to think too hard about what it’s saying. I suspect Nolan simply wants to confirm the fears and concerns that are being amplified in the mediasphere 24/7. According to Interstellar, you should freak the fuck out over climate change and accord unquestioned deference to the space program. Like, DUH. Do you even follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter, bro? It’s #SCIENCE, man!

Dr. Brand: Then get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species. We must confront the reality of interstellar travel.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

2001: A Space Odyssey has inspired numerous analyses over the years, but considerably less attention has been devoted to its successor, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Following up Stanley Kubrick would be a difficult task for any director, and Peter Hyams deserves more credit than he’s been given. Written, directed and produced by Hyams, 2010 is completely worthy follow up to Kubrick’s 1968 landmark film. Set 9 years after the events of the first film, 2010 portrays the US and USSR simultaneously engaged in a race to recover the Discovery from Jupiter’s orbit and unlock the secrets of the monolith while trying to prevent Cold War geopolitical tensions from escalating.

Just as 2001 could be described as the first significant Masonic evolution allegory with transhumanist overtones, 2010 touches on all the same core ideas. It distinguishes itself by placing greater emphasis on the globalist and scientistic ideology through which these more esoteric ideas are transmitted. The Luciferian spiritual implications of the story are considerably more explicit in this film as well.

2010 features the incomparable artistry of Syd Mead.

I further contend that 2010 is an overt nod to Russian Cosmism; the ideology that appears to be the forerunner to transhumanism as it’s currently being promulgated. Aside from sci-fi films that were made in the USSR, 2010 is perhaps the only film I can recall which takes place on board an advanced Soviet spacecraft. The name of the spacecraft is itself a reference to Soviet spacewalker, Alexey Leonov. This serves two purposes. It portrays the socialist USSR as being technologically superior to the US despite the opposite being true. Second, it makes you sympathetic to the Soviet crew and their thirst for knowledge while eroding the stigma that was built up around communism throughout the the Cold War. Don’t listen to those dumb conservatards who bash communism, proles. They’re just aping the fearful, warmongering douchebags in the GOP who have no empathy for human progress! It lends credence to the possibility of the entire Cold War dialectic being at least partially engineered. In other words, communism and capitalism are just two sides of the same ideological coin which have been pitted against one another for the express purpose of creating manufactured global tensions. It could very well also suggest that these two national space programs were part of the same global psychological operation from the start.

Besides being the more technologically advanced society, the USSR are also portrayed as being more advanced on gender equality. As Captain Tanya Kirbuk, Helen Mirren plays the steely but vulnerable feminist archetype we continue to see portrayed in film and television ad infinitum. This is arguably the one time we’re seeing feminism so explicitly connected with its socialist roots. Kirbuk is also Kubrick in reverse, so it’s also one of two overt references found in the film.

Fake Time magazine cover featured in the film. Art imitates life.

The opening scene sets up a perfect visual metaphor for the entire film. Roy Scheider’s Heywood Floyd is working atop one of the radio telescopes located at the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array. Dana Elcar plays Soviet scientist, Dimitri Moisevitch, and approaches him to discuss the US efforts to retrieve the Discovery. Floyd is symbolically sitting atop the lofty perch of presumed technological and political superiority of the US talking down to the dirty commie scientist from the USSR. Mirroring the US geopolitical stance of opposition, he is reluctant and initially refuses. Reminding him that they both have higher allegiances to scientific discovery, he offers to meet him halfway up the tower. Floyd assents to his overture and agrees to two minutes of truth telling. Moisevitch informs Floyd that USSR will reach the Discovery two months before the Discovery II. Subsequently, the Leonov crew will need the expertise of the Americans in order to make the journey worthwhile. After offering to allow an American team passage on the Leonov, they proceed to speculate about how they must sell the proposal to the politicians to whom they’re beholden. Complicating the entire mission is a Cuban Missile Crisis-type entanglement which carries the threat of total nuclear annihilation. Where politicians routinely engage in rhetoric veiled in dishonest platitudes, bellicose posturing and vacuous pronouncements, scientists must fearlessly seek truth wherever it may lead! Once again, we’re presented with space exploring scientists as the vanguard of discovery, bravery and enlightened, cosmopolitan virtue.

Like 2001, transhumanism plays a very significant role in 2010. As Dr. Chandra, Bob Balaban is the AI specialist who is conscripted for the mission to reactivate HAL and discover the reason for his apparent malfunction. Mirroring the plot device we saw in Ridley Scott’s Alien, we learn that HAL did not malfunction. He was assigned to hide the fact that the NSC programmed him to go after the monolith at the expense of the crew and simply had the AI equivalent of a mental breakdown trying to reconcile conflicting protocols. At a crucial turning point in the film, Chandra is himself emotionally distraught over the prospect of explaining to HAL that he and the Discovery may very well be destroyed in order to make their accelerated launch window. After all, AI’s have RIGHTS, you know. While the idea of according rights to an artificial intelligence is now somewhat commonplace in media and entertainment, this was certainly one of the early examples of this phenomenon in film. In Arthur C. Clarke’s book, we learn that HAL’s “soul” joins Dave Bowman in the presumed elevated realm of consciousness to which he has ascended.

The full title of the film is 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Since most major films contain pieces of predictive programming, with what exactly were Hyams and company predicting contact? One of the big moments in the film was the discovery of chlorophyll on the surface of Europa. Some unknown energy surge conveniently destroys the ship logs and, ironically, the crew are expected to take their observation as an article of faith. It oddly mirrors the recent revelation that the original moon landing tapes have been mysteriously “erased”. Obviously, we didn’t discover a monolith or travel to Jupiter, but lo and behold, there were claims of possible microbial life coming from NASA. I suppose the launch of the space shuttle Discovery was also another coincidence. Though it was launched in 2011, the Juno mission also seems to dovetail into this narrative.

Perhaps this quest for contact wasn’t limited to the possibility of alien life. Maybe it was an encoded reference to the search for the infamous God particle being carried out by CERN.

Other pieces of predictive programming include Roy Scheider’s Apple IIc home computer and the biometric scanner in Chandra’s corporate office. Another oddity is the inclusion of Floyd’s two pet dolphins. While this could be a reference to John C. Lilly’s LSD experiments or the militarization of dolphins, it could also be an early step in the normalization of interspecies “love”. It is also noteworthy that Scheider went on to act in the Spielberg produced SeaQuest 2032 which featured a genetically engineered dolphin.

The fact that this was released in 1984 shouldn’t be overlooked either. The film was extrapolating a mere 26 years into the future, but was speculating about astronomical leaps in technology and space travel. Like many early works of futuristic sci-fi, 2010 presents a future of unbounded scientific progress. In comparison to the neverending conveyor belt of dystopian hellscapes to which we’re routinely subjected, this film’s optimism does seem refreshing. That said, I also believe it was presaging the world of total information awareness in which we live. Just as feel good cinematic messages can mask nefarious agendas, feel good political legislation can be passed in order to advance the goal of full spectrum panopticism.

Above all else, 2010 is presenting another Luciferian spin on man’s origins and destiny. In 2001, humanity was raised up from primordial ignorance by the material manifestation of a higher intelligence. This allowed Dave Bowman the ability to achieve his transhuman gnosis. In 2010, Dave Bowman is both a reincarnated transhuman Jesus and Yahweh. Bowman appears to Floyd/Moses like a holographic burning bush and instructs him to leave Jupiter’s orbit and return to Earth in two days. Filled with gnostic revelation, he disregards the diplomatic sanctions placed between the crews and boards the Leonov. Once again, the hard bitten scientists are faced with knowledge that transcends the material and enters into the realm of the spirit. Should the Russians forego the political tensions in which their earthbound compatriots are embroiled and trust the Americans? As ascended beings who are engaged in their own communion with the cosmic infinite, they agree to heed this seemingly miraculous message from the Beyond.

As they blast off, Jupiter begins to implode. Just as they reach safety, Jupiter ignites into a new sun which bears the name Lucifer! As in, Lucifer the light bearer. As they witness this miracle, the instructions from Yahweh/Bowman appear on the monitor screens on the Leonov and everywhere else on Earth. The voice of Yahweh will come to you too through the television screen or the computer monitor, proles. We will learn to unite as One World just like the crews of the Discovery and Leonov.

Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it?

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.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

When I heard that a Blade Runner sequel was being made, I was skeptical but curious. Sure, it seemed like lazy Hollywood opportunism, but given Ridley Scott’s involvement I was willing to give it a shot. The 1982 original was a classic in its own right. It didn’t need a sequel, but the potential for a worthy follow-up story certainly existed. Of course, the potential for yet another catastrophic and unnecessary goatfuck of a beloved film legacy was equally possible. I found Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival thought provoking and Hampton Fancher’s slot on the writing team certainly added to its possible appeal. In short, I was mildly optimistic about Blade Runner 2049.

Thankfully, my optimism was rewarded. While there is a lot of commentary that makes me squeamish, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most successful sequels to a sci-fi classic ever attempted. This is a brilliant piece of contemporary cinema that’s well written, lovingly made, carefully paced, and packed with symbolism and metadata. It is also a bleak and deeply despairing vision of the future. For a film largely built around the quest for humanity in a world marked by declining birth rates, politicized debates over climate change, mass immigration, gender roles, race relations and the ever increasing influence of the technocratic elite, Blade Runner 2049 feels less like speculation and more like a subtle form of conditioning. This is a film that is desperately grasping for some glimpse of human connection, meaning and purpose, but it concedes that ecological catastrophe, hyper urbanization, a multicultural social order, and a gargantuan cyberpunk police state are foregone conclusions. It is basically encouraging you to embrace your technocratic overlords. The remnants of your desiccated souls can be reclaimed if you accept the inevitable, proles. The hope for release from the existential ennui that accompanied your eager embrace of a world unconstrained by spiritual delusions can be found in the brave new world of AI enabled hyperreality. The glorious dreams of the modern age with its promises of unbounded scientific progress awaits you by allowing it to reach its apotheosis. Even if it does mean you’ll be living in overcrowded urban squalor oversaturated with artificial stimuli and eating industrial farmed maggots. You too will find redemption by seeking salvation in merger of man and machine.

Aside from its noir tone and cutting-edge visuals, the first Blade Runner film was provocative because it was among the first major films which explored the ramifications of a world where robots and artificial intelligence had been achieved. That world is no longer sci-fi speculation. It’s here. It’s now. Jared Leto’s megalomaniacal replicant mogul, Niander Wallace, is blind but can function through the aid of cybernetic implants and a swarm of optical drones. Ray Kurzweil and his AI acolytes actively champion the advent of a so-called technological singularity and genuinely believe that a merger with digital consciousness is mankind’s future. Given this present day reality, one cannot necessarily view Blade Runner 2049 with the kind of detachment we reserve for big budget Hollywood entertainment. Films and shows like Altered Carbon, Ghost in the Shell, Westworld and Mr. Robot explore these same themes and continue to proliferate. It’s increasingly apparent that this collection of themes carries the distinct aura of an agenda. As paranoid and conspiratorial as it may seem, this film is very likely telegraphing the intentions of the Technorati.

Blade Runner 2049 is also a quintessentially postmodern piece of science fiction cinema. The film is a rich and masterful pastiche of discordant dualisms, inverted archetypes, hypertextual imagery, and visual remixes of its predecessor film. This is a film that subverts every notion you hold about what is real, true or right. Echoes of Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, THX 1138, Ghost in the Shell, Total Recall, Robocop, The Terminator, Westworld, The Matrix and other related cinematic forebears are also deeply embedded in its programming. There is more than a little standard progressive commentary around racial justice, police brutality, immigration, miscegenation, corporatism, gender politics and most importantly, the increasing prevalence of AI in our lives. It just takes a little more effort to decode than your standard issue pablum.

The world of Blade Runner 2049 is dying, infertile and bereft of hope for the future. The ecosystem has collapsed and the population has been herded into megacities. Tech mogul Niander Wallace brought civilization back from the brink by developing synthetic agriculture. Prior to the collapse, the world lived off of the slave labor of Nexus 6 replicants manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation. After a series of rebellions, the Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt and Wallace acquired the remaining assets in order to make a new line of Nexus 9 replicants that were perfectly obedient. The remaining Nexus 6 models are hunted by the generation 9 Blade Runners. In contrast to the Nexus 6 line, the Nexus 9 models have implanted memories.

From a pure visual perspective, there is no natural beauty to be found, and the times you are given a vision of organic life, it’s a tiny flower or a hologram. All the scenes that take place outside the urban sprawl are a blasted out, desolate ruin. The scenes of the city envelop you in their cavernous expanse of brutalist futurism, but it is a feeling of foreboding wrought by millions of lives in abject isolation. The lynchpin of the film and the lone symbol of hope for the future lies in the impossible birth of a child born from the womb of a replicant.

As the film opens, Ryan Gosling’s Officer K is en route to an industrial protein farming facility to investigate a possible rogue Nexus 8 replicant. His spinner is flying completely remotely without any active piloting and he awakens to an electronic prompt indicating his impending arrival. Since K is a symbol of law, order and obedience, his slumber suggests both the extent to which we’ve ceded autonomy to machines as well as an unconsciousness to his own humanity. A mindless minion destroying his own kind at the bidding of his human slave masters. As self-driving cars and other vehicles become more commonplace, a flying car self-piloting a man to a distant location completely unharmed conveys a message of absolute confidence in the future of AI enabled automobility and aviation. Self-driving cars are fine, proles. Stop worrying. Allowing people to drive their own vehicles is too much individual liberty.

The encounter with Sapper Morton can be read as an inversion of the entire narrative on racial justice. Officer K was designed as a perfectly obedient slave programmed to kill rogue replicants with impunity. Sapper Morton is a lone Nexus 8 model living a perfectly productive life harvesting grubs, yet his will to be independent makes him a mark. Just as blacks were the underclass after being liberated from slavery, they remained collectively pathologized even if they were perfectly law abiding. Morton even curses him for killing “his own kind”. After a punishing brawl, K subdues Morton sufficiently in order to administer some kind of electronic scan over his right eye. Call me paranoid, but given that microchip implants are a present day reality, one can’t help but wonder if this too is the shape of things to come. Right before K murders him, Morton says he’ll never become human because he hasn’t witnessed the “miracle” he has. K is utterly indifferent to his claim and takes his life just as he was assigned to do. This allusion to miracles is not only a reference to the spiritual void in K’s existence, but more broadly, to all of Western civilization. The world of Blade Runner is our own fatalistically extrapolated to its fullest conclusion. Society has lost sight of any vision of the divine, any connection to the preciousness of life, or any ideals to conserve. Let alone the will to continue the propagation of its own species.

Right before K leaves the scene, his drone spots an object buried beneath a dead tree. Trees usually symbolize harmonious relationships between man and woman or heaven and earth, but this is one of many notes of symbolic dissonance in a film filled with disjunction. What K unearths is the remains of a replicant woman whose mysterious death sets in motion a quest for his own identity and purpose.

Upon returning to headquarters, K is subjected to an inquisitorial “baseline” diagnostic test. The test itself requires K to recite fragments and words from a passage of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire. It’s a passage that alludes to the existence of an afterlife, but the clinical, mechanized, and almost hostile tone robs what is otherwise a beautiful piece of poetry of its effect. With its references to interlinked cells, what it does represent is the lattice work of forces within the film all seeking to resolve the various discordances of this broken, poisoned world of despair, isolation and technological artifice.

Cells interlinked within cells interlinked

Within one stem. And, dreadfully distinct

Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

The whole scene also struck me as a reversal of the final interrogation scene in Logan’s Run. Instead of a mechanized technocracy seeking to extract a sacred truth from a human who had broken the conditioning, here you have the reverse. A human using a piece of poetry which hints at transcendence in order to test the stability of a replicant’s programmed obedience while foreshadowing his eventual quest for a miracle.

After he passes the test, he returns to his apartment in a rather squalid part of the city which is quite likely representative of most neighborhoods in the metropolis. The theme of racial prejudice is reinforced as a random person hurls the epithet “Skin job” at K. Upon his arrival home, we meet his holographic girlfriend, Joi, as played by the very charming and fetching Ana de Armas. When she appears, she is decked out in an iconic 50’s era house dress with perfectly coiffed hair, perfectly applied makeup and is beaming with happiness and gratitude at the sight of her man. Obviously, in this future, not only has gender traditionalism been relegated to holographic simulation, it’s so deeply buried in the past, it’s an app that’s used to keep the replicants happy. Even his meal of grey, synthetic sludge is covered over with a hologram of a hearty, home cooked meal. The relationship between Joi and K is genuinely sweet and the fact that Hollywood can only portray earnest heterosexual romance between a hologram and a replicant is indeed one of the bleakest visions of humanity imaginable. This feels especially bitter in light of the fact that among the many reasons that the Men’s Rights Movement or the MGTOW movement in particular exist at all is because Joi represents the companionship that so many men actually seek.

As K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi, Robin Wright can be read as an archetypal conservative, a feminist power fantasy, an ethno-nationalist and, if you’re feeling especially partisan, a proxy for Trump. Infinitely more believable than Laura Dern’s laughable and contemptible turn as Admiral Gender Studies in The Last Jedi, this is yet another portrait of a female occupying a role traditionally held by men. Though Wright carries off the role with the requisite level of icy bitchiness, Joshi leans heavily toward the feminist power fantasy archetype because there are almost no cinematic portraits of women attempting to climb the competence hierarchies of society. Nearly every cinematic vision of female power, including Joshi, asks you to assume that her ascendancy to that role began at the bottom, and that her attainment of the position came from organic competition with men. No affirmative action here, you dirty misogynistic bigots. The film, along with nearly every other major Hollywood offering, simply expects you to submit to the fact that the dystopian cyberpunk police state future is female. Not a huge leap of imagination for some of us. The one mitigating factor is that her main subordinate is a replicant. K is like the numerous males who’ve been hollowed out and emasculated by feminism. Taught to be ashamed of manhood. Expected to supplicate and genuflect at every turn. Desperately seeking true female companionship and intimacy. Craving meaning, purpose, nobility, belonging and virtue. Yet relegated to the status of mindless drone.

Villeneuve turns the archetype on its head by making her a staunch law and order conservative and crypto ethno-nationalist who wants to keep the line between replicant and human clearly delineated. When she discovers the existence of the replicant-human hybrid, she absolutely flips her shit and orders it destroyed. This adds another layer of dissonance to the character by casting a female as a destroyer of life instead of a creator.

Lieutenant Joshi: The World is built in a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there’s no wall, you’ve bought a war. Or a slaughter.

Naturally, Joshi is played mostly as a cold and implacable authoritarian cunt whose views brook no sympathy. Regardless, her character provides a critical opposing force competing for dominance within this futuristic hellscape. Unfortunately, this is also one of places where the film slides into the progressive cesspool. Joshi embodies both law and order conservatism and ethno-nationalism. In the conservative universe, hierarchies of authority are natural and legitimate, and must be occupied by people who are both competent and virtuous. Conversely, submission to authority is equally legitimate because order, and by extension, the preservation of moral virtue, are the highest goals for society. And in Joshi’s case, the preservation of a clear line between human and replicant. K is both a law enforcement official and a slave. Dispossessed of his past and forced to kill his own species because he is programmed for perfect obedience. When Joshi orders the mixed race replicant-human hybrid destroyed, Joshi immediately questions his willingness to obey. K responds by saying that he was unaware that disobedience was even an option.

In the liberal progressive worldview, disobedience to any conservative norm, real or perceived, is completely legitimate. If anything, the entire progressive worldview is little more than a never-ending war against the prevailing order and a blind pursuit of some abstract notion of equality. Because progressives have moved the goalposts of morality for centuries, Villeneuve and company are essentially presenting even the preservation of biologically pure humanity as some kind of evil notion. What a horrible fascist bitch, that Lieutenant Joshi. Imagine wanting to preserve the purity of HUMANS. The film quite obviously wants you to see her as monstrous and regressive. Get ready to kneel before your AI god, proles. Your rebirth will make you even more than you were before.

Rounding out the dramatis personae is Jared Leto’s pathologically power hungry heir to Tyrell legacy, Niander Wallace. Niander is an avatar for Nimrod, and inhabits the Tower of Babel formerly occupied by Tyrell. His character has committed the ultimate rebellion against God by seeking to become God. He is blind, but can see with the aid of a swarm of optical drones. Subsequently, he doesn’t see the world with natural sight. Only through a vision of technological perfection which, for him, means a civilization of perfectly obedient replicants. The only thing preventing him from achieving complete dominion is his inability to crack Tyrell’s secret for replicant procreation. Once he learns of the existence of the replicant-human hybrid, he sets his cybernetically enhanced sights on ensuring that he acquires the child before Joshi and K destroy it.

K’s first step in unraveling the mystery of the replicant remains takes him back to the Wallace Corporation archives to mine what remains of the Tyrell records. Wallace’s replicant assistant, Luv, cautions him that the records that survived the Blackout of 2022 are scant. This small reference to a digital cataclysm which took out most of civilization’s records is kind of chilling all by itself. Through the centuries, humans built culture, developed language, and preserved history through physical records and objects. The digital age has certainly given us greater access to information and services, but it makes you think about what we’ve lost in the process. If memory and history can evaporate so easily into the digital ether, are we, in fact, allowing our deepest essence to be stripmined by technocrats? Is the blackout of 2022 a foreshadowing of a cataclysm to come? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Luv retrieves a small recording of Rick Deckard’s first encounter with Rachael. This leads him back to Sapper Morton’s maggot farm where he discovers a baby sock, a photo of Rachael with her child, and a date carved into the base of the tree. The latter discovery shakes him to his core. Upon returning to headquarters, Joshi asks him to recall his fondest childhood memory. Like its predecessor and virtually every other sci-fi film which explores the nature of humanity in cyborgs and AI, the role of memory is the defining quality on which the drama is built. Our very sense of selfhood is rooted in a phenomena that’s barely understood. A steady accumulation of ephemeral moments that carve deep grooves of meaning into our very existence. A story. For better and worse.

Haunted by the discovery of the date, K starts combing through birth records in search of clues. He discovers the birth records of both a boy and a girl who share the exact same DNA. It’s nearly impossible to find a major Hollywood film which doesn’t blatantly pander to the identity politics, and this is one of the most base and pernicious sops to the SJW crowd. Despite the fact that K assumes that the female record was a fake, the movie very subtly insinuates that even our highly refined knowledge of genetics can’t quite explain the mystery of gender. Science is just an oppressive patriarchal construct, you transphobic bigots. While seeking the records of the dead girl in a child labor camp amongst the ruins of San Diego, K discovers a room with a furnace that maps exactly to his own memories. Thunderstruck by the prospect that his memories are real, he shares this revelation with Joi. She is delighted by the news because it suggests that K was actually born with a soul. It’s a beautiful sentiment and de Armas fills every word with pure feminine passion, but you are also keenly aware that it is merely the siren song of a digital succubus.

Joi: I always knew you were special. Maybe this is how. A child. Of woman born. Pushed into the world. Wanted. Loved.

At Joi’s behest, K seeks out a memory specialist to gain confirmation of his memories. This leads him to Dr. Ana Stelline, a Wallace subcontractor who manufactures memories for replicants. Here we have a theme that’s been repeated over and over in sci-fi films for decades. If manufacturing memory grants replicants humanity, then what effect might the manipulation of memory have on humans? The studies of the effects of social media on children is already coming in and there’s certainly a case to be made that not only is it shortening attention spans, but having adverse effects on mental health. More importantly, if people are increasingly reliant on internet connectivity for the acquisition of information, and the portal through which reality is perceived is through tech giants, what effect might this have on cultural consensus? Since AI itself was a far fetched notion a few decades back, is it unreasonable to assert that the tech overlords are very much in the business of manufacturing memory and that we’ve willingly submitted to the digital temptations which facilitate this very outcome? If a cataclysmic digital blackout which destroyed the digital past was the event which crippled civilization so badly that it enabled a technocratic cyberpunk dictatorship, can we really read this film as just another Hollywood entertainment spectacle? A certain quote from George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind.

This eventually leads K to the ruins of Las Vegas in his quest for Deckard and presumably, the secrets of his own past. Just as we saw with Rian Johnson’s molestation of the legacy of Luke Skywalker, we find Deckard living a life of pure isolation. Taking up residence in one of the relatively intact Las Vegas hotels, Deckard embodies both manhood and fatherhood lost amongst the ruins of decadence and ephemeral pleasures. Forced to relinquish fatherhood in hopes of allowing his child a shot at life free from the fear of being hunted by Blade Runners, Deckard entrusted their care to a sort of underground replicant railroad. There is nothing but brokenness and dissolution in this world. It wants you to accept that loyalty and the bonds of familial cohesion are nothing you should expect.

Rick Deckard: Sometimes to love someone, you got to be a stranger.

Reminding us once again that the walls of our cyberpunk panopticon have been constructed by our own technological addictions, Luv and the Wallace goon squad are able to track K through the mobile device that runs the Joi hologram app. After nearly getting blown to smithereens, Luv and her goon squad put a serious beating on K. Showing us once again that this film is solidly committed to perverting every ideal, Luv the Replicant destroys K’s actual holographic love by smashing the mobile device that enables her projected image. What an absolutely evil bitch.

It wouldn’t be a Hollywood movie if there weren’t some kind of #RESISTANCE movement, and Blade Runner 2049 is no exception. After being badly wounded by Luv and Wallace’s goons, K is treated by the Replicant Liberation Front who’ve been tracking his movements all along. Freysa and her replicant revolutionaries believe that the replicant-human child is their their Messiah, and they want K to join them in their final revolution against the yoke of human tyranny. If humans could see that replicants could procreate, they’d be compelled to grant them the same liberties as humans. Aside from the obvious parallels to the various pro-immigration interests in the US and EU, this encounter draws another bright line of distinction between the progressive and conservative worldview. Since the dawn of modern age, the pillars of society that once provided the guideposts of cultural prescription have long since been eroded. Though the Western tradition makes accommodation for individual liberty, the levees of conservatism have been unable to ward off the tidal wave of modernity and the radical individualism of the progressive Left. A spiritual void needs to be filled, and in the mind of the progressive, that means a never-ending rebellion against order itself. Instead of the eternal God of Judeo-Christian faith, there is an earthly god of #EQUALITY and the perpetual pursuit of universal rights to be bestowed to an ever expanding underclass. For the progressive, the quiet, modest virtues of personal responsibility, family, and community must be supplanted by a revolutionary cause against an omnipresent oppression.

Freysa: Dying for the right cause. It’s the most human thing we can do.

Deckard is brought before Wallace who is intent on extracting the location of his hybrid child. Deckard resists, so Wallace uses an even more powerful enticement: a perfect replica of Rachael. Deckard refuses because he knows it’s a fake. Again, the film blurs the line between reality and illusion by having Deckard reject the Rachael copy simply because the color of her eyes was wrong. His experience of love was real to him, but Rachael was a replicant in the first place. Wallace condemns him to a torture facility and sends him off with Luv and some goons. After a final reunion with a giant hologram of Joi which crushes every last byte of their virtual love affair, K is faced with an existential choice. Aid the Great Replicant Proletarian Revolution by killing Deckard or kill the replicant-human hybrid to prevent Wallace from completing his dominion. A final confrontation occurs in Luv’s downed spinner on the ocean’s edge between K and Luv. It culminates with K vanquishing Luv and then rescuing Deckard from drowning in a quasi-baptism scene. K fulfills his own destiny by reuniting Deckard with Stelline. On the surface, it feels like a pretty huge symbolic moment because he forswears communist revolution and ethno-nationalism and chooses simply to reunite a father with his daughter. But if Stelline is the future, then the new Messiah is a manufacturer of memories for replicants. The holographic future of manufactured memory is female, proles.

Fantastic.

It’s not my realm of expertise, but there is undoubtedly deeper significance to the recurrence of eye imagery, water, the blue/orange dualism and the various numbers found throughout the film. Nothing is left to chance in films this big, and I find it hard to believe that there is no symbolism behind these choices. There were two things that caught my attention though. The first was the Cyrillic script on Sapper Morton’s farm facilities. On the one hand, you could chalk it up to the fact that the world of Blade Runner is just a multicultural remix of its former self. Where once there were distinct nation states with distinct cultures, here every nation coexists within a completely artificial simulacrum of itself refracted through the lens of corporatism. On the other, Sapper Morton was part of the Replicant Liberation Front. Is this a subtle inversion of the Virgin Lands Campaign under Khrushchev? I’m going with YES. Later in the film, there is an advertisement for the Soviet Union complete with hammer and sickle icons and everything. Perhaps it’s sci-fi alternative history, but by placing it in the advertising endorphin drip, it anesthetizes it and makes it no different from ads for holographic sex, food or leisure. See, proles? Communism is as safe as milk. Don’t listen to those socialism-phobic right-wing bigots. What do they know anyway, amirite?

The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is also a thing of dark beauty. Where Vangelis’ original was a dream of wires, moments of celestial beauty peered through console. In contrast, the Zimmer/Wallfisch soundtrack is something akin to the child laborers picking out the rare minerals of the motherboards of its predecessor. It’s yawning vistas of synthesized melancholy punctuated by rhythmic clusters of cybernetic paranoia covered by storm clouds of digitized menace. The reprise of “Tears in the Rain” at the end is a nice touch and a fitting reminder that not only did Vangelis allow a little more light in his vision, but it was sensual and tender. They break the pall of gloom ever so slightly by including choice tracks by Elvis and Frank Sinatra. The pop anthem by Lauren Daigle at the end is the only real disappointment. The fact that she’s a Christian singer strikes me as a very interesting choice given the distinctly despairing and secular nihilism of this film. I wonder if it’s also some kind of postmodern joke.

As much as the commentary in Blade Runner 2049 makes me queasy, it’s difficult for me to hate on it because it’s so beautifully made and it’s a cool story. Like so many other people, Blade Runner was a touchstone of my youth and films like it are so deeply woven into my own story. And perhaps that’s been the point all along. I’ve been watching dystopian sci-fi movies for years and like the works of Orwell, Bradbury and Huxley, I always saw them as warnings to humanity. They were stories of biblical scale that served as a permanent injunction to the human race. Hold on to your humanity at all costs, and always remember that there are good things to defend and preserve. Part of me wants to think that underneath the crushing despair, this is the message of Blade Runner 2049. Part of me wants to think that this belongs to the venerable tradition of the great dystopian works of yore in that it’s a movie that wants you to free your mind and break the system. The calling card of all great dystopian sci-fi was the struggle of man against the machine of the State. Logan 5 was a hero because he broke the conditioning of his technocratic overlords and returned to society to expose the lies and break the system. Today, the Logan 5’s of the world are people like James Damore and Jordan Peterson. In this film, they’re asking you to empathize with the machines. Not only that, they want you to become the machines. It’s the replicants who are desperately seeking humanity because there isn’t any to be found in the actual humans. They’ve taken all of the packaging of individualist rebellion that was once the province of human agency, and handed it off to the replicants. As good as Blade Runner 2049 is, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a movie that wants you to keep your humanity.

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Since we’re living in the Age of the Reboot and the number of films made from existing properties outpaces the number made from original scripts, some important questions need to be answered. To what degree does the artist’s or author’s original intention matter when doing a remake? Given that every writer tells a story using a specific set of characters, themes and ideas to make a general point, can a remake which repurposes those ideas to conform to contemporary sensibilities legitimately call itself by the work’s original name? At what point do those themes and ideas become so different, that the reboot has become a different story altogether? Where is the line between respectful homage and outright sacrilege? Most importantly, at what point do the thematic reinventions have a deleterious effect? I don’t have definitive answers to all of these questions, but GITS 2017 certainly has me inclined to believe that the law of diminishing dramatic returns holds true more often than not when it comes to these reboots. This is not to say that GITS 2017 is a complete disaster because the deviations from GITS 1995 are indeed handled very cleverly. However, this does mean that the various changeups don’t add up to a better final product even when accounting for the ramped up production values.

The broad strokes of GITS 2017 are basically the same as GITS 1995, but the changes to those original themes alter the overall message of the film in significant ways. Scarlett Johansson plays The Major, and in contrast to GITS 1995, the film is setting up an entirely different dramatic conflict by emphasizing how she was created and by whom.

In the future, the line between human and machine is disappearing. Advancements in the technology allow humans to enhance themselves with cybernetic parts. Hanka robotics, funded by the government, is developing a military operative that will blur the line even further. By transplanting a human brain into a fully synthetic body, they will combine the strongest attributes of human and robot.

This isn’t a departure from the basic premise of the original, but it marks a distinct shift in emphasis. Where the original was positing the idea of a fully sentient digital being, GITS 2017 is giving us a variation on Robocop. Instead of OCP, we have Hanka robotics which has contracted with the government to build a cyborg super soldier. The opening of the film shows us a fatally injured Mira Killian being carted into an operating room in which her brain is ultimately salvaged and inserted into her cybernetic shell. There are flashes of some violent fiery trauma which may or may not be flashbacks to the incident which left her fatally injured.

Upon being fully regenerated into her new cybernetic shell, the CEO of Hanka and her designer Dr. Ouelet have a debate over her future assignment. CEO Cutter wants her assigned to the elite anti-terrorism unit, Section 9, while Dr. Ouelet insists that Mira isn’t ready for that kind of duty. This is one of the points of departure from the original and where the film goes off the rails a bit. As Dr. Ouelet, Juliette Binoche is presumably an elite robotics engineer working for the most prestigious robotics company and instead of treating her like a professional doing the job she was hired to do, the film has her projecting maternal attachment to her new creation. So not only is the film trying to get feminist booster points by having a female character in a STEM role, they portray her exercising her female biological instincts on her cybernetic newborn. Way to smash gender stereotypes, folks.

While I’m generally cool with suspension of disbelief in sci-fi, I can’t help but to nitpick the scientific premise they’re putting forward since Rupert Sanders and company have chosen to make the Major’s creation story the center of gravity. Hanka is presumably a sophisticated and well resourced for-profit robotics company. Albeit one that’s in bed with the government. They want to build a super soldier by taking the human mind of a young woman with no combat experience whatsoever and place her in a cybernetic shell. So Hanka believes that Mira’s human reflexes, spatial recognition, muscle memory, emotional disposition, neurological and biological proclivities will be a sufficient foundation for a super soldier once outfitted with a cybernetic shell. It made sense in Robocop because Murphy was a cop in the first place. I know this is sci-fi and everything, but good sci-fi generally starts with at least a generally plausible scientific premise and extrapolates. This is saying that the all of the attributes which are either biologically hardwired or psychologically imprinted into the young female mind are simultaneously the most valuable attributes for a cyborg super soldier and can be sublimated once paired with cybernetic musculature. Alrighty then.

In the scene following Mira’s cybernetic birth, the film tips its hand by more explicitly revealing the film’s progressive editorial in what is otherwise a visually stunning reinvention of the original opening. Now operating as the fully functional cyborg super cop she was designed to be, the Major scans a meeting taking place between a Hanka executive and the African ambassador. Instead of a generic foreign diplomat negotiating a Megatech programmer defection, they give us a Hanka executive making a pitch to an African politician. Cuz multiculturalism and shit or something. Against the orders of Section 9 leader, Aramaki, the Major dons her invisibility cloak and storms the room just as a geisha-bots begin attacking the Hanka executive. Right before the Major shoots the hacked geisha-bot, it utters a warning: “Commit to the will of Hanka and be destroyed.” Where GITS 1995 left us to puzzle out the Puppet Master’s ultimate motivations, this one is telling us that this new mind hacker has it in for Hanka. The big, bad corporation. Imagine my surprise.

The Major and her multicultural team of Section 9 cyborgs spend the remainder of the film trying to identify the new mind hacker, Kuze. At the same time, the Major becomes increasingly curious about her past since her flashbacks become more vivid and frequent.

The film is making an important point about the nature of memory and the structure of human cognition, but it’s approaching the topic from a Marxist angle. By giving the Major a false memory which sharpened her killing instincts, the film is saying she had, in effect, committed to the will of the bourgeoisie. Which, in this case, was the Hanka corporation. Naturally, the false memory portrayed her as an immigrant whose parents were killed by terrorists because, after all, you need to gin up that antipathy towards terrorists artificially. To the film’s credit, the writers portrayed the Major’s natural genetic memory as the force which compelled her to discover her birth mother and know her own story more fully. As it turns out, her ghost belonged to Motoko Kusanagi, a young Japanese radical who campaigned against cybernetic enhancements. So Hanka figures it can fulfill the ghost requirements of its super soldier program by culling the ranks of anti-cyber-enhancement dissidents. Alrighty then.

Like many other Hollywood films, it’s trying to have it both ways by making Cutter and Hanka the bad guys. Cutter is yet another two-dimensional cardboard cutout who is all calculating menace and cartoonish malevolence. He also happens to be….you’ll never believe it….a white male. It’s as though there’s an overriding narrative.

Kuze threatens to destroy those who “commit to the will of Hanka”, but Hanka contracts with the government. Whose will is truly being carried out here? Section 9 is clearly some kind of special forces/homeland security unit which needed an elite cyborg and Hanka delivered. Again, one detects the distinct whiff of an agenda.

Of course, there are some pretty obvious sops to PC sensibilities. The film takes place in future Japan, and naturally, multicultural harmony and gender equality reign supreme. Besides the addition of another female cyborg to the Section 9 roster, the team speaks to Aramaki in English while he speaks to them in Japanese. This doesn’t make any goddamn sense, people. Also, if the Major’s ghost was Japanese, why is she speaking English? As long as there are nation states, there will be a dominant culture and language that will be upheld. The Japanese have proven themselves pretty protective of their culture and language. There’s no way Section 9 is multilingual. Sorry.

The film emphasizes the Major’s sentience by having her verbally consent to the administration of a serum or being jacked into a digital network. It’s an interesting twist and it reminds us that the Major is still human, but once again, the aroma of a certain highly politicized issue wafts about this piece of the story. One could certainly extend the question of consent to a wide variety of federal policies, but I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers had in mind.

The look of the film is spectacular, and it takes the arthouse cyberpunk noir of the original to another level. This is another take on the hybrid of squalid urban sprawl and holographic commercial overstimulation that we’ve been getting since Blade Runner. ScarJo has been raked over the coals for a number of aspects of this role, but she and the rest of the cast are enjoyable enough. The complaints of “whitewashing” from the #SocialJustice crowd are painfully stupid and tiresome given that these jackasses tend to be the most vocal cheerleaders for immigration and multiculturalism.

Since both GITS films have addressed very specifically the role of memory in determining selfhood, I can’t help but to think that what Sanders and company have done here is exactly analogous to what Hanka did to the Major. By rewriting the story, they want to hack the minds of the public and implant a new memory of GITS that will supersede the memory of the original. At some level, all of this remixing of the past is saying that there is no sanctity to a any artist’s original vision. Everything must be tailored to the prevailing political winds.

While I found it enjoyable enough, I still came away thinking that this remake failed to add anything new to the original and ultimately detracted from themes and ideas that were more provocative and original. By insisting that all films conform to progressive orthodoxy, films are increasingly taking on an aura of bland globalist cosmopolitanism. Where the original asked you to contemplate the nature of selfhood, the transmission of genetic memory, speciation and the possibility of a post-human being, this film ends up rehashing ideas that were already explored in films like Total Recall, Robocop, and Minority Report. The Major is haunted by her past, but only achieves peace after discovering the truth of who she was and from where she came. Ultimately, the film is affirming the importance of familial and cultural bonds while simultaneously affirming that one can only fulfill the process of individuation through self-discovery. Contrary to the claims of contemporary social scientists and gender “scholars”, the human being does not come into the world as a blank slate. Every person possesses an a priori cognitive structure through which the experiences of the world occur. The process of defining selfhood requires that one distinguish between whether you are the author of your own existence or a player in a drama that’s been written for you. While I can acknowledge that this is the common thread that binds the films together, I don’t know that this film is Ghost in the Shell. Or if it’s a different ghost in the shell of its predecessor.

The Major: You are not defined by your past, but for your actions…

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Since the Hollywood reboot of the 1995 classic is likely to disappoint, I revisited the original to see how it holds up. Unsurprisingly, the 1995 Ghost in the Shell directed by Mamoru Oshii more than earns its spot in the pantheon of sci-fi classics with its highly plausible technological speculations, dazzling visuals as well as its political and philosophical commentary.

GITS was an early cinematic entry into the what was, at the time, a new subgenre of sci-fi dubbed cyberpunk. With the advent of the home computer connected to a vast global information superhighway, sci-fi writers turned their attention to previously unimagined futurescapes of mass surveillance, cybercriminal underworlds, technocratic corporatism, information trafficking, and cybernetic engineering. By weaving all these elements together, GITS established itself as an influential example of the genre. Add in some government deep state machinations, immigration terrorism and globalism, and the themes only accumulate strength and relevance.

Despite the absence of alien civilizations and interstellar travel, one of the main ideas in cyberpunk which connects it to the broader legacy of sci-fi is the exploration of the idea of artificial intelligence. This is the central idea in GITS, and Major Motoko Kusanagi’s quest to uncover the identity of Puppet Master is simultaneously a quest to attain that which defines humanity in the end.

Like William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, GITS is a high tech crime/espionage thriller which delves into some meaty questions pertaining to race, biological diversity, genetic memories and the nature of consciousness itself. The film opens by delineating the broad conflict between the globalist elites building a vast, decentralized network of technocratic control versus the proles who still claim selfhood through nationalism and racial identity.

In the near future – corporate networks reach out to the stars. Electrons and light flow throughout the universe. The advance of computerisation, however, has not yet wiped out nations and ethnic groups.

The film centers around Major Motoko Kusanagi; a cyborg who works in Section 9 and is pursuing a cyber-hacker called the Puppet Master. She possesses a human consciousness, a “ghost”, but her body (i.e. “shell”) is fully cybernetic. The Puppet Master has the ability to hack human brains and overwrite their memories and identity. She and her supercyborg partner, Batoh, are charged with finding the Puppet Master.

The opening scene sets up the intrigue. Major Kusanagi is monitoring a set of diplomats in a hotel room discussing Project 2501 with a programmer. The Section 6 police force moves into place to storm the room. One of the diplomats claims immunity as the cops enter the room and the bullets start flying. The head of Section 6 announces that it’s illegal to take programmers out of the country just as an invisible attacker from outside the hotel room takes out the foreign diplomat in a rather gruesome manner. The programmer is denied asylum and the diplomat is taken out by the Major without a trail. Two different police agencies working from different ends of the legal spectrum to quash corporate espionage and thwart emigration.

It’s handled very subtly, but Japan’s tight control of immigration and sense of national identity is very clearly spelled out. After the Major dispatched the diplomat, the Japanese Prime Minister expresses his gratitude to Section 9 leader, Aramaki, that the programmer’s attempt at defection was handled without going through standard bureaucratic channels. He goes on to explain that the he’d love to deport the recently deposed leader of the Gavel Republic if he had a good political excuse. In addition to the references to Section 9’s ongoing crackdowns on immigration terrorists, these pieces of the story strongly suggest that this future Japan is still maintaining a relatively homogeneous population and national identity. Based on what I’ve read about the reboot, this theme has been inverted to serve the globalist mantras around multiculturalism.

The real philosophical meat of the movie revolves around the true identity of the Puppet Master and Major Kusanagi’s existential ruminations over her own fate. What defines the essence of selfhood? Identitarians tend to claim immutable characteristics like skin pigmentation, racial heritage, genitalia and sexual preferences. Not far behind are religious tradition and national or regional identity. Peel away those labels and then you’re left with ideals and abstractions like belief, pride, and morality.

Section 6 Department Chief Nakamura: Nonsense! There’s no proof at all that you are a living, thinking life form!

Puppet Master: And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?

More specifically, it addresses the extent to which intergenerational memory defines selfhood and ensures the propagation of genetics.

Puppet Master: It can also be argued that DNA is nothing more than a program designed to preserve itself. Life has become more complex in the overwhelming sea of information. And life, when organized into species, relies upon genes to be its memory system. So, man is an individual only because of his intangible memory… and memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind. The advent of computers, and the subsequent accumulation of incalculable data has given rise to a new system of memory and thought parallel to your own. Humanity has underestimated the consequences of computerization.

GITS is posing questions pertaining to the nature of man found throughout the SF canon since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Are humans just a bag of chemicals and organic tissue guided by laws of determinism? Or is the human capacity for thought a unique phenomenon? Are we caretakers and guardians of generations of genetic memory which are passed through procreation and family tradition? Can man become God by replicating life itself through technology?

Speciation is defined as the evolutionary process by which new genetic lines are created. Since the Puppet Master can only replicate its own code, the only way it can truly live on is by reproducing with another being. After a climactic battle scene, the Major and the Puppet Master conjoin their consciousness to produce a new post-human species merging human and digital being.

The features which distinguish SF as a genre are the usage of far reaching technological and imaginative speculation to ask the deepest philosophical questions pertaining to the individual and the State. It is a genre that has appealed to our highest ideals and given us some of the most dire warnings. The fact that GITS has been given the Hollywood reboot treatment is an indication of the strength of the original vision.

Major Motoko Kusanagi: There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.

Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood’s End

The classic status of Childhood’s End is well deserved because of its provocative ideas, but is not without a few glaring shortcomings. For all his attempts to bring scientific rigor and realism to the possibility of a visitation from an advanced civilization, the book requires a fair amount of disbelief suspension. Like 2001, Clarke uses this novel to present another vision of sci-fi spirituality and human transcendence.

The first two-thirds of the book are devoted to the arrival of a highly advanced alien civilization which aids humanity in eliminating war, poverty, illiteracy, and crime without resorting to violence or coercion. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? Clarke doesn’t fill in too many details about how this is achieved and it’s fairly apparent that he doesn’t dwell on it for the sole purpose of moving the narrative forward. Since this is Arthur C. Clarke and he does really try to present scientifically plausible sci-fi, this is exactly where I got hung up.

The Overlords apparently facilitate this quantum leap in technological progress, but the book seems to sidestep the necessity of the entire planet freely choosing to mobilize for all of this global development. Where’s the incentive? Where’s the capital coming from? And how did communism survive? He uses the advent of this would-be Utopia to pose the question of what comes next after you’ve solved the problems of humanity. Do we become complacent slugs? Apparently, we do. With so much automated production and readily accessible plenitude, we lose our initiative.

This prompts a collection of artists to start a colony dedicated to creative arts because all this ready made life is BULLSHIT, man!

Kudos to Clarke for recognizing the ceaseless striving of artists, but it feels a tad too self-congratulatory. Artists aren’t the only ones who continually strive to better themselves. What about everyone else?

All of this is prelude to the main point of the book; that Overlords were only here to help facilitate the next phase of humanity’s evolution. Our destiny lays in abandoning our corporeal bodies and merging with a mass consciousness that transcends time and space. It seems to be a precursor to the whole transhumanism trend that was once the exclusive province sci-fi but has entered the real world in ways that even I find surprising. It’s cool and heady stuff, but the whole idea comes across like sci-fi, hippie-spiritual communism. Who really wants that?

Oh, and that whole bit about the devil in religious texts? It’s just a reverse time loop, man. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Clarke wants to let you know that religion just fills you with irrational fears. How totally edgy. Quibbles aside, it’s a fun read and Clarke channels a vision that is beautiful and majestic in its scale.

It’s also worth reading because this book has provided direct or indirect inspiration for shows like V and Earth: Final Conflict as well as books like Contact. It’s a pretty big deal in the SF canon.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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Yes, I saw it and yes, I enjoyed it.

Yes, it was dumb, but I suspect my reasons for calling it dumb differ from yours. And just because it’s dumb doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining on its own terms. More importantly, it doesn’t mean that the film is devoid of ideas worth discussing. Yeah, you read that correctly. I said IDEAS.

Many seem content to simply dismiss it on the grounds of it being another Big, Dumb and Loud Hollywood Movie, and this is a completely understandable position. Hollywood blockbusters like this always carry ideological programming and those who dismiss the film are either ignoring or missing out on the ramifications of what is being said. Don’t get me wrong. This film ultimately defaults to standard tropes of American collectivism, (i.e. nationalism, loyalty over individual agency, deference toward paternalistic leaders and the state, freedom as a non-natural right, fighting for a “greater good”, vengeance as a rationale for violence, etc), but despite its cliches, there are merits, too. If you peer beyond the surface a little, you get a glimpse of what’s really going on behind the curtain of power. The entire film is basically a portrait of rogue deep state agents and black budget military projects. It’s also highlighting the blurred relationship between the state and the corporate sector and the latter’s ultimate subservience to the former.

For those of you who don’t like apocalyptic sci-fi destructothons involving giant robots in the first place, I’m doubtful this film will make you a convert. However, for those of you who can dig that concept, this film represents another high water mark for sheer visual excess and a pretty cool story to boot. The last hour of the film is such a relentless orgy of demolition, combat, and CGI driven epicness, it is nothing short of awe inspiring.

I saw the first film and its blatant glorification of American militarism left me uninspired. I skipped the two sequels which followed, so I entered this one with very low expectations. Those who believe these films offer no narrative simply aren’t giving them enough credit.

Apparently, in the third installment the Autobots teamed up with the US military to kick ass on the Decepticons. Chicago was levelled, but we won! This time around a CIA black ops guy (Kelsey Grammer) decides that all Autobots are enemies of the state. As it turns out, he’s working with a Cybertronic bounty hunter who is out to return Optimus Prime to his creators. Meanwhile, the government has harvested the remains of the Decepticons and a corporate entity called KSI is using the technology to create a man-made army of Transformers, thus rendering actual Transformers obsolete. A Texan inventor and his daughter and boyfriend team up with Optimus and the Autobots to recover “The Seed” which produces Transformium, the metal from which Autobots are made and the substance sought by the government for military purposes. Much mayhem ensues and the fate of civilization hangs in the balance once again.

Unchecked Deep State Power

Ultimately, the US government is the real villain in the film. Specifically, the deep state.

When we are introduced to Cade (Mark Wahlberg), he is a struggling mechanic/inventor trying to make ends meet with his teenage daughter, Tessa. The Feds have targeted him for giving refuge to an Autobot enemy of the state. The federal goons arrive in black SUV’s armed to the teeth and proceed immediately to put a gun to Tessa’s head. Cade asks for a warrant, but the head goon spits back “My face is my warrant”. Because this is a Transformers film, the impact of this scene is probably completely lost on many. Besides being a perfect visual metaphor for the nature of state power all by itself, this was also a pitch perfect portrayal of the obscene overreach currently carried out by the federal, state and local government on a daily basis.

When we are introduced to Attinger (Grammer), he basically tells the White House to fuck off. He says that he is answerable to no one, he’s protecting God and country and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Furthermore, his alliance with the Cybertronic bounty hunter, Lockdown is a perfect metaphor for the various proxy wars being waged throughout world by the US government.

In one particularly funny scene, he is able to forestall a full scale military assault on an alien spacecraft, because alas, he has an “asset” on board. Attinger displays the narcissistic, entitled, venal and power hungry mentality that is intrinsic to agents of the State. At one point he says, “Innocent people will die. This has been happening for thousands of years”. Remarkable honesty for a giant robot film if you ask me.

Transhumanism

The entire franchise is arguably a giant commercial for transhumanism and scientism. What better way to acclimate people to the AI revolution than to have anthropomorphic robots who save the world?

Stanley Tucci’s corporate mogul, Joshua Joyce, tells Optimus that “What we do here is science. Because if we don’t do it, somebody else will. Because you cannot stop technology.”

To which Optimus replies, “We are NOT your technology!”

This is the film’s clever conceit. By humanizing robots, the film humanizes technology itself and asks us to reconsider the motivations and the right of an individual to create whatever they please, let alone call it “their technology”. Robots have rights too, you know.

Undoubtedly, the filmmakers were simply plying the simplistic dichotomy of technology wielded by “good people versus bad people”. In this respect, it is yet another spin on Nietzschean will to power.

I would also argue that the film touches on the dehumanizing quandaries presented by contemporary IP law. Whether or not the filmmakers intended it, what it actually reveals is the poisonous attitudes which intellectual property confers to individuals.

The very idea of a monopoly power so great that it would allow you to own others or to call upon the power of state to exert control over others is only possible because the State makes it possible. Unfortunately, the film tries to have it both ways. It trades in on the popular cliché of corporate power and intellectual property as its own form of totalitarianism instead of making a sharper distinction between the pursuit of economic freedom and the power of the State. Ultimately, it wants you to see corporations as villains and the State as good as long as it’s in the Right Hands.

The mass proliferation of so many films based off games, toys, and comic books which reinforce these themes is by itself a byproduct of the confluence of corporate military state power.

Speaking of corporate military state power…

The Corporate Military State

When the shit really hits the fan, Attinger completely overrides Joyce’s authority by pulling the State card.

In yet another scene, Attinger goes one further and makes his intention even more explicit by pulling a gun on Joyce and telling him point blank that he regards him as a meal ticket and a golden parachute.

I couldn’t really ask for a more honest portrayal of state power.

Admittedly, the film trades in on numerous dumb clichés. Worst of all, it flogs the insipid and poisonous notion of freedom that is bestowed by leaders as opposed to a natural right. In order to win the allegiance of the Dinobots, Optimus reminds them that “We’re giving you freedom!”

Oh, that’s great. You can be free by swearing allegiance to some clown who is commanding you to enter into a military conflict. It is at least offset somewhat by a flash of honesty uttered by one of the subordinate Autobots as they mobilize for war.

Ugh, you just want to die for the guy. That’s leadership. Or brainwashing, or something.

The characters are paper thin and are doing the best with what they’re given.

A lot of ink has been spilled over the sexualized portrayal of the Tessa character. I’ll leave those discussions to the Puritans. What I found infinitely more troubling was the suffocating and domineering paternalism of Cade. If you can’t trust your 17-year old daughter to make good choices and handle herself then you’ve blown it as a parent, pal.

Again, for spectacle value alone, this film is hard to beat. They spent $210 million and it looks like they spent twice that amount. If you can’t enjoy slick, Hollywood excess like this, then by all means, watch something else.

Sure, it’s ultimately little more than glorified militarism and nationalism. But scratch the surface a little, and there are rewards to be found.

Transformers. More than meets the eye, indeed.

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