Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Films as signposts

Films are often considered social signposts for oncoming or present change, giving an insight to our hopes, fears and insecurities underlying them. While academic essays can give a perhaps more direct critique on the ideas associated with, say digitization, it is most often films and other forms of 'popular' culture that hold more sway over public opinon, and lets face it, public opinion matters. I'd like to pay tribute to a few of the great films that have influenced me.

1) Ghost in the Shell (Anime) 1995 dir. Mamoru Oshii
Ghost in the Shell is one of the land mark animes, which eventually spawned the Matrix, for whatever that's worth. It very bluntly lays out the existential question with reference to cyborgs, or robotically enhanced humans. The main protagonist Kusanagi is essentially all robot, though she says she was once human (we never know this for sure). She often questions her existence, wondering exactly what separates a human being from a robotic/digital entity, and if she is merely a 'ghost in the shell'.

2) Starship Troopers 1997 dir. Paul Verhoeven
An obvious play on fascism, ST utilises a graphical user interface, similar to a PC desktop, to provide news clips and narrative 'intel' to the viewer. The sequences are obviously imitating propaganda, providing a warning to the potential abuse of the internet, which was already being widely uptaken by this point.

3) 2001: A Space Odyssey 1969 dir. Stanley kubrick
This classic sci fi film uses a self aware, super smart AI named HAL to comment on man's use of technology, or rather, abuse of technology. The HAL's betrayal directly contrasts with the introductory ape sequence in which one monkey accidentally discovers that a bone can be used as a weapon. The idea is of course that we uptake a technology before we consider its uses.

4) Robocop 1987 dir. Paul Verhoeven
Yip, another one from that guy. Robocop, rather than , say the Terminator, provides a deep criticism of an increasingly automated society. This is perhaps most illustrated in the scene where the battle 'mech' walker turns on its creators, killing them all, as it could not yet distinguish friend from foe. Robocop's redeeming quality comes only from teh fact that ihe is part human, and his repressed memories and feelings play a pivotal role in providing 'real' justice.

Obviously there are many other great sci fi films, and even from other genres, which comment on this wave of digitisation and antipersonal contact;
Spielbergs AI, Godard's Alphaville, Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Appleseed (CGI) to name a few. We as media scholars should be paying particulaly close attention to films such as these, as they can tell us a lot more about the greater society of the time than an abstract introspection. Please do add to my list of films, noting also which questions they raise about the issues of technology in wider society. I'm always trying to broaden my horizons. But if you get the chance, do try and see these, particularly ghost in the shell.

mahalo - marc t


At 6:21 AM, Blogger Luke said...

Metropolis and Blade Runner have to be up there, right? Verhoeven does it so well though - with great humour and without the pomposity that often inhabits these big 'metaphysical' cyborg/AI movies.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Andrew Cozens said...

I watched Metoroporisu last night which was pretty cool, japanese anime which was based on Fritz Lang's 1927 version (i think) Still prefer Ghost In The Shell to this one but it posed some interesting ideas on what it means to be human and how we define humanity in an increasingly technologised world.. is the ability to feel emotion the defining factor of our existance, is that what seperates us from A.I?

At 6:08 PM, Blogger mags said...

what a cool, insightful post. I watched planet of the apes for the first time the other night, and unfortuneatley it was the remake and not the origianl. But it was interesting in the way that it plays with the role reversal of humans and animals, and how accustomed we have come to viewing all things that humans do as natural - like riding other animals, such as horses - which looks so normal, yet when an ape rides a horse it just looks really brutal and primal and weird!!! and the fact is that its no different with people - its just that we have naturalised what we do so much. Technology in the film is interesting too - the idea that primates haven't developed weapons as the earlier humans had, but still had all the same developemental faculties like intellegent communication skills.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Andrew Cozens said...

Strange Days is another movie that you should watch, think it came out in 1995 and was directed by Katherine Bigalow (sp) Saw it over the mid semester break, poses some interesting questions about reality and how it might feel to experience someone elses reality for yourself..


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