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Rec Room: Carolyn Keogh: Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville

October 11, 2010

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By **Carolyn Keogh**

Recently, when I stumbled across Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 stab at sci-fi, Alphaville, I found the weird world he imagined eerily similar to our own. The backdrop to the film is a world in which life is plagued by war and violence and technology reigns over all human action. Alphaville is one part nineteen fifties crime flick (it has been referred to as “Dick Tracy on Mars”) and one part Orwellian prophecy. But the way Godard executes this familiar tale of a hopeless, futuristic dystopia is visually gripping. With its highly contrasted black and white images, the film is a sort of science fiction/film noir combo. And Godard combines these two genres to provide an interesting portrayal of human life manipulated by machines.

At ninety-nine minutes, Alphaville traces the journey of detective Lemmy Caution through a confusing, futuristic world. Lemmy Caution originally appeared in a series of crime novels written by British novelist Peter Cheyney. In Godard’s appropriation, Caution, played by Eddie Constantine, is on a mission to destroy an ominous supercomputer that controls every aspect of the dangerous metropolis. In Alphaville, Caution is warned that death is the price one pays for being “illogical.” In one of the most memorable scenes, disobedient residents are shot and executed beside a swimming pool. One after another, their bodies float lifelessly in the water.

In this strange world, Caution encounters a woman by the name of Natacha von Braun (played by the lovely Anna Karina). Among some of her other peculiarities (a serial number imprinted on the back of her neck), von Braun knows nothing of the concept of love. She stumbles over the word. It is a completely foreign concept to von Braun, who has lived her entire life in a society dictated by “logic.” Love is not logical. For the people of Alphaville, it does not exist.

As I watched the film glued to my laptop with my cell-phone in hand and my iPod nearby, I wondered if we’re not all governed by one proverbial “supercomputer” instructing us what roads to take, what books to read, and what restaurants to go to. (After all, what isn’t there an app for?) Almost forty-five years after its release, Godard’s tale of a society governed by technology may in fact resonate more in 2010 than ever before.

Copyright 2010 Carolyn Keogh

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Carolyn Keogh is an intern at Guernica.

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