June 30, 2011
Last night Amanda asked me “What’s Immortal?” I had to think a bit to remember the movie she was referring to then I replied, “Oh, yeah, it’s that utterly bizarre French sci-fi film with all the digital people.” Really, how do you even describe this film? You could say that it’s an odd visit to the Uncanny Valley. You could talk about the great art design and outlandish look of the film. Or you could address the somewhat disjointed plot and its disturbing undertones. No matter how you look at it this is one of the strangest movies in our collection (and we do have a lot of strange movies.)
We’re told in the opening monologue of the movie that the Egyptian god Horus has been sentenced to death (though we’re never told what his crime is) and that he has only seven days left before he will be stripped of his immortality. Do you know what? Good. I wanted Horus to die in this movie because he’s a total dick. I think probably that’s the reaction the film maker was going for – Horus doesn’t really see any of the people he interacts with as worth anything except as tools for his own ends. He doesn’t comprehend or care about life or human emotion. He’s just in town to do something to preserve himself.
The town he’s in is New York City in the year 2095. It’s a sort of blend of Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell and Brazil. In this future New York there are aliens living in a kind of ghetto called Level 3. There is also a strange inter-dimensional Intrusion in the place where Central Park used to be. Practically the entire human population have been modified and enhanced by a company called Eugenics. For no reason that is ever adequately explained this corporation is in the habit of rounding up aliens and mutated humans for experimentation.
At the start of the film they have rounded up a mysterious pale skinned woman named Jill who has tinfoil for a scalp and cries blue tears. A doctor with connections in Eugenics notices Jill when she is being processed and for some reason decides to take her under her wing so to speak. Doctor Turner soon discovers that Jill is not human, and indeed has a physiology unlike any known species. Her cellular structure suggests that she is only three weeks old, her organs are all wrong, and she has no memory (perhaps because she is being heavily medicated with unknown drugs.) So Turner offers Jill legal papers and puts her up in a hotel room if Jill will in exchange perform experiments on herself to help Turner study her.
Meanwhile there is a serial killer in town, or so the local hard-boiled investigator believes. Turns out that all these guys exploded from the inside are just folks that Horus has attempted to merge himself with so that he can have a mortal vessel. He seems to be incompatible with all the humans in town because of their extensive genetic meddling, but he gets a lucky break when a pod breaks off of a passing prison zeppelin releasing a convicted criminal from thirty years of cryogenic stasis. Nikipol, the criminal, is a perfect fit for Horus, who moves right in. By odd coincidence Nikopol is a renowned rebel who once battled the founders of Eugenics. Local digital graffiti is all signed with “spirit of Nikopol” in his memory. So a corrupt senator and Eugenics board member spends most of the movie sending various nasty hit-men out to find and kill Nikopol before he can discredit the company.
Jill, meanwhile, has as little idea what’s happening to her as the audience does. Her only friend in the world, besides Dr. Turner, is a faceless man in black called John who came from the strange Intrusion in Central Park. He’s the one who has been providing her with mysterious narcotics. He has some kind of plans for her it seems. So does Horus (now possessing Nikopol.) This is when Horus turns from just an out-of-touch and uncaring god to an actively evil being as he has Nikopol repeatedly rape Jill. Yeah – the movie goes in some really unpleasant directions about halfway through. Jill, it seems, is almost unique in the universe in that she can pro-create with a god, so Horus is desperate to get her pregnant. The movie takes this really disturbing turn, and it just never comes back. Really – it is nasty and ugly and things don’t ever really have a satisfactory ending.
I think maybe that this is the point. This isn’t a “love conquers all” kind of feel good movie. It’s a movie about the capricious and uncaring nature of the universe and how powerless we mere humans are. It’s about how little real control we have over our lives. It’s about futility and ugliness and it seems to suggest that perhaps we should accept the little victories life offers us in consolation. It’s pretty bleak, I have to say.
I stress, however, that this is only my own interpretation of the movie. It doesn’t really try to hard to provide answers. Indeed it doesn’t much concern itself with being lucid or coherent. Much of the plot summary I just wrote is just my interpretation of events displayed on the screen, because by and large the movie doesn’t make many attempts to connect the various disparate things that keep happening.
I think this movie is more about creating a mood and showing a bunch of pretty pictures than about telling a story. It has a very strange aesthetic to it, with a largely computer generated cast and only a very few human actors. There’s Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Turner, Thomas Kretschmann as Nikopol and Linda Hardy as Jill, but aside from a few extras virtually every other character is all digital. In some cases the digital aliens and people look fairly real (and in a couple cases I’m still not sure if they were actors in extensive make-up or computer generated) but in most cases there is a cartoonish look to the people that makes them seem odd in comparison to the high-fidelity world around them. All the futuristic flying cars and VTOL hovering machines in the movie are digital of course, as are most of the sets and locations. It’s all very pretty and intricately designed.
In the end though a lot of pretty pictures strung together don’t necessarily make a movie. This film comes off as more of an experimental tech demo than a feature film. Its general incoherence, combined with the very disturbing plot about the non-consensual impregnation of an innocent and drug addled alien, make it kind of hard to watch. Which is too bad, because it’s so very strange and cool looking. I like the look of it – I just wish it was a different sort of movie.
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