I love you: welcome to Alphaville

Welcome to Alphaville

A city of silence, of logic, safety and prudence
The grey home of IBM versus Tarzan
Orwell’s Newspeak and thoughtcrimes
A metropolis of empty shells and cause and effect
Where man is numbered, not named
And time is a circle endlessly described

Tarzan versus IBM

Released in 1965, Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville is primarily a pessimistic foreshadowing of machines growing effect on the world. Although appearing to be concerned with a futuristic society, Alphaville was actually concerned less about what the world could look like tomorrow, but what the world was like today.

A supercomputer Alpha 60 is in complete control of the city. A computer that can digest facts, but is unable to make sense of poetry or art.

Alpha 6o is a symbolic father to Stanley Kubrick’s own supercomputer creation HAL, which uses rationality, organisation and logic to remove originality, expressive thought and any emotional unknowns.

Godard uses Alpha 60 to show society’s dependence on technology. The influence of machinery in Alphaville drains its inhabitants of life and individuality.

Looking across the ocean for the root of this evil, Godard seemingly blames America for the influx of computers and mass-produced technology. This can be traced right back to the film’s original title, Tarzan versus IBM, which pulls together two polarising American ideologies – the wild, feral man versus cold, cash-centric technology.

Instead of allowing us to think for ourselves, Alphaville gives power to a super-being that proclaims to offer perfection and paradise. However, for this peace to happen, Alpha 60 believes one final war has to occur.

The outsider from the outer-lands

Godard’s bleak vision may have seemed on first viewing as one of a distant future, but under the 18th President of France, Charles de Gaulle, the country was already fighting a losing battle.

Only one man fights to stay as an individual, secret agent Lemmy Caution, played by Eddie Constantine, an American actor who spent his time working in Europe. As an outsider from the outer-lands, it is through Caution’s struggles where we explore the falseness of this artificial world and hark back to a more naïve, honest world.

I love you

In his fight, Caution enlists the assistance of Natacha von Braun (Anna Karina), a programmer of Alpha 60 and daughter of Professor von Braun. As a citizen of the city, Natacha says she does not know the meaning of love or conscience. But this does not stop Caution falling in love with her, and through this love he introduces emotion and unpredictability back into Natacha’s life and into the city. Caution encourages Natacha to discover new words in order to hurt Alpha 60.

Natacha grows to realise that it is her own understanding of herself as an individual with desires that can save her.

The film ends with her line: “Je vous aime” [“I love you”].

This film seems to be an appeal to fight for liberty and freedom in a society where increasingly the individual becomes superseded by machine and money.

Has our world really moved on much since 1965?

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Ryan Hooper

Ryan Hooper

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Heavy Cloud | Sounds | Art | Press | Inspired by memory and internal and external landscapes