I was always struck by the visually arresting artistic style of the Æon Flux animated series when I came across it when channel surfing during the 90’s, and I would occasionally stop and watch it for a while, although I could never make heads nor tails of the storyline. So I recently decided to give the 2005 film a go, especially given that it stars Charlize Theron. I watched it basically because I wanted to know what the hell was happening with the very strange animated series.
You can read the Wikipedia on the movie’s plot here. It is a profoundly dystopian setting taking place 400 years in the future. Humankind has undergone an apocalyptic event of a pathogenic virus that almost eradicated the human species. The survivors live in a walled city in highly regimented society that is controlled by scientists. Æon is a highly skilled rebel agent of the resistance, known as the Monicans.
The picture has the same mixture of “flat affect” and unstated angst that the odd television series did… but that does not translate as well at all to a live action film. The film also fails to capture the surrealism of the animated series. Although the architecture that was selected for the shoot is actually not bad for real life. The same film made today would now probably be filmed almost entirely via green screen with the surrounding physical world CGI created.
However, despite the fact that the film falls short in many ways, I was still glad I that watched if for no other reason than to once and for all finally understand what was going on in the animated series. The picture did hold my interest for that reason. The actors all do a pretty good job in this film, even if the overall film experience leaves a lot to be desired. Charlize Theron is always good and here she does a respectable job at realizing what is likely a surprisingly difficult character to portray. In any event, ultimately I did care what happened to the characters. The story succeeded to the extent that I wanted to see how it all turned out. This may well have only been the case had it not been for my curiosity about the animated TV series, though.
I will spoil a bit here about a key plot element that is revealed at the film’s end:
The pathogen that destroyed most of humanity left people infertile. The survivors are being cloned, although they don’t even realize it. Because the people of this society are clones, they have deja vu-like memories and troubling dreams related to ‘past life’ experiences. The realization is made at film’s end by Æon that human life should not strive for immortality though cloning, but rather remain finite in order to be experienced as truly meaningful.
Another epiphany at the very end is that the society can finally see it’s way through the delusions imposed by the power elite in the name of protecting it. A way is made clear to free itself from its ruthless mechanization and to reconnect with Nature again. It is discovered that Nature was beginning to find its own way for the clones to become fertile again, despite humankind’s miraculous scientific endeavors and inventions. The world outside of the city is discovered to in fact be a lush, burgeoning wilderness, rather than the desolate wasteland everyone had been told it was. In a nutshell: it can now become apparent to the city’s inhabitants that they are living sterile and mechanized lives, built on lies, driven by an illusion of power and control held by the society’s ruling authority structure.
This did get me thinking a bit about the notion that we ultimately decide what is meaningful about our lives. So much of that is externally (socially-culturally) imposed. It is however up to each of us to identify what we value the most. We choose what is most important to us. So if this not-so-great film got me thinking about that, it’s fair to say that it succeeded for me, individually. I’ve said before that in my humble opinion the only fair way to judge a film is ultimately how well it connects with the viewer personally for his or her own reasons.
Anyway, the ending was actually somewhat satisfying to me in terms of those big themes. In sum, the film was worth the trouble to see through to the end, I felt.
This is an aside but, interestingly, on the very same evening that I watched this movie I happened to view also an episode of the series Hacking the Universe, in which the host, Brian Cox, closed by observing that species extinction is a virtual certainty–it is essentially the natural order. The niche left by an extinct species is filled by a new one that comes along to fill the gap (e.g., we’re here because the dinosaurs became extinct). Brian noted that however due to human intelligence, we seem to have the ability to possibly prevent our own extinction.
That resonated for me with the central plot themes of Æon Flux. It was a coincidence, of course, but a fun and interesting one.