Cast: Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff
Suddenly the word is Alphaville... and a secret agent is in a breathless race against the Masters of the Future.
CLICK HERE and TV episodes
For 1960’s France, citizens struggled against dubious political tactics and campaigns. The French government usurped marginal actions such as implementing specific immigration policies against migrants from North Africa, along with the growing economic crisis leading to social and political upheaval in the 1970’s. As these conditions gripped the people of France, questions escalated relating to national and personal identities. Through this turmoil, we see in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, specific references to the identity crisis which was invading France during the current time period.
The main character, secret agent Lemmy Caution (using the alias Ivan Johnson), is sent to Alphaville in search to find the distant galaxy creator, Professor Von Braun. We see Mr. Johnson swarm the galactic city as he hastily shoots down the rugged streets in his “Ford Galaxy,” violating any rules or regulations which may impede his mission. The bright, blinking lights are contrasted with the dark, filthy streets. As we examine the visual look of the film, it is clear that Godard is not shy about revealing his personal statements about the future of society. Instead of the elegant visuals we see by Kubrick in “2001,” Godard presents this futuristic world as dark, trashy, and bleak. Godard’s own personal views are unleashed as witnessed through a world replete with technical machinery and mechanisms dominating the people. In one scene, Mr. Johnson says, “All of the things are weird in this city.” This is a man who does not understand how this world works. Inevitably, Godard uses Mr. Johnson to represent himself. All of the artificial, or “superior” beings in Alphaville cannot display any type of emotion. This type of action, expressing feelings of sorrow, love, etc. goes against the logic of Alpha 60 (a computer generator which serves to control all human action).
While Mr. Johnson stands as Godard’s cynic embodiment, it is the character of Natasha who Godard utilizes to represent his own conscience. When we take a look at one instance where Natasha claims, “Love. What is that?” we can see how the people living in Alphaville do not understand what love is or means. Moreover, Godard exercises this phrase to reflect his own thoughts on how we, in today’s society, have acquired a different meaning to the word love. In the world of technology, where the primary focus is on progress and statistics, Godard suggests that there is a tendency to alter meanings to words or phrases, making it simpler and easier to access and remember, while leaving us in a vague and dull world of thought. Following Natasha’s question of what love is, we hear the raspy voice from the narrator state, “It’s always like that. You never understand anything.” This statement is an effort to suggest the difficulties in truly understanding each other due to the fluid nature in which society has gravitated towards.
Additionally, there is a moral statement presented within Godard’s attempt to express his conscience. In the scene at the brothel, Mr. Johnson is confronted with an older man who apparently is also from the “Outlands.” The older man claims that it is wrong in Alphaville to weep when a loved one has died. Further, the man goes on to mention that Alphaville is a “technocracy;” artists, musicians, poets do not exist, but rather the social practice is similar to an “ant society.” As a result, Godard reveals a world full of progression, precision, and logic, all of which is based under the control of a computer.
In short, Alphaville is about how education and technology, in today’s society, make it difficult to avoid the presence of war. Natasha constantly comes across words such as, love, tenderness, beauty, poetry, etc. in which she claims, “I’ve never been taught these words.” Ultimately, the film serves as a symbol against war, as Professor Vonbraun simply states, “We are at war with the Outlands.” In the closing shot, through jittery camera movements, we see from a distance Mr. Johnson and Natasha driving off into the unknown, indicating an existential message: Alphaville, through its futuristic elements and features, represents reality for a future society; technology governs the people, all feelings and emotions are lost, “technocracy” reigns.