Friday, June 20, 2008

The Politics of the Attractive: the Japanese Aesthetics of Aeon Flux

The year is 2415. An industrial disease virus has wiped out most of humanity, but there are still a few people left in the walled city-state of Bregna, where lots of nature-oriented Japanese design, new wave haircuts, and a thumping techno beat cannot quite mask the fact that something is deeply wrong. People keep disappearing without warning thanks to the crypto-fascist Council of Scientist government, so it is up to the Monican resistance to send women like Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron with black hair) into the central surveillance facilities to break the guards’ necks with extravagant judo-kicks. In her sleek black latex outfits, Theron looks spidery with long stork-like legs as she climbs buildings, dodges machine gun fire, and avoids stabbing herself in razor-sharp grass. An anime blend between Cat Woman, Lara Croft, and Vampirella, Ms. Flux only has her “mission” now that evil government goons killed off her family. Since there is such massive surveillance going on, the Monican resistance depends on having a “Handler,” a near-deity played by Frances McDormand with an extravagant red hair-do, give them orders inside of their brains like some sort of internalized Renaissance-era Jedi council. Whether or not a Monican operative would want to have Frances McDormand nagging her inside her head only begs conjecture, but still, with her trusty African friend Sithandra, who had her feet surgically changed to resemble hands, Aeon penetrates the government’s defenses in an effort to kill the Ruler of Bregna.

Yet, just when Aeon has the opportunity to kill Trevor Goodblood (Marton Csokas) as he practices a speech in the Forum, she finds she can’t quite do it because she recognizes him from some previous life. She gets captured. Strangely, he allows her to live, and pretty soon everyone from both the government and the Monican resistance are starting to question their oddly intimate relationship.

On one level, of course, one can see exactly why they shouldn’t die just yet—they are the two handsomest people in the film. Thus, while the fighting scenes are shot too close-up to really see what is going on much of the time, and as the plot gets muddied with shifting power-allegiances, the film floats and sinks purely on its visual style. You may groan at the dialogue, but some will enjoy Charlize Theron’s slinky minimalist pajamas or the way she whistles for a bunch of obedient metal balls to roll through the prison by themselves and explode to break her out of a cell block. Given the film’s sleek sheen, it is hard to care if most characters live or die, but one can always note the influences, such as the old film Logan’s Run and John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost. From what I hear, the original Aeon Flux fifteen minute cartoons on MTV were pretty abstract anyway, so why worry overly much about the glaring problems with the plot?

What matters here is that Charlize Theron had to work out extensively with trainers to fit inside her latex jumpsuit. Her green eyes look quite striking with dyed black hair, and it is fun to see her look on with contempt at armies of government soldiers with machine guns who have the effrontery to try to kill her. She can always climb up inside a dirigible that resembles a gigantic jellyfish in the sky. She must fight, and hide, and look winsomely macho in “the name of the disappeared.” For some, that will be reason enough.

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