“Alphaville, une trange aventure de Lemmy Caution

Corey Lehnert

What with computers spouting surrealist poetry, disjointed narratives and anti-capitalist themes, the films of Jean-Luc Godard are anything but mainstream cinema.
Godard’s works, rather, are born from a method that takes the most basic framework of a popular genre, breathing new meaning into it by turning all other preconceptions regarding plot, cinematography and dialogue on their heads.
Perhaps Godard was offering a hint at his methods, then, when his fascist supercomputer, Alpha 60, in the 1965 film “Alphaville” belches out the line, “Everything has been said, provided words do not change their meanings, and meanings their words.”
“Alphaville” is Godard’s version of a science fiction film, but it is a film of a science fiction that has realigned itself with contemporary problems, not a mainstream work of escapism. As a result, it offers a refreshing and philosophically profound take on a usually tired genre.
Godard’s film tells the story of the fall of the fascist city-state Alphaville by the hands of the noirish special agent Lemmy Caution, played by Eddie Constantine. Lemmy is sent to Alphaville on a mission to rescue a famous scientist and to destroy the robotic ruler of the city, Alpha 60 (think HAL 9000, but with the voice of a chain smoker and a penchant for surrealist poetry).
As Lemmy comes closer to completing his mission, however, Alpha 60 gets wind of his plans and attempts to either convert or kill the secret agent by any means necessary, specifically through a battle of the minds.
Perhaps most importantly – and this is very important – “Alphaville” is an undeniably cool film.
The characters speak in long strands of postmodern thought, quote Jorge Luis Borges from memory, and occasionally unleash fantastic lines like, “All things weird are normal in this whore of cities.” Damn, every budding pseudo-intellectual on the planet wishes he had come up with that one.
Gleaming cityscapes and advanced technology are nowhere to be found in “Alphaville,” as Godard prefers to show his vision of a dystopic future via subtler means. Alpha 60, the film’s hyperlogical computer, looks to be nothing more than a bright light shining through an electric fan, and Alphaville itself looks suspiciously like 1960s Paris.
Despite all the plainness of setting, however, Godard seamlessly evokes this dystopian vision of the future with the simple yet powerful idea of the manipulation of meaning.
The daily censoring of Alphaville’s dictionaries, the myriad suicides due to confinement to logical thought, and, in what are probably the most fascinating moments of the film, the surrealist debate-battles about love versus logic between Agent Caution and Alpha 60 all bring to “Alphaville” a sense of dread fantasy that special effects alone could never achieve.
Godard’s film, in short, is an engrossing interpretation of science fiction that never ceases to impress with its deep originality.