Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville: A Lazy Incoherent Mess of a Film

I've already voiced my opinion several times on Jean-Luc Godard. If you've been following my blog you probably already know that I can't stand his works, and the only reason I still find myself watching them is because I'm studying cinema and can't seem to escape from him since no matter where I go my teachers end up subjecting me to his work sooner or later. Since I've brought it up a few times I thought maybe it would be worthwhile to do a piece specifically focusing on him.A general overview of his work would be harder for me to write, so instead I've decided to focus on a specific film of Godard's that a lot of people like but I consider an embarrassment to the science fiction genre. That movie is Alphaville.

Our hero, Lemmy Caution. Yes, that is seriously his name.

I had the misfortune of seeing Alphaville as part of an otherwise-quite-enjoyable science fiction class. For those of you who are (fortunately) unfamiliar with this film, it's supposed to be centered around a secret agent named "Lemmy Caution" (seriously) who is sent to the futuristic city of "Alphaville" to stop an evil scientist named "Dr. Von Braun" (I'm not kidding, they don't even try to make the reference subtle) who has built an evil computer that outlaws all human emotion.

I suppose I'd better start by jumping into the heart of the movie and pointing out why I consider its vision "lazy". You remember how I said that Alphaville is supposed to be "futuristic". Well, behold, Godard's incredible vision of a dystopian future:

Supposedly there's some absurd stylistic reason for this, but Godard presents us with a science fiction movie set in the future... and he makes absolutely zero effort to actually show us any kind of future. The extent to which he does so consists of characters offhandedly mentioning the word "galaxy". I'm not a huge fan of the stereotypical Jetsons-style future but even a flying car or two might have helped a little bit, especially since the way they use the word "galaxy" (i.e. "things are a lot different in this galaxy") seems to imply that intergalactic travel exists in this world and yet everything else resembles 1960's Paris. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

An actual galaxy: billions of stars across 100,000 light years. It makes you wonder if Jean-Luc Godard actually knew what the word means.

That there is really the biggest issue I have with the film. You can't just throw in the word "galaxy" and suddenly have a perfect vision of the future. That's not how science fiction works. Aside from his absurd depiction of the future, the plot really makes no sense, the characters aren't very interesting, and there just really isn't anything I found that I could consider a redeeming feature of any kind.

If you're a Godard fan and you disagree, fine. That's your opinion, but for everyone else, if you'd like a good dystopian science fiction film with an interesting vision of the future, you're not going to find it here. I'd advise you to instead stick to Blade Runner, Escape From New York, Twelve Monkeys, A Clockwork Orange, Metropolis, or even The Hunger Games for a film that actually makes an effort to create its own future world beyond mentioning the word "galaxy" once in a while.


  1. Thank you for this small but worthy effort to help expose the emperor Godard as having no clothes. I'd add that Godard's two erroneous mentions of light-years as a unit of time rather than as a unit of distance in Alphaville are actually more contemptible than his offhand mentions of "galaxies".

    If I were a film student, I'd be tempted to have one of my academic projects be a sci-fi film about an assassin from the future who travels to the 1950's to kill Jean-Luc Godard, so as to save humanity the millions of hours it's wasted watching and analyzing the cinematic garbage of this Gallic jackass.

    1. Interesting, I forgot about that way he talked about light years. With his offhand mention of galaxies I have heard the argument that he may have intended to be referring to different "nation states" (though even if that's the case it's still a poor choice of words that clearly shows he has no idea what he's talking about), I have no idea how you could rationalize his use of light years.

      Nice to see I'm not alone in thinking this movie is terrible.

  2. I haven't seen this one, but I often find Goddard hard to digest. The whole Lemmy Caution thing has its interesting points. He was an American FBI agent (later a private eye) in a series of novels written by a British guy. After World War II, Americans were popular in France so the novels were translated and became a hit there. Producers made several movies starring American expatriate Eddie Constantine as Lemmy. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I loved your slamming this movie, even though I've never heard of it before. I will heed your warning and stay away.

    Q: Would it be possible to create a drinking game from this film?

    1. You probably could. For one thing you could take a shot every time the word "galaxy" is thrown around in a desperate attempt to make the world seem futuristic, plus take a shot for every other instance where Godard shows he has no idea what he's talking about (any time light years are mentioned as a unit of time instead of distance, for example).

  4. I've watched this film twice over a twenty-year period: the first time I thought it was weird, the second time I thought it was...a little less weird, I guess. Actually, I liked the detective aspect more than I did the sci-fi aspect, and since this is the only Godard film I've seen, I'll take your word on the quality of his other works!