Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard)
The utopia depicted in Jean Luc-Godard’s Alphaville is one of technocracy in which the leader is a supercomputer, named Alpha60, with great artificial intelligence. The usual symbolic black suits authoritative figures wear are replaced with lab coats, further enhancing the notion that persons of government affiliation are scientists and researchers, befitting the technocratic rule. Furthermore, aesthetic values are nonexistent in Alphaville; poets, novelists, painters, and musicians are no more. Yes, this futuristic utopia, apparently set on another planet in the galaxy, can be presumed to be the extreme example of what a society would be like should nothing but logic and reasoning matter, and no struggle between rationality and emotion exists because emotion is a word long forgotten in Alphaville. The notable features of Alphaville are its governing system, the legal system, marriage and child-rearing, and education. These components of utopia synergistically define the type of idealistic society Alphaville attempts to achieve: one with absolute order.
The extreme form of government rule Alphaville employs is not so much different from the idea behind Nazism. Adolf Hitler wanted to purge those he deemed the inferior race, and Leonard Vonbraun, an exiled scientist of the Outerlands and the designer of Alpha60, which makes him ultimately the leader of Alphaville, separates man into two categories based on level of intelligence and views those with superior intelligence to have reached a new stage in human evolution. Recorded history shows that peaceful cohabitation between humanoids and their evolved kin, if ever existed, was short-lived, eventually leading to the latter’s domination and the extinction of the former. Leonard Vonbraun’s design of utopia aspires for the same goal of elimination of the inferior; he sees the overtaking of the intelligence superior to be the logical move and therefore must be done. Indeed, calculative logic is the root of all things under government control - such as political agenda and lifestyle of its people - that justifies genocide as a means to an end, a utopia of pure-logic comprised of intelligent people.
Only a portion of the laws the citizens of Alphaville have to follow is shown in the movie, the ones where the penalty for breaking is execution. The execution also reminds one of the Nazi Germans’ public executions. Executions in Alphaville occur annually at the end of a festival at the gala reception, and are apparently known well enough throughout the intergalactic community that it is common for foreigners to flock to view them. A notable difference between the Nazi’s execution and Alphaville’s execution is that the main objective of the former was to make a public display to strike fear by example, whereas Alphavillian audience of executions gently applauded each death, which implies their concordance in that the deaths were justified. The ones given the death sentence are said to be “condemned” because they behaved illogically. Shockingly, even a man who cried when his wife passed was deemed an illogical act for which the punishment was death.
In the course of understanding how grieving for the death of one’s spouse could be deemed an illogical act we come across the need to evaluate the marriage life and family relations of Alphaville. Feeling sorrow for the passing of a loved one seems perfectly reasonable. In Alphaville, love is a term long forgotten, along with other emotion evoking or related terms such as weeping and conscience. This would suggest that marriage does not take place out of emotions, but perhaps for other logical reasons such as for the unity and synergy of family honor. Perhaps marriage is only for repopulation, which could serve to explain the dry relationship between Leonard and Natasha, his daughter who is said to have never met him. The lecture given by Alpha60 about life and death, particularly the part that states that nothing existed before the present nor will anything exist in the future, can be of help to understand this characteristic one would call abnormal. The rather enigmatic bit of propaganda can be interpreted to mean that, at least regarding family, there is no legacy one needs to follow or bequeath; even more simply put, everyone is alone and should be self-reliant.
If there is one unique characteristic of a totalitarian government ruled by a supercomputer, or an entity programmed to follow logic without hindrance by emotion, it is that at least in comparison to other governing systems, it can be trusted that it be free of corruption. Although Leonard Vonbraun is the architect of Alpha60, even he, out of free-will, gives higher authority to it. Indeed, Alphaville is not only totalitarian and technocratic, but also nomocratic in this respect. Assuming there is nothing but calculated reasoning that defines one’s actions, and that the past (or future) is insignificant in determining one’s present motive, no reason exists for one to be suspicious of ulterior motives. In fact, the term “ulterior motive” is most likely one of the terms erased from the vocabulary of Alphaville. The chief engineer of Alpha60 is aware of Leonard Vonbraun’s past life. Being an exile of the Outerlands with the name Leonard Nosferatu and how that experience of being banished from one’s motherland might have been an influence that led to his aspiration to exterminate those who do not comply with his ideologies is insignificant in the judgment of his present character. Even Lemmy Caution is given the chance to become a turncoat and work for Alphaville, regardless of his past. During Lemmy’s interrogation, Alpha60 learned Lemmy desires gold and women above all. The supercomputer, devoid of the ability to include emotion as a factor in its calculation of logic, draws the conclusion of offering what Lemmy desires as incentive for conversion. After all, loyalty is also illogical to the purely rational person who is assumed to seek and fulfill his desires through the least amount of work possible. The difference between emotional loyalty, one that factors in honor and values, and rational loyalty is that the latter is kept by offering what the target person desires for the most. It is difficult to argue that, in a society governed by pure logic, the latter is more tempting than the former.
Propaganda and brainwashing seem the more suitable terms to describe the education system in Alphaville. Education in Alphaville demands total compliance and acceptance, which result in absolute order. Given the totalitarian regime of Alphaville, it is not surprising that the people are educated only for the purpose of shaping them into tools of use for the government. Regarding women, those with an intelligent level not sufficiently high enough for complex operations are trained to become “seductresses.” They are nothing short of prostitutes or call-girls, yet in Alphaville it is perfectly legal. Those with sufficient level of intelligence are given positions in government as an engineer or programmer. Those with above average intelligence are given the task to work as a double agent in other galaxies to find their weakness and exploit it for the goal of sabotage. Apparently, this job is highly prestigious, assumed so because of Leonard’s offer to reward Lemmy Caution with a galaxy of his own should he choose to stay and work for Alphaville. However, those who resist the education and rebel are simply disposed of, with the exception of those who show potential for reclamation. Those with such malleable minds are put through mechanical and psychological treatments (propaganda) until they are brainwashed and suitable for the government to accept once again as a valid member of the society it wishes to control.
Ultimately, Alphaville’s dream of utopia comes to a failure. Exterminating the intellectually inferior proves to be impossible for two reasons. First, if one acknowledges the fact that the intellectually superior are mutants of the ordinary, then one also has to accept that the vice versa can and will happen; even when the society has succeeded in being comprised of only those superior, their offspring is not guaranteed to be up-to-par intellectually, making a lasting extermination impossible. Second, if those designated to be disposed of do not stage an uprising themselves, a righteous intellect will do it out of disgust of the system. Alphaville was designed to be a purely logical society, but emotion is innate in human beings and it cannot be eliminated even if the society comes to idolize an artificial intelligence as its master, proven by Natasha’s awakened desire for love. Emotion can only go so far as to be ignored or suppressed – it can never be deleted.
Alphaville. Dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Janus, 1965. Film.