Alphaville

Alphaville ★★★½

Immediately following the finalization of their divorce, Jean-Luc Godard once again places Anna Karina in the nucleus of a world representative of his obsessions—namely love and its inability to exist in a society of cultural decay—in his ninth feature, Alphaville. Presented as a sci-fi detective story, Godard reprises American ex-pat Eddie Constantine’s iconic role as Lemmy Caution to be his most composed raisonneur yet.

Godard’s biggest indictment in Alphaville is two-fold: the corrosion of society through complicity via the suppression of consciousness, language, art, and emotion, and the woman’s role specifically as public enemy #1 within the fall of modern civilization. Women in Alphaville are depicted as emotionally inert prostitutes who consider their station within society to be “normal”. They live only for the present (“No one has lived in the past and no one will live in the future.”), and both of these traits are embodied by Charlotte in A Married Woman, which was in part a commentary on the seduction of idle women by a consumerist, pleasure-seeking modernity. Karina in Alphaville is scarcely different; she is unknowingly a “seductress” conditioned to believe she is a programmer for the state—a sort of reprisal of the notion of her role in Le Petit Soldat (“A girl all alone in life is either a whore or an informer.”). Women without the guidance and protection of a man either succumb to physically whoring themselves out for material comforts or ignorantly submitting to the subliminal desires of society thereby becoming mindless sheeple. More personally, Karina without Godard is a loveless shell of a woman who simply needs to be guided back to enlightenment by her hero in order to see the error of her ways and forfeit of intelligence, heart, and soul.

Alphaville not only portrays women as easily swayed into a life of vacuous collective brainwashing, but also depicts them far less capable of demonstrating conviction in love. There is a scene in which, during a public execution, it is intimated that men are 50 times more likely to be sentenced to death for emoting, demonstrating fealty, love, or conscience. These free-thinkers and artists perish in Alphaville, as Godard believes he suffers in the mid-century cultural malaise, while women (namely Karina) operate automatically, sleepwalking emotionlessly in a cognitive coma, the concept of love lost on them long ago.

Needless to say, I found the motifs to be defamatory and the film as a whole a playground for Godard’s victim mentality to run wild, but stylistically I enjoyed it much more than the languid A Married Woman or the shallowness of Le Petit Soldat. Eddie Constantine is compelling as Lemmy Caution, despite having to play spokesman for Godard’s unyielding emotional manipulation; and the photography, though very dark, is perfectly suited to the ominous mood of the piece. Bonus points for Anna Karina’s eyes in closeup.

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