Babylon A.D.: A Movie ReviewÂ Â
By John LobellÂ
While 2001: A Space OdysseyÂ can be regarded as the origin of the modern visionary movie, The Matrix is the origin of the contemporary “luminous transcendent” movie. It is a genre that freaks outÂ the critics, with its deaths and resurrections, virgin births, and suggestions that human beings are capable of manifesting something beyond their material existence. The critics fearÂ archaic Christianity sneaking back into our culture (recall the critical snickering at this aspect of The Matrix, and the total freakout that a lion could come back to life in The Chronicles of Narnia). But with even a little bit of mythological awareness, the critics would know that these themes predate Christianity by thousands of years and are present in just about every tradition, literate or otherwise.Miraculous birth. A girl is born by parthenogenesis: that is, the mother divides in two; nothing difficult here. But what about a boy infant; where does he come from? Here we are faced with a discontinuity. And death and resurrection? This is one of the themes of shamanism, the ur-foundation of all religions. Death to the ordinary and birth to transcendence. This is a common practice of the plains Indian warriors.
It is one thing to reject the claims of exclusivity for these experiences by the high religions, but it is going too far to deny them altogether, and despite the efforts of the establishment to do so, they keep cropping up.Â Unfortunately, unlike The Matrix, Mathieu Kassovitz’s Babylon A.D. has been so compromised by clunky writing and forced cuts (he now declares that the version currently being shown in theaters is â€œpure violence and stupidityâ€) that we will have to wait for the director’s cut on DVD to see the story as it was intended.Â These themes, apparently,Â fly so high over the heads (dare we say “souls”?) of the critics, that they either have no idea what they are watching, or are so intimidated by the genre of “luminously transcendent” movies that they are impelled to immediately trash it–on Rotten Tomatoes, for instance, the consensus on Babylon A.D.Â is that it is â€œa poorly constructed, derivative sci-fi stinker with a weak script and poor action sequences.â€Â
So let’s make a little sense, shall we, for the reviewers:Â The central theme of the film is also found in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, in which we are presented with the image of the lunar Queen of the Night, against which the solar, rational father competes for the woman and man of the present and their children of the future.Â Nothing earth shattering here, but one of those basic mythic archetypes that defines us.Â
In Babylon A.D.,Â Dr. Newton (Joel Kirby), a scientist working with artificial intelligenceÂ who isÂ able to resurrect the dead by merging them with machines, pairs up with the High Priestess (Charlotte Rampling)Â to create a girl named Aurora (MÃ©lanie Thierry) who is endowed with transcendent powers. Oh, and one other thing:Â she is about to give virgin birth to twins. The two competeÂ for control over the girl: Dr. Newton to build his technological future, and the High Priestess to construct her world religion.Â Thoorop (Vin Diesel), the mercenary hired to retrieve her, has been thoroughly brutalized by the dystopic near future, and seeks eventually to return to the upstate farm of his parents (think ofÂ Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle, but with a happy ending).Â
The movie plays like a tone poem which unfolds the plight of these characters and their themes, with the technology of the solar father favored over the religion of the lunar mother. The simple human act of bringing forth the next generation (think Vin Diesel’s The Pacifier), however, prevails in the end, and Thoorop, now dressed in white, raises the (perhaps super) kids in exurbia.Â
How good/bad is this movie? It is, admittedly, underdeveloped.Â Whereas it took The Matrix three movies to flesh out these kinds of themes, and Star Wars six movies,Â Blade RunnerÂ managed to do itÂ elegantly with one film.Â Ideally, the director should have told us more about the background of Dr. Newton (love those names) and his technology, as was accomplished so well in the recentÂ Iron Man.
The human-machine interface has a long history going back to the mythological deed of Cadmus sowing the dragon’s teeth (according to McLuhan, the dragon’s teeth represent the phonetic alphabet, the first threatening medium), and is present in Leonardo’s dream of an all-destroying robot (we now know that Leonardo built an actual programmed robot).Â The High Priestess and her religion should also have been more developed. Recall Chancellor Palpatine’s slow and deliberate morphing into The Emperor in theÂ Star Wars prequels.Â
Thoorop (Vin Diesel) is the most rounded character, and his redemption (hanging up his guns, which Shane was not able to do in the classic western, and which still eludes Wolverine), is a major theme of the movie. Yet we don’t feel as satisfied as we should, which is something attributable to awkward screenwriting, since there is nothing to fault in Vin Diesel’s acting.
Letâ€™s hope that a poor box office performance here as with The Chronicles of Riddick (one of the great movies playing out the themes of the Chinese classic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms) does not keep him from making more of these kinds of movies.Â
And of course, let’s hope for more development in the eventualÂ director’s cut version on DVD.Â Overall, Babylon A.D.Â contains profound themes elaborated in classic American action style, so what are the critics complaining about? Perhaps, as so often before, they have unconsciously colluded to exile difficult thematic material and protect the rest of us from the impact of “luminous transcendence.”