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Aeon Flux
Tonight's Feature Presentation

AEON FLUX (2005)

Starring: Charlize Theron, Marton Csokas, Jonny Lee Miller, Sophie Okonedo, Amelia Warner

Written By: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi Directed By: Karyn Kusama

The Short Version

This is only peripherally derived from Peter Chung’s MTV anime; take the movie as its own thing.

Super stylish, but there’s also substance.

Despite some people’s misgivings, Charlize Theron was the right choice for the title role.

The story’s a bit too Avant Garde for many audiences; a pity for them.

Aeon Flux is a movie worth owning.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CROTTIN DE CHAVIGNOL.

Subtle cheese more likely to be appreciated in sophisticated surroundings, though it certainly doesn’t have to be.  Sounds too Avant Garde for most people; maybe they’d get it if the menu just called it “goat cheese.”


Pairs Well With...

EFFEN VODKA.

Highly polished stuff that comes in a mod-Euro style bottle.  Sounds about right.

“I'm sorry for the pain.  It's not safe to talk in the open.  Nothing's as it seems.  You had your chance; why did you hesitate?”


I know that this may be impossible for some to believe, but once upon a time, MTV played music videos.  Indeed, music videos and other music related programming used to be the only thing they did.

One of their first forays into something different was a half hour show called “Liquid Television,” which featured a variety of short subject type things, including a few regulars that would show up from time to time and eventually spin off into their own shows.  One was “Beavis & Butthead.”  Another was “Aeon Flux.”

The “Aeon Flux” that aired on MTV was the brainchild of Peter Chung.  Call it cyberpunky anime without the big doe eyes, if you have to try and pigeonhole it.  To the furthest extent that could possibly gotten away with on commercial television, the “Aeon Flux” of MTV was loaded with skin, sex, and violence.  Aeon Flux herself was best known for outfits consisting of barely a few leather straps that barely covered breasts that made Barbie feel inadequate and for regularly getting kinky with the very man whose efforts she was out to thwart.  Also, in defiance of just about everything that Western Storytelling holds dear, she dies in every single one of the original “Liquid Television” shorts.  (She fares better in her own series.)

The Aeon Flux that got turned into a movie is not the “Aeon Flux” of Peter Chung.

Indeed, this is one movie where the audience is probably much better off not having a fan’s understanding of what came before.  The names are the same, some basic concepts are translated, the framework is kinda-sorta there, and a few momentary nods are made, but overall, Aeon Flux is a completely standalone film that should be taken on its own merits without regard to Peter Chung’s work that came before.

So what, exactly, is going on in said film?  I’ll let the movie itself set the scene.  We begin with the following opening placard of text:


“2011. A virus kills 99% of the world’s population. A scientist, Trevor Goodchild, develops a cure. The 5 million survivors live in Bregna, the last city on Earth. The Goodchild dynasty ruled for 400 years. Rebels emerged to challenge the Goodchild regime.”


Wait… 2011?  Oh, shit.  I’ve only got three months left!  But anyway.  We then have a look at Aeon herself (Charlize Theron, The Italian Job) as she walks down a busy but incredibly clean street, and her voiceover lets us in on a little more.


“Some call Bregna the perfect society. Some call it the height of human civilization. But others know better. The Goodchilds built Bregna to ensure us a future. They built the Relico, a memorial to remind us of what we've survived. They built walls to protect us. They tell us that outside, nature has retaken the world. But the real problems lie within. We are haunted by sorrows we cannot name. People disappear and our government denies these crimes. The Goodchild regime provides for us, as long as we stay quiet. So we trade freedom for a gilded cage. But there are rebels who refuse to make that trade, who fight to overthrow a government that silences us, who fight in the name of the disappeared. They call themselves the Monicans. I am one of them.”


And considering that she’s walking with purpose and all dressed up in black… well, we sci-fi veterans all know what that means, don’t we?

The story proceeds along the lines you’d expect for the first half hour or so.  Aeon Flux does some sabotage against the Goodchild regime.  Aeon’s younger sister, Una (Amelia Warner, The Echo), is killed by the authorities immediately thereafter, which only serves to make Aeon even angrier.  Needless to say, when she gets the chance to go on a mission to kill Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas, Dream House), she jumps at the chance.  Thing is, though, once she gets there, she can’t bring herself to do it.

Oops.

From there, the plot goes off in a different direction, and the movie becomes something other than what most audiences were prepared to expect.  (Good guy, bad guy, point, shoot, boom.)  This apparently bothered a lot of people, because many comments on this film indicate that the movie is a random collection of nonsense from here on in.  This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.  What follows is actually a carefully constructed, perfectly linear, and entirely sensible plot that I won’t spoil for you here.  Again, it just goes off in a nontraditional direction.  Some have decided that this makes Aeon Flux Avant Garde, and after some careful thought, I’ll buy that.  Aeon Flux really doesn’t resemble many other movies of its time in either style or story construction, and it would be quite a while before Big Hollywood tried it again.  Hardly “random, dumb nonsense,” Aeon Flux is a movie that’s designed to require its audience to pay attention and think.  Yes, the surroundings are pretty and the plot involves assassins in the future, but that doesn’t mean that formula’s going to be used here.  If you get up to use the bathroom and forget to hit “pause,” you will miss something.  Expect there to be unclear delineations between which is the side of the angels and which is not and whether perhaps there’s blending and swapping between the two.  Expect some common conventions to be defied.  Expect to ask questions.  None of these are bad things; I promise.

Nor, does it turn out, is one thing that had many fans of the television version of “Aeon Flux” incredibly nervous, which is to say the casting of Charlize Theron in the title role.  Indeed, she’s one of the reasons that it’s better to keep the two incarnations separate in one’s mind.  TV’s Aeon was a large-breasted S&M chick with a touch of Goth to her; this is no sane person’s description of Charlize Theron.  Going for a visual, I suspect that someone was hoping that the casting director would find someone who looked like Julie Strain, only with actual acting skills.  Fortunately, though, the emphasis was put on talent first (at least in the final analysis; Michelle Rodriguez was attached to the role first, and there’s no way that would have been anything other than a complete disaster), and Charlize Theron got the call.  She takes the film character of Aeon Flux and makes that character her own.  She brings her own brand of sexy to the role, and her own brand of skills.  She also brings the talent to make perfectly clear to those who actually want to look that Aeon is far more complex than just a babe in a tight black outfit with a few weapons at her disposal.  Theron’s Aeon doesn’t just fight; she thinks.  She also, even to her own surprise, feels.  Charlize Theron takes the character of Aeon Flux to the next level, and the audience gets to reap the rewards.

The rest of the cast is good, though some may take the clean, understated tone of Aeon Flux a wee bit too far.  Marton Csokas seems as though his pulse can’t go over 50 in his portrayal of Trevor Goodchild (a man who frankly must be under massive stress), and he’s not alone in that regard.  Nevertheless, neither he nor anyone else drops to the level of sleepwalking, either, so in the end, the quibble is small.

What there can be no quibble with, though, is the incredible visual style of Aeon Flux, from the sets and locations to the costumes to the effects.  Speaking of Avant Garde, the production designers could easily have boxed up what they created here and used it to put a lot of Euro design stores out of business.  Yes; the look is that good.  Even a baby’s crib is a striking visual here.  (It’s built into a window sill.)  Forget the traditional computers and wrist coms of science fiction; there is not a single traditional computer to be found here.  In one area, what must be a terminal is controlled by a graceful swipe of the fingers across delicate strands that hang from the ceiling.  When Aeon is sent to sabotage the government’s central surveillance mechanism, that mechanism is represented by a pool of water.  Remote communication is done by swallowing a pill that allows the imbiber to enter something of an out of body experience and meet the other communicating party out in the ether.  (Or a white room outside normal space/time; whichever.)  The security gauntlet between the government buildings?  Forget towers and machine gun nests; this is a garden where the fruit from the trees shoots poison darts and the blades of grass are literally blades of grass.  There are no cars; there are no spaceships.  There’s one blimp and one subway train.  This is not your father’s sci-fi setup.  It’s different and amazing and beautiful.  (And that soundtrack’s got a hot groove, too.)

The look of the locations and the effects is further combined with the look of the physical stuntwork.  Not just your traditional martial arts and gunplay, this is ballet and then some.  To give you an idea, some of the training that Charlize Theron underwent before filming involved working with someone from Cirque du Soleil.  This film is truly an organic work; every element therein flows with and is connected to everything else.  The design lines are sharp, and yet they blur. 

All filmmaking is art, but Aeon Flux really does go to the next level.

And yes, for those who miss the old Aeon, you do get a few nods.  The tongue kiss early on by which Aeon gets her comm pill is vintage MTV naughtiness, as is the very first visual we get of the lady herself, wherein she catches a fly with her eyelash.  Those two will get you started; I’ll let you find the rest.

In the end, I can only think of one real complaint that I have with Aeon Flux, and that is the fact that it held itself to a PG-13 rating.  The Peter Chung version of “Aeon Flux,” of course, wouldn’t have had a prayer at that, and probably couldn’t have been done right at anything less than an NC-17.  While this version may be more sanitary, its world still feels like it exists more appropriately by pushing the edge further into R-rated territory.  It’s the only thing that feels “off” here, really.  With that said, though, it certainly doesn’t kill the movie by any means.

Bottom line, Aeon Flux is an Avant Garde movie that’s more than worth your time to watch.  It plays to cyberpunk sensibilities without actually being a cyberpunk movie, and defies convention to create an organically crafted film that is a feast for the senses, and for the brain.  Given how inexpensive this movie can be had for these days, there’s simply no excuse not to own it.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2011

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