The episode opens within the cafe-bar Roger once frequented whenever he was really down and out. Therein, The Big Ear reclines in his favorite seat, seemingly addressing Roger. As the man recites his oration, the camera pans out and we see that he has been injured, that most of his face has been seared off, revealing a metallic facade beneath the exterior. He is malfunctioning and by the end of his speech, the club will collapse around him and end his life indefinitely.
But first, his words: ‘Understand Roger, this city was created to be a stage with no memory of forty years ago. It’s nonsense to ask if memories exist. I just thought I would let you know. By the way, aren’t you going to be the knight in shining armor and rescue the maiden?’
The speech is addressed to Roger although he is absent. As The Big Ear is an android programmed to behave in certain ways, one can only properly surmise that he is reciting a piece of oration programmed into his memory circuits that would have, under different circumstances, have been delivered to a present Roger during these last moments of Paradigm City’s existence. However, something has gone awry in this simulation of the city and a choice was made that has led Roger to no longer seek out wisdom through The Big Ear, but through himself instead.
In The Big Ear’s hands is, as always, a newspaper. This time, however, we are privy to contents of this paper: An image of Big O and Big Fau fighting and a headline indicating that one of the two will win in the end (The headline is missing a ripped section indicating the victor of this battle). It seems that The Big Ear was given his information through these papers, which foretold future events. The rip in the paper serves as a narrative device to prevent the viewer from knowing the outcome of the battle, but may also serve as a symbolic cue signifying Big Ear’s current inability to divine future events.
As the final battle commences, Big O launches an all-out barrage of physical attacks and heavy artillery, none of which bypass Big Fau’s built-in force-field technology. Dan Dastun notices that Military Police have trained their howitzers and tanks onto Big O. And though he protests this action, he finds himself unable to sway the decision of his troops as he has been stripped of his command by higher ups in the administration acting on directives from Alex Rosewater himself to aid Big Fau in this battle. Dastun then decides to pilot a tank himself and direct its attacks towards Big Fau, which precipitates a mass-mutiny of his past troops from the Military Police’s command. They aid Dastun in his attempt to help Big O and roger, but don’t manage to put a single dent in Fau’s defenses, and eventually, all men are laid waste by a powerful barrage of laser attacks by Big Fau instead.
Events continue to unfold in quick succession as Big Fau grapples with Big O and eventually tosses him into the ocean. However, Big O latches onto Big Fau with a chain weapon and drags his enemy Megadeus below with him. Unfortunately, Big Fau can swim well and uses his own weapons to cut the chains and then cut and run out of there, leaving Roger a sitting duck within the rapidly flooding cockpit of Big O. Dorothy awakens at this moment and heads off toward the Ocean with Norman and a wt suit in order to save Roger’s life. Topside, Big Fau uses its cable tendrils to tap into the vital systems of Alex Rosewater and strengthen itself in the process, which somehow awakens the ‘memories’ of Angel. Her scars begin to glow as Gordon Rosewater advises her on her destiny and role as the coordinator who can destroy memories and reset the simulation at will.
Back to Roger. As he asphyxiates beneath the waves, he has a flashback to his time as a combat Dominus in a Big O in some past Paradigm City (perhaps the original in which the first Event took place?). Dorothy arrives and revives him with an oxygen tank, Big O awakens, and Dorothy hacks herself into the Megadeus’ operating system, thereby activating Big O’s Final Stage. The machine piston punches the ocean floor and propels itself out of the sea back into conflict with Big Fau just as Angel departs the world below Paradigm City, all of those things she passes dissolving and disappearing behind her in the process.
And then, the truly final confrontation begins as Big O uses all of his power to launch a powerful laser weapon that passes through Big Fau and destroys an entire Dome behind him. But the weapon only destroys half of big Fau, who manages to stay on his foot, standing. Just as Alex charges up his final barrage, Angel transmogrifies into the powerful Meta-Megadeus Big Venus. She passes through the city and the sky disappears. She passes Dastun and he fades into nothingness. Then, she passes Big Fau and Big O is no longer in mortal danger from that foe.
Roger reasons with Big Venus: ‘Angel! Memories are very important to people’s lives. They give us the opportunity to prove to ourselves that we exist. If we lose them, we have an unrelenting deep feeling of uncertainty…. But the humans that are living here and now in the present are made up of more than their memories of the past. I myself don’t even know who I am…. But I don’t believe anyone took my memories from me. I most likely erased them of my own free will. I was the one who made that choice so I could live in a present and in the future. I must go on believing there is a me! Angel. I know that I will never lose the you that is now a part of my memories…. You must stop denying your own existence. You have to live as a human being.’
Momentarily the illusion is broken. Angel, sitting in her operating booth in front of her master control panel, is visited by both Roger and Dorothy. Angel is crying, but Roger consoles her by putting his hand on her shoulder and Dorothy speaks in a manner affirming Roger’s existence as more than a simulation, more than a mere program in some computer: ‘Negotiator!’ A poster is visible on the wall in the room. It is a poster of the Big O series with a large shadowed Megadeus standing behind Roger.
And then the series begins anew. Roger rides through town in his Griffon. He is still a Negotiator. But this time, Angel and Dorothy are standing beside each other, signifying that they’re memories may remain intact (Otherwise how could Dorothy know Angel?). and more interesting yet: Roger’s wrist is bare. With no Megadeus communicator, is he still a Dominus? Do Megadeuses still exist in this simulation? How much has changed and how much has remained the same, and of the changes, what are their inherent qualities? None of this information is clear and none of it will probably ever be truly elucidated.
But I personally prefer The Big O remain an enigma, a mystery, a Gordian knot resistant to all critical blades. I revel the uncertainty for that uncertainty reflects that present in my own life and in the questions of metaphysics and ontology that remain quarries far outside my reach. The simulation theory says that one can imagine a computer advanced enough to simulate a world in perfect 1:1 correspondence to our own. In our own world, there are thousands of games. Given the proper technology, why not thousands of simulated reality games? And if this is possible, then there are many thousands more simulated realities than real, lived ones. Thus, it makes more sense to assume that we are in one of these abundance of simulated realities as simulated persons or as real persons hooked up to the simulated games than the perhaps 1 in 10,000 chance that we live in the real world, simulated.
Occam’s razor seems to lay waste to this theory. But it has been wrong before. Darwinian evolution certainly, on its face, its much more complex than the teleological Lamarckian viewpoint. That the sun orbits us is a simpler proposition than the more complex cosmology we accept today. The difference is in evidence. A simulated reality like The Big O is revealed as simulation through a glaring omittance: namely, the fact that one had memories before the simulation began. And like a video game wherein out of bounds play can reveal unmapped sectors, some theories in quantum mechanics point to fundamental incompleteness in our world as possible evidence of its simulated nature.
Roger serves as an archetype or a model for heroic action of individuals under similar circumstances. In the face of determinism, act. When facing nihilism, believe. And when approaching despotism, fight.
In the Name of God,
Ye Not Guilty
The structure of Paradigm City is beginning to unravel before its heroes very eyes. The center has begun to slacken and can seemingly no longer hold together the tenuous reality of the world. Lieutenant Dan Dastun has ventured into an old movie theatre only to find a younger version of himself and the Winter Night Phantom sitting together enjoying a film that itself recounts the recent events of Dastun’s life. There is no explanation of these events that cohere without recourse to the simulation theory I’ve expounded upon previously within this series.
That is to say, the world is rebooting like some sort of complex simulated game. However, the events of the previous game (Dastun’s reality) have not yet reached their conclusion, and as such, end-game events are beginning to overlap with beginning game events from the newly booted game. This explains why a young Dastun has been booted up alongside a young Winter Night Phantom to begin anew their journey toward the Paradigm Corp. Police Department and The Union, respectively.
To make things weirder still, Big Duo reappears high above the city. Schwarzwald’s ghost still sends us orations from beyond the pale, but the meaning of these pronouncements have become more obscure than ever before, more disjointed and lacking in clear sense: ‘The giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains are in truth the causes of its life and the sources of all activity. But the chains are the cunning of the weak and tame minds, which have power to resist energy.’ My best guess here is that it is the power of the Megadeus’ themselves that brought this state of affairs into being, but in the process they intertwined their destinies with those of mere human beings who must sync together with a Megadeus as their Dominus to give the Megadeus the power to function. These are the chains that the Megadeus’ have become enslaved by and the weak and tame minds are the minds of those humans who have reigned in the gods, have cloned perfect Dominus subjects who have the willpower to control the machines and not vice versa as was originally intended.
Later, Big Duo and Schwarzwald will continue to ascend above the clouds of Paradigm City and will find a series of oversized rafters holding aloft the sky of their world. There they will also find a series of stage lights affixed to the rafters as illuminating points for the constructed reality of the world below. And like Icarus, when the Black Forest philosopher-journalist ascends to all-too lofty heights and approaches the ontological truth of his world and himself, that world reacts by scorching him and his Megadeus, causing them to explode in the process.
In the city itself, Big O is still being restored to fighting capacity by Norman’s mysterious cohort of old men, each with intimate knowledge regarding the repair of a Megadeus despite having no memories from before 40 years ago. Alex Goldwater, the Oedipus who razed his father’s farm to the ground in an attempt to silence the old man and to take his life, pilots Big Fau and targets, specifically, those within the city he deems undesirable: The poor. Dastun’s theatre is bombed in the process, injuring his younger self therein. He manages to get the young boy and girl to safety before approaching his troops and ordering them to cease firing artillery and bombardments of incendiary weapons on their own people. However, they have direct orders from Alex Goldwater himself and thereby refuse Dastun’s pleas.
Meanwhile, below the city, Angel has found the cabin wherein she was born and raised. But she finds that the room is a mere set complete with cameras and props outside of the open-faced room. Vera Ronstadt and Gordon Rosewater, once thought dead, are also within the room. Roger descends beneath the city to try to finally face his fears head on one last time. though he manages to leave exactly at the wrong time as Dorothy, reclining back at the mansion, awakens and calls out for Roger. This despite no longer having a core memory within her. What’s more unsettling is that Beck arrives on the scene to hear Dorothy’s words that were meant for Roger. Beck’s presence is not explained.
Angel questions Vera about her heritage and whether Vera is truly her mother or if the current situation is merely a convoluted joke. Gordon Rosewater breaks into the conversation and tells the girls that they are not related, that they are merely his ‘tomatoes’, or replicants who were created to serve some ulterior motive. However, both Angel and Vera are defective units, as are all Union members, all those who have been exiled to the wastes outside of Paradigm City. Vera Ronstadt knows this much already and has decided that the purpose of The Union will be to overthrow the genetic prejudice of the Goldwater-Paradigm cohort, rewrite the memories of the city’s people, and begin anew in a more just world.
Angel refuses to accept that she is a defective person and brandishes a pistol toward Vera, which is quickly repelled with Vera’s whip. As she lashes about Angel’s back, her shirt is torn revealing the scars on her back. Roger appears and binds Vera with a thin wire tool before knocking her unconscious with a well placed punch to the solar plexus. A move he performs with some reticence in lieu of his final rule: ‘Something else that goes against my policies– using violence against women.’ He has seen enough of Vera’s brutality, but has also heard enough of her fatalist philosophy of identity wherein one is supposedly caged and trapped forever by their social facticity (something that is probably true): ‘I am who I am. the way in which you were given life has nothing to do with the way you live your life as a human being.’ True enough too, and certainly a message emphasizing self-creation and self-responsibility that much of the modern political left ought to hear more often.
And then for the bombshell. As Vera awakens and begins to mouth off about making Paradigm’s denizens atone for their sins from before 40 years ago, Gordon Rosewater pipes up: ‘You’re wrong! Of all my cherished tomatoes, Negotiator, you aren’t one of my beloved ones. And neither is this young lady [Angel]. And the words in that book [Metropolis] don’t belong to me either. It’s a story that a dream commanded me to put down. No one ever had memories of the world prior to 40 years ago, including myself. but memories themselves have existed in unexpected forms…’
This means that out of all of the people in the world, Roger and Angel are aberrant forms in a sea of replicants. Constructs that exist outside of the parameters of this world and are uncreated and eternal. This is why Roger does not age whilst other androids and replicants do. This is why Angel has scars on her back despite there being no events before forty years ago that could have produced them. This all means that there was no world before forty years ago, except for the kind of world that will be revealed in the series’ denouement.
Rosewater continues on and claims that because of this truth, there never was any such thing as The Union. There are merely a small group of defective replicants who live in the wastes outside of Paradigm and just so happen to be good at tracking down Megadeuses and operating them. If this is all true, then another question arises with crazy implications: Who is attacking the city now, other than Alex Rosewater? Who is it that has apparently been dropping incendiary weapons into the center of the city from high above in the clouds?
As Gordon continues to explain that Angel is not a person at all, but merely a memory construct from a previous incarnation of this world, the roar of a great beast can be heard within the depths of the city. Roger calls Big O and minutes later, ascends to the city exterior with a massive Megadeus beast, known as Behemoth, held aloft by Big O’s relatively minuscule arms. Debris falls from the ceiling, lands on and crushes the Behemoth, which is good fortune as this beast would surely be indestructible even with the help of Big Fau. And now, face to face, Big O and Big Fau are set to begin one final confrontation on this eschatological plane.
Cast in the Name of God,
Toward the denouement of the previous outing, another Big Megadeus appeared from beneath the city to challenge Roger the Negotiator and Big O. As the titan ascends from the bowels of the city without toward the dome’s artificial light of day, its designation is revealed as Big Duo. However, this machine has been extensively modded with parts from destroyed Union Megadeuses and is now known as Big Duo Inferno.
Roger wonders aloud whether the machine might still be piloted by Schwarzwald from beyond the grave. This seems the only real possibility as Big Duo is a true Big, which means it can only be operated by its true Dominus (in this case, Schwarzwald). Roger imagines what Schwarzwald would say to him in this moment, or at least the show seems to present this interpretation. However, it’s also highly probable that the ensuing narration in Schwarzwald’s voice is a message from beyond the dead, addressed not to Roger, but directly toward the audience. If this latter possibility is the correct one, then we might do well to heed these words: words crafted expertly by the show’s creator Chiaki J. Konaka, a man intensely interested in understanding the human condition who has spent much of his life studying psychology, philosophy, evolutionary theory, religion, and sociology all toward this end.
‘Truth. Those who seek it out unknowingly become obsessed with this grand illusion that they are able to control this world…. The incomplete book of Gordon Rosewater’s, written in his younger days, depicts the final days of humanity. And the foolish humans who use the power of God.’
The claim seems inconsistent with the character of Schwarzwald, the archetypal Black Forest philosopher journalist who gave his very life to uncover the truths of this world. He became obsessed with the truth and with the thought that he could force a paradigm shift within Paradigm City. And in the end, what did his work accomplish? Few citizens took his pamphlets for little more than the ravings of a mad man and he was left dead, a corpse out in the wastes beyond the metropolis of Paradigm.
However, no fool to forsake knowledge totally, Schwarzwald includes in this narration a powerful invective against technocracy and its ability to lead toward techno-fascism. Against the hubris of humanity for charging heaven’s gates only to plunder her armaments for tools and weapons to kill and subjugate one another. No conservative, traditionalist, he understands how some social truths can be mutable and contradictory in nature, as well as how the search for truth at the expense of all else can lead one to ruin. But no postmodern, he rejects the logic of power dynamics and hegemonic social control as well. As these forces can also corrupt the soul and lead nations and peoples to ruin. As such, we can square Schwarzwald here, once again, as an intermediary figure, an iconoclastic outcast from all established doctrine whose neither A nor B analyses figure as the example that destroys the rule and deconstructs the binary in lieu of more balance in the world.
The fight commences as one might imagine. The two mechas crush each other handily. And just as Big Duo gets the drop on Big O, the machine revolts. We see that the operator of Big Duo is Alan Gabriel and not Schwarzwald after all. But the machine is haunted by a spectral presence, by the ghost of its one-time and true Dominus Schwarzwald. And as the machine surrounds Alan with its tendrils of cable, ensnaring and eventually crushing him in the process, Schwarzwald speaks once more: ‘The Megadeus chooses its Dominus…. You possess the foolishness of both man and machine. It chooses one who controls the power of God, created by man. One who is able to arrive at one truth. that’s not the case with you!’
The phrase, like much of Schwarzwald’s orations throughout the series, is intensely vague. If the Megadeus chooses its own Dominus, then how is it that men like Roger Smith were once programmed to operate these monolithic machines? Would that not be man choosing the Dominus for each Megadeus? Or do the specifications of each Megadeus warrant a particular makeup in each replicant, meaning scientists wishing to create a Dominus must do so according to the Megadeus’ implicit rules? Who is really in charge in this case? And this matter of one truth? Is this a specific truth one must discover or any sort of over-arching monolithic worldview one accepts, generally speaking? We may never know as Big Duo immediately ascends toward the sky and flies off toward the wastes, never to return.
When the battle ends, Roger returns the heavily damaged Big O to its track beneath the city for return back to the Mansion. He searches the city in his black sedan, Griffon, and eventually finds Dorothy standing atop a building in a nearby sector of the city. But when he reaches the roof of the building, she falls into his arms, her eyes emotionless and cold, her body un-moving, and her forehead cd-rom memory core interface totally removed. Roger brings her back to the Mansion in the hopes that Norman can do something to fix her, but the old hand can do nothing without the core memory. He even believes its return would not necessarily awaken her. And if it did, the memories might be corrupted.
Norman gives Roger the option of installing a new core memory into Dorothy’s braincase, which would undoubtedly awaken her. However, with a clean slate and no past memories, would he really be awakening ‘her’, or just resetting her back to a time when she did not know Roger or Norman, before she began emoting and before her love for Roger began to flower?
In the meantime, a letter arrives to the Mansion, addressed to Roger from Michael Seebach (Schwarzwald) in the event of his death. Inside is the final page of Gordon Rosewater’s messianic tome Metropolis: ‘ The power of God, created by man…. Divine thunder raining down from the heavens…’ Along with this page is a torn photo of a young Gordon Rosewater shaking hands with a man whose white pale hands, white dress shirt, and black shoes, pants, and suit jacket are obliquely visible. The man is obviously Roger Smith, though only we know this intuitively. That Roger Smith has not aged in the more than forty years since the photo was taken is one more signifier that he is more than a mere mortal man.
As Roger leaves the Mansion for one final confrontation, he speaks with the unresponsive Dorothy: ‘Since you first came to live here, I felt like I knew you forever…. I never answered that question you asked a while ago, did I? You asked if you were human, instead of an android, would you and I have fallen in love?… Maybe we would have…. Please don’t tell me that I’m dodging the issue. Right now I can’t seem to commit to one truth. but I know I won’t waver in doing what needs to be done. Or in going down the path that I have to take. Wait for me.’
As Roger departs his sweetheart, and leaves her with that precious line, Angel approaches her final confrontation deep in the subway system of Paradigm City, below the areas that create panic and terror in all it’s denizens. She finds therein a television set of an old cabin, with an old kitchen whereupon something is cooking in a pot on the stove. She recalls her past and realizes that her childhood memories were forged in this place, and that either she contains false memories of another person and is merely a copy of the original, or worse, that the one real memory she has of her childhood is really only a memory of an acting gig she once held as some sort of child star. The latter meaning that she has no substantive memories whatsoever. What’s worse is that the ‘mother’ she remembered from her childhood was in fact Vera Ronstadt, a brutal, vicious leader who never treated Angel like her child later in life, but instead merely as a pawn for The Union.
Finally, out in the streets of Paradigm, the dejected Police Chief Dan Dastun wanders about feeling helpless to aid his friend Roger in his battles against The Union and Paradigm Corp. Two children flit across the screen and catch his eye as they enter a movie theater with the Marquee Winter Night Phantom. The stars of the picture featured on the theater’s large poster for the attraction: the Union girl from his dreams and himself. As he enters the place, the lights in the room dim and Dastun’s own memories begin to play out on the screen before him.
The stage is set, the players are in position, but before the climactic final battle could begin in earnest, they have all realized something horrible about their ontological states: That they are merely players in a program, in a large simulation. Programs with no virtuality, existing in a plane without imminence as mere bodies with organs. But can their self-knowledge of these roles affect the outcome and bring to them some semblance of free action, or are they destined, nay determined toward a specific end result in this play?
Cast in the Name of God,
The central theme in Episode 23 (and arguably the rest of the series as well) of Chiaki Konaka’s classic The Big O is the interplay between programming and freedom, determinacy and action.
Many events unfold themselves within this episode, from the off-screen battle between Vera Ronstadt of The Union and the killer android (or is it cyborg?) Alan Gabriel, which results in no real damage done to the latter whilst the former is dealt a wound in the side. She is visibly in pain when, later in the episode, she turns up and delivers a message to Roger, one she wishes him to relay to Angel: ‘A bird whose wings have been plucked will shed all it’s feathers and will return into the beast it was before it evolved into a bird.’
The meaning of the statement is obscure and never quite spelled out through the context of the show. We know only that Angel, named after a celestial being donning wings, has large scars on her back, presumably where a set of wings once lie. Or is the visual merely a symbolic signifier of her role within the events of the story, of her role as a fallen being whose presence is more a portent of doom than divine care? And as the obscure quote alludes to, has she only become a portent of doom by virtue of losing her wings? Wings that once elevated her above the moral speciousness of human action and whose absence make her little more than another primitive homo sapien beast in comparison?
The strict, narrative purpose of Vera’s quote will later be revealed as a memory from Angel’s past, a memory of her mother and of the cabin she was presumably raised within as a young child. But when she finds the cabin… and in that place of all places…. Well, that’s a tale for next time.
Alan Gabriel escapes his battle with Vera, though not unscathed. He was previously playing both sides in the struggle for Paradigm City’s fate: fighting as a spy and counterspy for The Union and Paradigm Corp. Now, Alan Gabriel has to throw in all of his chips behind Paradigm to remain a player of import in the ongoing game. For the time, he raises the ante and heightens the tensions by freeing Beck from prison once more and, using an execution order, and the promise of freedom and money, Alan twists the inventor into working to restore Big Fau’s memory core. The plan? To once again abduct Dorothy using a horde of mechanical scorpion machines and then to use the power of her programming to rig Big Fau back into operation, thereby allowing Alex Rosewater to resume his helm as the Dominus of the Big Fau Megadeus.
The Dominus of Megadeus. A role one is destined for, a role none but a true Dominus can perform without being expelled from the machine, perhaps violently so. We know that Alex Rosewater is the son of Gordon Rosewater and the rightful heir as CEO of his father’s company Paradigm Corp. However, at the farm, before Alex Alex dispatches his father, we learn that Gordon considers Alex to be just like all those other people working on his farm. He considers Alex and these large, humanoid working machines to be his sons. The question becomes whether Alex is like them in other ways. Whether he too has been programmed for a job. In this case, the job of running the corporation and operating a Megadeus.
Unlike Alex Rosewater who has seemingly accepted his fate and his programming by deciding to follow his father’s wishes, Roger the Negotiator, also almost certainly a replicant-like being, a created, not born, human being complete with emotions and all, is grapples with his fate. He knows he has been programmed to fulfill a social role, but has a rebellious nature. In the past, he was a police officer, but he quit that job and moved on to become a Negotiator who could help the people without answering to the Police Department’s head company: Paradigm Corp.
He was programmed to pilot a Megadeus and has innate operating knowledge of its systems thereby. However, instead of merely protecting the city from The Union and supporting the goals of Paradigm Corp., he has been tempted by the Black Forest Philosopher-Dominus Schwarzwald and realizes now just how corrupt the city really is. Roger knows of the existence of peoples beyond the domes of the city, people who have been systematically discriminated against and marginalized until their kind were expelled from the city or killed. People whose memory in the minds of Paradigm’s denizens have eventually faded into obscurity. But Roger knows Angel, and he knows, deep down, that she is not wrong for wanting to live a peaceful life in the city, and that The Union is not totally evil for wanting to destroy Paradigm Corp. to install a more friendly regime that would allow their people access to the city’s comforts.
Roger now pilots the Big O Megadeus as a rogue Dominus who has abandoned his programming and fights both the terrorist activity of The Union and the hegemonic totalitarian regime of Paradigm Corp. Though, just like all anti-fascist in modern history, his work only heightens the tensions between the most extreme factions. He has only served to bring more turmoil to the city by exposing the city’s people to the existence of outsiders. And what’s worse, he may now be relatively free from the dictates of his programming, but he has not gone far enough beyond good and evil to recognize a need for a new system, let alone to begin formulating it as a positive force in opposition to The Union and to Paradigm Corp.
When Dorothy is taken by the scorpion machines, Roger makes it back home just in time to watch helplessly while his love is removed once more from his abode and turned over to Beck for use in his Megadeus modification experiments. As she departs, Dorothy stops fighting back and calls out to Roger: ‘I am what I am. I am not like you Roger. I will always have this same body and this same heart.’ Time and again, the reference to a Jewish mythos, to the Leviathan and the Behemoth, to Angels, and to an end-times prophecy of destruction is brought into discussion. Here, Dorothy defines herself as YHWH does: ‘I am what I am.’ The effect in this context is of an orthodoxy burrowed deep into her psyche. An orthodoxy of stasis, of oneself as what one is born into. A Socratic truth delivered upon pondering oneself and coming to know oneself and in contradistinction to a Nietzschian truth of self-creation and becoming.
Roger recognizes this orthodoxy as the false god it is, as he too once believed it and has managed to come toward the light of truth and shake off the shackles of his programming to become more human than human in the process of accepting his manufactured nature and denying its maxims. He tells Dorothy not to give up, tells her that she must take control of her own destiny rather than resigning herself. The meaning is twofold in that she must take control now and escape the clutches of her enemies no matter how much she feels she belongs with them, rather than with humans like roger and Norman. The second meaning, and I may be reaching a bit here, is that she ought to try and take hold of her destiny to also overthrow her mere programming: that she should try to love him and live alongside him despite their anatomical differences: Roger the organic android and Dorothy the mechanical being.
At the last moment, Dorothy’s eyes open wide and we realize that she has picked up on the latter message all too well, though she is now physically incapable of following the first. Before I get too sappy here, I’ll stop. Especially since the next episode is there waiting in the wings to swoop down and upend our expectations, just as the final two ring the death knell and put the nail in the coffin, respectively, regarding the philosophical dialogue between determinism and free action. The result? A stance staunchly astride the former.
Cast In the Name of God,
The bulk of Act 17 of The Big O is taken up by Schwarzwald’s various narrations, typically heard in his own voice by the viewers of the show, but read out by characters in the series as they skim and scan his final tractatus on the Leviathan. This work is a one-page leaflet that summarizes Schwarzwald’s philosophical project and is delivered into Paradigm, mysteriously, upon the winds themselves. The recto is all sermon, all fire and fury, whilst the verso is a reproduction of the painting Behemoth and Leviathan by the British romantic poet, artist, and mystic William Blake (an author whose works are popping up again and again in my daily life and may ultimately serve as the rabbit hole toward my psyche’s undoing).
‘Even without the events of forty years ago, I think man would still be a creature that fears the dark. He doesn’t face that fear, he averts his eyes from it, and acts as if he never had any memories of his history.’ Schwarzwald began as a relentless newspaper reporter, hellbent on discovery of the truth of the city, and then turned philosophical warrior working to open the eyes of the denizens of Paradigm’s veritable ‘Cave’ toward the truth of their existence. Now his has become a prophetic voice with the strength of religious fervor behind it. It is not enough merely to report corruption in the daily paper, nor can he force people to turn their attentions toward the light as they have, and always have had, a natural aversion toward its brightness and the pain gazing too long upon God-qua-veritas ipso facto brings. His religious fervor would typically be the result of megalomania, but in the case of Paradigm, something isn’t quite right and it seems that Schwarzwald has flown closer to the sun, closer to enlightenment and awakening, and closer to obtaining the truth of the city than any other within it.
‘But forty years can be a both a brief time and yet a long time. Man’s fear has withered , and even time itself tries to wither the desire to know the truth. Is it a crime to try and learn the truth? Is it a sin to search for those things, which you fear?’ The city exists and society exists in Paradigm because no one searches for the truth, because everyone lives their lives as if nothing ever happened, as if they retained their memories of the past. Fear is an unconscious psychological tool that has helped the more curious of Paradigm’s citizens to forego looking any deeper into their pasts. And as the city is a Military Dictatorship ruled by a Corporate Autocracy in the form of Paradigm Corp., the search for the truth is further hindered by propaganda (such as the city’s denial of the existence of foreigners), by assassins (like R.D. who has was sent to kill all those who recovered memories of 40 years ago), and thereby through a de facto law and social norm that states: ‘When one goes searching for the past, only death and destruction, both personal and toward the city can result.’ Paradigm is the archetypal fascist city-state in which the ‘truth’ is manufactured and any authentic pursuit of real truth is outlawed.
As the leaflets of the Leviathan manifesto fall throughout the city, the verso’s art is displayed on numerous occasions. The chaos dragon of Jewish myth, Leviathan, fights against Yahweh, with Behemoth by his side. Yahweh seems to control them, to bind them, to restrain the chaotic potential and form a world out of their bodies. One might think that in this analogy, Schwarzwald’s search for the truth is analogous to Yahweh’s chaos-reducing battle. But no, in Schwarzwald’s path lies only more confusion, more chaos, but ultimately truth. He appears as the Leviathan or as the prophet of Leviathan who ascend from the depths like a forgotten memory of a traumatic event, like a nightmare forcing its way to the surface, like an ancient Indo-European myth of a world-forming conflict between the prideful, boastful Yahweh and his counterpart God, the Leviathan. As if awakening the ‘religious’ of the city to a deeper, more troubling, mystical truth behind their Evental past, which they have largely forgotten by merely chanting hymns and going through the motions of ritual in their Church-spaces. Like most all Christians today who would refuse the Chaos dragon’s existence within their mythological past, out of hand and without even bothering to research it.
We are shown visions of Schwarzwald in the desert wastes surrounding Paradigm like an Old Testament prophet or a Christian Desert Monk enduring a trial. He comes across Big Duo within a relatively intact Airplane Hangar. And later, we watch once more as the battle between this Big and Big O commences, and Big Duo is proven the weaker of the two. Like John the Baptist, Schwarzwald has philosophically communed with some great metaphysical truth about the world and has passed on his teachings to one who might prove to be the true savior of Paradigm: Roger Smith. ‘ My purpose in this world is knowledge, and the dissemination of it. It is I who is to the restore the fruits of my labor to the entire world.’ Not to change the world, but to inform the world, to inform Paradigm and those within its borders that there is something much more sinister going on that they are not aware of. And to cede his findings to a great liberator who might carry on his knowledge and begin the second phase of that knowledge: world-transformation.
‘Fear, it is something vital to us puny creatures…. The instant man stops fearing is the instant the species will reach a dead end. Only to sink to pitiable lows, only to sit and wait apathetically for extinction.’ This fear is different from the fear of the past and the fear of the truth, which are ultimately unhealthy fears. No, this third fear is a fear of pain, of death, of the death of one’s loved ones, a fear that was possibly lost in the world before The Event and which was returned to the world once its technological marvels were forgotten. The world formed by this lack of fear, itself formed through a technological society in which life is easy and thereby nothing substantial, is the world of top-siders that The Big O series writer Chiaki J. Konaka would later expand upon in his dystopian, nihilistic anime series Texhnolyze. Here, the rich live forever, or for as long as they wish to live, and as such, life has no meaning, everyone has already done all those things they wished they could do at an early age. They are the last men, anything but ubermensch, who rest on their laurels and make no effort to create of life something marvelous, something beautiful, something transcendent. And all they wait for is death. In this sense, we can imagine Texhnolyze as a retroactive prequel to the world of The Big O, after some terrible Event occurs and throws human civilization backward by more than a millenia.
‘Wake up! Don’t be afraid of knowledge!’ Angel reclines on a bench, recognizing the words of the in the leaflet at those of Schwarzwald. Another flashback and we view Schwarzwald himself, out in the desert wastes examining an old, abandoned amusement park. ‘Humans who lose the capacity to think become creatures whose existence has no value. ‘ And indeed, value, like morality, is merely a social construction. In the state of nature, there are no universal, ontologically-grounded morals, values, or rights. Schwarzwald, like philosophers of our modernity in the still relatively new millennium, understand that human beings are becoming satiated, uninspired, and thus have formed no new artistic movements, created no new great technological wonders that spur on the human spirit, and believe what they are told by their favorite figure heads and media outlets without question. The men and women who brought us to the Moon, brought us Avant-garde Jazz, Electronica, and Rock and Roll, and challenged all standards of convention throughout the 1960s and 70s were, in this analysis, citizens of a world with a greater culture, more individualistic, and thereby more valuable, socially, culturally, and morally, especially as compared to those herds who roam the social media landscape in this day and age, and back to Schwarzwald’s point: more valuable than those currently living in Paradigm City.
‘Think, you humans who are split into two worlds! Unless you want the gulf between humans to expand into oblivion, you must think! Signed, Schwarzwald.’ Thus ends the Leviathan leaflet. The two groups could mean those from Paradigm and the unrecognized foreigners from outside of its borders. It could refer to the rich Paradigm citizens within the domes and the poor stuck outside of them. But in either case, Schwarzwald is calling for solidarity lest the two groups rip their own world to pieces, as their ancestors almost seemed to do with whatever during The Event. Ultimately, the fan of The Big O knows that the people of Paradigm will fail to heed Schwarzwald’s warnings and that the world will be ripped asunder. They likely know as well, that upon its recurrence, it will take a much greater prophetic force to keep it from occurring once again: A force that seems impossible to generate given the nature of Paradigm’s recurrence as something of a game simulation meant to find a way to create the perfect world, outside of that simulation, which may itself by simulated by a vengeful God. And on and on the Sisyphean struggle will go, for all eternity, unless Roger Smith can muster up enough heroic energy to bring everything to its illogical conclusion, win the game, and extinguish the suffering of his virtual peoples.
During the final remarks of Schwarzwald’s narration, we watch as a beast tunnels toward him the sands of the desert, seemingly another Megadeus that has found its way to revered Dominus in search of the truth. Meanwhile, Paradigm Corp. hires Roger to once again try to complete his mission of tracking down Schwarzwald. He is to work alongside Dastun, though the latter, now obviously knowing about Roger’s identity as the Dominus merely mulls around and complains about his own ineffectiveness in protecting his city from the Megadeuses that continue to attack it. Roger begins his search for Schwarzwald rather enigmatically as he visits the mystic’s old apartment from when he was Michael Seebach, the Paradigm Press reporter. Roger hears an odd sound, a moan as if a primordial cry from out in the desert and then we hear Schwarzwald’s narration: ‘Don’t you find it odd that in this whole city there is only one man who has the desire to pursue the truth?’ This statement still holds true as Schwarzwald, the one man, has disappeared from the city, but left behind his own curiosity within Roger Smith.
Dorothy finishes a piano lesson with Instro in the Amadeus Bar and he explains that business in establishments selling alcoholic beverages has diminished. Instead, more and more people, sensing some perceived fate ahead have been taking to communing with their neighbors in churches. As such, Instro has secured a position as a Church organist to supplement his income.
‘You poor souls who fear the darkness and the deep, when you suppress that fear, you will be able to get closer to the truth.’ Roger has been following these orders like a good student and is now venturing beneath the city to where The Archetype was found. He muses on the fact that this Archetype City housed what appeared to be a primal Big O archetype Megadeus. If this is truly the nature of the beast he fought in this room, then what does this mean about the identity of Roger Smith, the Dominus of the Big O Megadeus? Is he too the final version of previously-existing archetype version of himself? He shakes off the question and eventually finds himself in another tunnel below Paradigm City, which leads him to a typewriter labelled ‘Another Light’ that contains one sheet of paper with the same lines written over and over along its recto side: ‘There is but one truth. If you avert your eyes from it, you will always remain nothing more than a puppet.’ It is as if Schwarzwald has reached into the very mind of Roger Smith and is taunting him, pushing him to draw out the full implications of the truths he has been investigating.
Roger next finds a large hangar housing a restored Big Duo as well as the three Foreign Megadeuses. After a brief confrontation with Alan Gabriel, Alex Rosewater appears and tells his attack dog android to retreat. Above ground, a Megadeus awakens after hearing Dorothy’s voice, Dastun readies to fight it with his Military Police forces and Norman tries to contact Roger whose communicator is out of commission on account of the signal-blocking technology within Rosewater’s Megadeus hangar. A ship sinks into the sand and once again Schwarzwald’s voice: ‘Imagination and memory are but one ting, which for diverse considerations have diverse names.’ And later, ‘Foolish denizens of Paradigm City, as long as you exist together, continue to live your lives together, and share in your mass illusion, a single dragon will be born there. ‘ The chaos dragon: Leviathan.
The beast emerges from the sands and destroys buildings, turning them into sand at the touch of his mechanical, oscillating claws. Dorothy seems to be speaking with Leviathan who believes that they are one and the same. She believes that Leviathan has become unhinged, has lost his conscience. As such, she refuses to join up with Leviathan, to become its Dominus or power cell, or what have you. Schwarzwald: ‘Yes, that ancient mechanical dragon is a mirror of none other than yourselves, you fools! The anxiety within you has no outlet. It has no past, and no future!’ The Leviathan itself seems confused about its rage and wishes to subsume its consciousness within that of another being of its ilk, like Dorothy, in order to forget itself and to feel at home with another person, in communion with another being.
After Rosewater tells Roger that he is also a Dominus, but instead of a manufactured one, he was born with the ability to harness the power of a God through a Megadeus. Roger cannot accept this news and denies what it implies about himself once more before running off to exit the hangar. Back in Paradigm, Leviathan swings toward Dorothy, enraged at her refusal to become one with him, but is blocked at the last moment by Big O who has seemingly arrived of his own will in an attempt to protect her. Roger arrives moments later and pilots Big O from there on, eventually overcoming the dragon of chaos and bringing back order and stability to the city, though the appearance of each new Megadeus must bring ever-increasing uncertainty and questioning into the minds of the average Paradigm citizen.
Schwarzwald’s final words: ‘Each person’s jealousies, their desires, their fears. Alone each may be a small part, but together they become an enormous whole that will take shape.’ The arrival of the Megadeuses, of Leviathan, of the satellite, and of a general feeling of malaise may yet unite the denizens of this dark city. But Schwarzwald will not be their prophet. Roger believes that Schwarzwald was finally killed in the previous confrontation when Big O evaporated Leviathan by its own hands. He believes that Schwarzwald piloted Leviathan as its Dominus. But Angel appears and reveals the truth: Schwarzwald’s body was found weeks earlier out in the desert wastes surrounding Paradigm. He has been dead for some time, which means the Leviathan, the chaos dragon was piloting itself and cuts a much more obscure figure for it.
Cast in the Name of God,
Little Big Man, released in 1970, was director Arthur Penn’s ninth film in a career that began in 1958. Throughout the 1970s, his career as a director would continue to flourish for a time before steeply declining in the early 80s. The result being that Arthur Penn would only direct another nine films after Little Big Man over the course of the remaining 32 years of his career. Of the 18 feature films he directed in the course of that career, all seem worth watching and interesting in their own rights. But only two are absolutely necessary for any self-respecting film buff or critic of American filmography to study.
The first of these two films is 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. A hyperviolent tale of a nihilistic and amoral lovers on the run, the film was heavily inspired the French New Wave’s brazen approach the filmmaking and established Penn, for a time, as first and foremost amongst the auteurs of American cinema. More importantly, the film is often considered to be the first in a series of rogue films by American auteurs that would come to comprise the American New Wave, or the New Hollywood Movement, and would bring the counterculture and its concerns to the forefront of American pop culture through the films of other directors like Mike Nichols, Sam Peckinpah, George A. Romero, Dennis Hopper, and Walter Hill amongst many, many others.
The second is Little Big Man, which is one of the first Revisionist Westerns to infuse irreverence and comedy with the nihilism and moral relativity typically at home within this sub-genre of the American Western. It stars Dustin Hoffman as a 121-year old man named Jack Crabb, and likewise known by his Cheyenne Indian name Little Big Man, who is being interviewed by a presumptuous young newspaper man who has pegged the old timer as a problematic Native American hating, stalwart racist and wishes merely to write a thinkpiece on changing attitudes to Native American sovereignty over their lands over the ages. The young man has another coming, however, as Crabb exhorts him for labeling Crabb before even hearing his story or gaining his perspective on the past of which he apparently played a large part.
Although there was a historical Jack Crabb and a Little Big Man, the film fuses the two personages and present their stories in a wildly inaccurate, albeit extremely interesting manner as a Picaresque tale of a roguish young man born into difficult circumstances who overcomes the hand dealt him by the world through his cunning and wit, as well as a fair bit of luck. Jack Crabb of Little Big Man was born a white man to a group of settlers heading West in mid-1850s. Along the way, a group of Pawnee Indians attacked their stagecoach group and killed everyone in sight. However, Jack and his sister hid out underneath a toppled cart and were eventually found by a group of peaceful Cheyenne Indians who took them in. His sister quickly ran off into the night first chance she got, leaving her brother behind in the process, but Jack remained with the Cheyenne and grew up to be a promising young warrior.
As fate would have it, his group was attacked by a marauding legion of American soldiers and Jack, instead of being killed, pretended to be a white man sympathetic with America and its cause, instead of a boy raised by the Cheyenne. Through absolutely unbelievable machinations, which are obviously the construction of Jack Crabb’s imagination rather than mere recounting of historical truth, he makes his way through the home of a preacher, consorts with the man’s wife, becomes a travelling salesmen of snake oil, suffers tarring and feathering for selling faulty products to townsfolk, joins up and leaves General Custer’s men on numerous occasions, meets back up with and lives with the Cheyenne many times, makes friends with Wild Bill Hickok, marries a Swedish woman who is abducted by Cheyenne, eventually marries four Cheyenne women simultaneously, and finally leads Custer to his doom at the Battle of Little bighorn.
Although a comedy, the film is often relatively somber, especially when portraying the loss of land and life experienced by Native American peoples throughout the 1800s, ad the constant breaking of promises and legally binding treaties by the U.S. Military that pushed Native Americans farther and farther West and into increasingly smaller tracts of land. Although a nihilistic picture that recognizes the fact that there is no ontological basis for morality within this world, and that there is no god to save us or to reign in our evil, Little Big Man remains steadfastly hopeful that the natural feeling of outrage, in all properly socialized people, regarding injustice could prevent people from harming one another and disrupting each other’s ways of life when avoidable. And although a Picaresque text wherein our hero subverts the evil of the American Military by leading Custer directly into his own death and defeat, it is also a traumatic text wherein this same hero may in fact be lying about his involvement as a way to overcompensate for his inability at the time to have any effect whatsoever in making the world a better place for his people by blood (the whites who became increasingly bloodthirsty and morally corrupted throughout this period) or by upbringing (the Native Americans who lost much land and many lives that can never be returned).
Little Big Man in this manner was Arthur Penn’s attempt to personally come to terms with what America was doing in Vietnam at the time. Another immoral war fought for no purpose except to ‘contain’ communism (meaning to subvert the political structures of another people who were increasingly choosing it for themselves of their volition as the more moral option) and thereby ‘protect’ American business interests (meaning open more foreign markets to the possibility of buying useless American goods that they could just produce on their own for far cheaper and with less attendant consequences of continuing to help prop up the imperialist American war machine). It was a time when the average citizen, and even the average artist (like a filmmaker), felt helpless in the face of the evils of the world (then brought on specifically by the evils of American Empire).
And what was worse, WWII and the writers and philosophers speaking about that time rung home the absolute truth that there was no god, that there was no basis for morality in metaphysics, that we were just children left alone to govern this planet by ourselves, and that we were really doing a shit job of it. And every filmmaker and artist and writer and politician with any ounce of humanity recognized all of this and screamed out from the core of their beings for all of this to stop, but they had no effect. All their screaming and fighting and production of materials to combat the dark impulses within the human heart and all to no avail. The result was traumatic and the war was ongoing in 1970, and no primal scream seemed then to have the strength to end it. The result was that all those with a kernel of humanity in their hearts felt impotent in the face of the war machine, just as Little Big Man felt impotent in the face of 19th century Manifest Destiny.
But the film was prescient, and all those who opposed Vietnam and American Empire felt vindicated when Nixon pulled us out and when the Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops took Saigon and claimed Giai phong mien Nam, thong nhat dat nuoc. And they started building these narratives of self-importance, of how their particular protest had the most decisive effect on the decision, and how they were right there man. Right there fighting when it mattered. Right there pushing the sycophantic president toward his final decision to end the war. And like Little Big Man, they needed these narratives to prove to themselves that they did have power, that they did have strength, that they did fight hard enough, even though they did not. And none had the truly decisive power of a Gavrilo Princip or a Mahatma Gandhi to single-handedly ignite the tensions or douse the flames, when it mattered, and when millions of lives could have been saved. Because if they didn’t have these stories, the myth of human will as power would be extinguished, as would all hope of a future for a civilization based on mere brute strength and might is right real politics.
[Next up: Dead Man]
(Catch my previous Bakshi film review here: Cool World)
After the catastrophe of Cool World’s release in 1992, Ralph Bakshi again had trouble developing any high-profile work and either could not secure another guarantee for the production of a theatrical feature or had no interest in directing one. Instead, sometime in 1993, Bakshi was given approval from Showtime to direct a feature-length feature for their Rebel Highway B-Picture film series. The bait must have reeled in Bakshi immediately as it would give him an opportunity to direct his first completely live-action film, finally develop a thrice-aborted attempt at making his long-adored screenplay about marital infidelity entitled If I Catch Her, I’ll Kill Her, and put himself amongst the names of other revered directors in the series including Joe Dante, William Friedkin, John Milius, and Robert Rodriguez.
Rebel Highway was a program meant to be in the spirit of Rebel Without A Cause with all of its attendant 50s atmosphere, music, cars, and culture. Each film in the series was released as a B-Movie remake of a 1950s B-Movie, but with better actors and good directors attached to each project. And the goal was to present a series of high quality in an effort to simultaneously produce an artful film series for Showtime and to cash in on the popularity of Rockabilly and 50s Retro cults that were thriving (as evidenced and enhanced culturally by the popularity of Twin Peaks just a few years prior).
Interestingly, Ralph Bakshi decided not to adapt a previously existing B-Movie, but instead took the name of one (1958’s reefer madness propaganda film The Cool and The Crazy) and affixed it to his own script without making any changes to it whatsoever. Although the final product is alright on its own merits, it seems threadbare and not excessively stylish or exceedingly well-made. By referencing and perhaps making light of the earlier film’s stance against marijuana use, Bakshi could have added an element to Cool and The Crazy that might made the film more referential to cinema history, and thereby ‘cooler’ to film buffs, or at least more in line with the postmodern approach to filmmaking, which was in vogue at the time due to directors like Tarantino and Rebel Highway’s own Robert Rodriguez. Unfortunately, the narrative of Bakshi’s film has no relation to that earlier film whatsoever and thereby breaks away at the structural integrity of the series of which it is a part.
The result was to undermine Rebel Highway’s operating principles, but to simultaneously be one with the spirit of rebellion against conventions and codes of operating that are its ethos, and the ethos of the American spirit from the 1950 through the late 1970s (when American culture began its downward phase). Cool and the Crazy, though not a great film as a film (though it does have a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is thereby ten times better than Bakshi’s previous film Cool World at 4%?), is an interesting work because of its aforementioned formal qualities. Through them it stands as one amongst a member of a set (Rebel Highway), which it achieves by being literally one amongst its production number. But the ethos of this set is anti-set at the core, and as such, a film must subvert the set’s normative rules to be one amongst it.
The resulting confusion is in the designation of a member of such a set, which seems impossible. The other members of this set are members because they follow the few rules of the set, but in doing so are not rebellious and anti-set at all (at the formal level. They might contain cultural critique or obscenity or taboo that make them culturally rebellious whilst being conformist in the context of the set). This makes them fundamentally not a member of the set in regards to their ethos and only through their nominal containment in the set. As for Bakshi’s film, it finds itself also nominally within the set, but by breaking the set’s normative schemata, finds itself closer to the ethos of the set. In this way, Cool and the Crazy seems to fit the set better than any other members.
However, this is only so if we give ethos primacy within the set. Then, and only then, does Bakshi’s film check off nominal inclusion and ethos inclusion whereas the others do not. There is the also the schemata of rules, and if the set rules are given primacy over ethos, then Bakshi’s film only fulfills the first function of nominality within the set. The key, and also the problem with all critical approaches to grouping (hold on, we’re almost there), is in bifurcating schemata and the urge to pick the one over the other. In this case, the only film that really and truly fits the Rebel Highway series is the one with nominality (literally being one amongst the films produced for this program), ethos (being rebellious to formal rules of the set), AND rule-boundedness (actually being a remake of a 1950s B-Movie).
Given all three criterion, no films are completely at home in the Rebel Highway series, which might be why the series only existed for one season and did not manage to catch the attention of the public at large. But for those who do like some of these films and want something of a Dogme 95 challenge for the modern age, there is one within the criterion listed above: If a filmmaker were to create another remake of a classic 1950s B-Movie and update its sensuality and violence to fit in with the modern epoch, it would be able to checkmark the rule-boundedness box. By claiming itself to be one amongst the Rebel Highway series it would be truly rebellious (and fit the show’s ethos) as well, as no more films beyond the original 10 can retroactively check the nominality box. This means that a film created today in this manner by someone with the guts to claim its inclusion into the set (despite the obviousness of its non-inclusion and the threat of legal action) would, like all of the films in the series, check two of the three inclusion boxes and would therefore be no less legitimate than any of those films originally made for Rebel Highway. Such a paradox is truly something to marvel.
The final question: ‘But man, did you LIKE the movie or not?!?!’
My answer: ‘Not really.’
[Next up: Spicy City]
(Check out my previous film review in this series here: All The Pretty Horses)
Before I jump back into reviewing straightforward Westerns, I’ve got a few genre-bending numbers in the week ahead, as well as this review of the 2013 arthouse Southern Gothic film Child of God. The film is an adaptation of American author Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel of the same name, and like most of his works (and especially his earliest works) it is especially gruesome, bloody, nihilistic, subversive, and artistically daring. Through this story of an asocial idiot who becomes increasingly isolated from those around him and falls into a life of crime and taboo behavior, McCarthy works to press the patience of facile Christians who must call even this disgusting being a ‘child of god’ and a ‘brother’ to be totally consistent with their doctrines, despite one’s visceral response to the contrary.
The result is to make intellectually honest Christians aware of a core hypocrisy within the character of themselves, and by extension, of a diametrical opposition between the nature of the world as it is and the sugarcoated fables of religion, which tell us that all people have moral worth and ought to be treated fairly. The gut reaction to the character of Lester Ballard is to either morally support the town’s lynch mob attempt to wipe him off of the face of the earth or to hope to hell the lawman Sheriff Fate (Tim Blake Nelson) catches the guy and is able to lock him away and throw away the key.
Helmed by actor, director, producer, writer James Franco, the film was his second work in the medium of film to recognize and champion the literary heritage of the United States. The first work entitled The Broken Tower, and released in 2011, was a biopic on the life of Hart Crane in which Franco played the man himself. In the years following Child of God, Franco has directed two adaptations of classic novels by William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying, The Sound and The Fury), and an adaptation of a little known novel entitled In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. Franco has also portrayed the great American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the 2010 experimental film Howl, centering around the book’s obscenity trial in 1957, and is currently directing and writing a film chronicling the early life the American gutter poet (and one my top five favorite authors of all time) Charles Bukowski simply entitled Bukowski. Franco’s work in cinema is certainly setting himself up as something of an obscene, gritty James Ivory. And a large Criterion Collection release ought to be somewhere on the horizon despite (and possibly because) most of his films in this vein being critically divisive.
Child of God is set in the 1950s in Sevier County, Tennessee. The elder Ballard’s wife leaves him behind with his teenage son to raise on his own. Her departure is mysterious and not explained in the film and ultimately drives the elder Ballard to taking his own life out of emotional pain and desperation. Lester remains at home, not knowing how to pay bills or make a living, as he is a bit touched (as my grandparents generation in Appalachia might’ve quipped) . Eventually, the bank forecloses on his family’s home and land. Ballard gets a job digging post holes until he can afford a rifle and then commences to threaten all those who attempt to buy or sell the home at gunpoint. He grows increasingly mad and eventually loses his home.
Over the course of the film, we watch Ballard roam about the woods and countryside as if in some arthouse nature documentary chronicling the exploits of an incensed God-man, now unhinged and capable of extreme violence at any moment. He happens upon a woman in the woods who has been raped and left behind by someone else. At least, this is seemingly what has happened. The woman makes fun of Ballard, and in response, he steals the last tatters of her clothing and lopes off into the woods, leaving her naked and exposed to the elements as punishment for her rude behavior. When she later turns up at the police department, she claims that Ballard raped her (and is obviously thereby protecting the real criminal). Ballard is taken into custody by Sheriff Fate, and as the fates would have it, after an extensive stay in the jailhouse, Ballard is freed after Fate figures out that the woman lied.
Ballard moves through the world like an animal with no concern about morality or law as these are social forces only and are not present in the state of nature. This brute man finds that he is attracted to women and has an innate need to procreate after stumbling upon a couple copulating in their car on a dirt road late at night. As such, when he runs across a suicided couple within their car on the same road a few weeks later, he takes advantage of the young woman’s corpse inside, and even later returns to take her photograph and some money from the young deceased man’s wallet inside, before also hauling off the corpse of the girl to store and bone in the remote hunting cabin he occupies out in the forest.
The grotesque horror of this man’s very existence and the fact that none of his evil is perpetrated for the sake of evil, but by the ignorance inherent within so-called innocents (in truth, persons outside of socialization and thereby more natural men and women than those around them), gives viewers an attempt to stare directly into the abyss, if willing to do so. The world stripped of the social impulse, the world of true libertarianism, both devoid of religion and of the common human experience: a husk of life left without morality as either a social or a metaphysical impulse, which reveals why either one or both of these forces (religion and social solidarity) are necessary for society to function, lest we become brutes like Ballard. The Ayn Randian pursuit of individualism for its own sake is important to the development of worthwhile human beings and personas, but without being balanced by social conventions life is not worth living at all.
The proper response to narratives of idiots, to serial killers, or to soldiers fighting in aimless wars is to recognize the abyss of nihilism and the lack of meaning and morality beneath all of the social world we have built as a species. And to then champion the structures in place and to work constantly to make them safer, stronger, more inclusive, and less subject to manipulation by psychotic businessman and politicians. Oh, and to realize that inclusivity cannot and must not preclude locking up those types, as well as the aforementioned like Ballard, who are irredeemable, and though not deserving of it (deserving being a metaphysical concept that has no real place in a good social system), must nevertheless be separated from civil society. Permanently.
I’ve mentioned, often enough, the different kinds of music employed in The Big O by composer Toshihiko Sahashi to develop a mood, heighten the tension of a moment or to play as incidental accompaniment to a moment, and to serve as a pastiche of those cultural forms that influenced the show. However, the most glaring piece of music in the series is the opening track, which I have not hitherto discussed at any length. The chorus of the song, which plays in its shortened minute and a half version in syndication, is replete with obvious aping of the Queen-composed theme from the 1980 American Sci-fi production of Flash Gordon.
But if you listen to the full track online, you will find that much of the remainder of the song’s operatic nature and rock and roll style is in keeping with the post-Glam Rock glam of Queen musical productions like Seven Seas of Rye or Bohemian Rhapsody. The effect is the boldly, and even haphazardly, make the point from the very get-go that The Big O is as much a pastiche of the Japanese Giant Robo genre, Kaiju films, and Tokusatsu shows, as it is a pastiche of Western influences like American music (Jazz, Rock and Roll, Classical, and early Electronica) and Sci-fi. And personally, the piece is my favorite opening theme of any anime, scratch that, of any TV show period.
That said, Underground Terror is something of a labyrinthine affair whose mysteries could be mined for months, and over hundreds of potential pages. So if I’m to strike some gold, I oughta get to it now. The episode opens to the image of a broken watch lying in a pile of rubble on the ground, presumably beneath Paradigm City itself. The city is an ontological quandary, a place with no history and no memory of its past, and thereby of a city beyond time. The broken clock is a visual signifier, to my mind, of this basic state of Paradigm as a place out of time. A voice speaks: ‘Let’s just say, if what happened forty years ago didn’t exist, man would still be a creature that fears the dark. Fear comes from not knowing. He then averts his eyes from that fear and acts as if he never had any memories of his life, of his history from the very beginning.’
The point here being that the denizens of Paradigm’s dank streets, its dark hollows fear mining their memory banks for information about the Event. And as such, they have averted their eyes and decided it better not to seek out the truth, better to remain in the dark and become acclimated to it, as a defense mechanism, and have eventually become atrophied in the process, like the Mole Men, who can no longer surface and view the truth lest it blinds them. The voice is pessimistic about the plight of his people to rise out of the Platonic Cave without being forced to do so. And as a seeker of the truth, he has taken on the persona of the Philosophical Warrior who fights not only to realize the truth of the past, but to bring this truth to those he protects, whether they want it or not.
The scene shifts to an old house in a district of the domed city that is set for demolition and eventual reconstruction with new domiciles for the fossorial hominids of Paradigm. An old woman resides within the home and explains that her son lost his memories of her when the Event occurred forty years ago. She has remained in this home all this time in the hopes that his memories will return and he would one day be able to track her down before she died of old age and heartbreak. Now, she must move. Roger Smith has been hired to ensure that records are easily available of where she has relocated to, in the off chance that her son attempts to track her down one day. Another man is in the room with them, an employee of the Paradigm Corporation who has a job for Roger Smith. He is to go to a specific rail-car terminal to learn more about the job, which presumably pays exceedingly well. Otherwise, Roger wouldn’t be caught dead working for Paradigm.
Once there, he finds within the station a reproduction (or the original?) of a Salvador Dali Gala Angel painting in which the clouds at her feet transmogrify into terrifying columns of atomic dust ala his Nuclear Mysticism. The painting, representing something akin to a world ending event and the inherent beauty in such a visual image as well as the metaphor of an act leading to a new beginning, resonates intensely with Roger, who studies it for a while. His own angel, Angel, appears behind him. She speaks with Roger and explains that her new alias is Patricia Lovejoy and that she now works for Paradigm Press. She needs Roger to track down an important reporter named Michael Seebach, who has been off the grid, missing, for three months, and whom the company wishes to present a large severance check to in exchange for his final manuscript. If Angel is the femme fatale who prefigures the next Event, the man they spy along the way, riding past in a deluxe rail car, Alex Rosewater, the CEO of Paradigm Corp, will prove to be the god who initiates that end. At the mansion, Dorothy stands by a large table, constantly turning over sand timers in an effort, symbolically, to prolong this next Event’s arrival.
The next image: a drip of water falling into a small pool. ‘Do you think man can survive cut off from his memories of the past? He, having no idea how long he’s been there or where he’s from, and what he’s connected to?’ If you know the about the ending of this series, then you will understand what I’m getting at in this next point. If you don’t, take it as poetic pop philosophy psychobabble. All beings can extend no further in memory beyond the point of their emergence into this world. All worlds, including our own, are potentially a Paradigm City. Some are just more filled out with detail and with information handed down about the past (which will always be suspect), and with fewer holes in reality. The world a Simulacrum, the holes of Paradigm mere memories, the gaps in our own appearing only at the quantum level, but both revealing an ontological incompleteness at the core.
Roger first visits Dan Dastun for information on Seebach. He finds that the guy hasn’t paid his taxes in three months and has left behind his wife and child. However, he has not checked out of the domes. And someone has been renting an apartment in a squalid area of town under his name. Roger visits the building and finds something akin to the Bradbury Building of Blade Runner, and a den filled with papers and odds and ends not dissimilar to J.F. Sebastien’s pad. Therein, he finds a text within the typewriter that has just been written moments before his arrival: ‘I’ve lived my life as a newspaper reporter. I uncover the truth, write my articles, but then I learned all too well that a mere reporter like myself can’t ever get to the truth in this city. It is nearly impossible and it’s unsure. No one here is even interested in learning the truth. A truth that must be known, but I want to know! I want to learn what must be known.’ The points earlier explained about philosophical marauding into the Cave and ontological incompleteness become more strongly evoked here.
By the door, gasoline begins to seep into the room and Roger smells it just as Seebach lights it and engulfs the room, and most likely his manuscript, in flames. He manages to escape by jumping out of the room’s window and using his wristwatch grappling hook feature (ala Batman) to prevent falling and to reach the roof of the building. Across the way, on the building opposite, stands the first real arch-villain of the series. Bandaged from head to tie after some egregious incident in his past, this figure reveals that he was once the man known as Michael Seebach and now goes by Schwarzwald. Roger remarks that this name means Back Forest in German. I remark that the Black Forest is the perfect symbol for the philosophical warrior who, like Martin Heidegger before him (who indeed was the philosopher of that domain), roams a place close to culture, close to history, close to one’s roots, and thereby close to the wellspring of one’s being. Schwarzwald as a persona is one meant to unify oneself with that quest of the 20th century’s greatest thinker who came as closely as one can to the deepest questions of ontology without retreating into madness.
Schwarzwald’s last words before retreating into the blackness of the night stick in Roger’s mind: ‘You’re a corrupt dog on the city’s leash!’ And it’s true he has been acting in this capacity, has worked for Paradigm on two occasions in two weeks. When he returns to his mansion, he reflects on this and how he must now ‘dig up the truth’ and ‘face the darkness within.’ Dorothy joins him and tells Roger that her ‘father’ was merely a craftsman and did not understand the core mechanics of her design, of just how she thought and acted and worked. Now, aside from reflecting about himself as a potential double of Schwarzwald, he ponders the existential questions surrounding artificial intelligence and his growing feelings that Dorothy is something more than a mere android, more than a mere machine programmed with zeros and ones, switches and levers.
He departs the next morning and enters the subway tunnels beneath the city. No one wants to travel down here, not even robbers despite there still being store fronts and many goods to be looted. They fear that the ghosts of the their pasts, of life before the Event may emerge to haunt them, and that the truth may be to painful to bear. The Big Ear (The Informer) once told him that people lived down here, some by choice and some by necessity. But even farther below this level is another access tunnel and a long ladder, which leads to a place no one has any knowledge of (except for Schwarzwald). Roger ventures here and finds that the walls become less dilapidated and more new the farther he goes, that the world below here seems archetypal, perfect, untouched, and back to the point about ontological incompleteness in a simulacrum, not completely designed, too smooth, and lacking detail like grime. Eventually, he ventures too far for even his rational mind to hold on. Roger is paralyzed by fear, falls a few flights downward toward the concrete ground, completely limp, and thereby unharmed. The bodies of ghostly humans pass him by in the tunnel and he passes out.
When he finally awakens, the ultimate chapter of this saga (more thematically and symbolically dense than anything in TV anime this side of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) begins. Roger finds himself within a field of flowers, his head lying on the lap of his mother. The sequence is so idyllic and consequently impossible within the context of Paradigm City that it hearkens immediately back to 1982 and the Unicorn Dream Sequence in Blade Runner, which indicates to the viewer that Deckard may not, in fact, be a human being at all. Instead, we learn there and later through Gaff’s knowing Unicorn origami that Deckard’s memories are artificial. Here, we learn likewise that Roger’s memories are artificial. This is a key to the meta-textual and meta-narrative brilliance of The Big O insofar as this rabbit hole leads one to believe that Roger, like Deckard, may in fact be an android himself. However, the show’s creators, knowing this revelation would lead astute viewers toward this conclusion, present it only as a postmodern red herring. The final truth of the series is all the more revolutionary as a consequence.
When Roger comes to, he finds that he is within the tunnel, and his head is reclining in the lap of Dorothy. She asks, ‘Did you just say momma? As in your mother?’ He becomes defensive partially as a natural human response, and maybe partially because he recognizes the impossibility of this vision being a memory, and of himself being a normal human being. As a dark electronica theme plays and almost induces fear, paranoia, dis-ease, angst, and terror in the viewer, Roger asks Dorothy if she understands terror. She changes the topic and explains once more that she feels things and that even her creator could not understand how or why. Roger, feeling perhaps particularly vulnerable in this moment of ontological dread, tries to explain to Dorothy that each and every being is unique and impossible to fully understand. In this moment, his sentimentality rears its head. Dorothy ignores his words as potentially mere darts and jabs disguised as olive branches, which would ultimately cease reaching across the aisle and end up rearing their ugly head as anti-android prejudice and an unwillingness to recognize her worth as a living, feeling being.
At the end of the tunnel is a chasm. Dorothy enters it, with Roger not far behind, and the two come across a large abandoned city. A large Megadeus, which Roger inexplicably recognizes as the Archetype of Big O, reclines within a pile of rubble on the city’s edge. Perched upon its shoulder is Schwarzwald who pontificates to his two visitors on the power their society once possessed before the Event and how at one time, a Megadeus was ‘nothing special,’ how he himself would master one as a dominus if only his memories would reveal themselves to him, would become disclosed and exit the psychological Cave of his mind to enter into the conscious realm. As Dorothy approaches the Megadeus, it hails her and uses her to somehow breathe life into itself through a particular set of code that she is made to vocalize. As Schwarzwald sets up an attack against Roger with a series of alcohol-soaked bandages, the machine lurches forward, and at the point of lighting the bandages, Schwarzwald is instead burned. He retreats to a corner of the room, seemingly to watch the remainder of the battle and potentially to die.
Roger, meanwhile, calls upon his own Megadeus, Big O and upon piloting the semi-sentient machine, with Dorothy in the cockpit alongside him, begins to fight the much stronger, more agile Archetype Megadeus (whose movements are reminiscent of a berserk EVA Unit-01). As the thing knocks down the bulkier modern Megadeus, its primal force overwhelming the later, ‘complete’ model, Roger and Big O stare into the veritable abyss of Being from out of which they emerged. Dorothy does likewise, and seems to register true fear for the first time as the claims the impossibility of this being’s existence and denies that it could be related to her in any way, shape, or form. Luckily, as an ‘incomplete’ being, the Archetype Megadeus has no special weapons beyond its brute strength with which to cut down its modern opponent. Big O has a chest cavity full of heavy-duty explosive weapons, all of which it launches into the chest cavity of its opponent, defeating it in the process and simultaneously ripping a large hole in the ceiling above and making the archetypal city viewable from on high.
As Roger stands atop his balcony late that night and reflects on the oddness of Dorothy as an android, seemingly coming to terms with the fluidity of the concept human or of sentience within his own world, the shadowy CEO of Paradigm Corp, Alex Rosewater, speaks of how good a Negotiator Roger truly is. And off, somewhere within the recesses of this city outside history and time, water drips within a pool and the Black Forest would-be liberator of men toward memory lives.
Cast in the Name of God,
At the end of the prior episode, Henry, Terriermon, and Takato are shown falling into a deep pool of water in some plane of the Digital World. As they quickly swim to the surface, they hold their breaths, and find themselves in a cavern. After collecting themselves for the task at hand, of escaping, Terriermon is tasked to swim below the water and attempt to find a way out of the area. But much to their dismay, there seems to be no other adjacent caverns, let alone one that might surface them near an exit.
As there seems to be no way out of the cavern, Takato suggests they attempt to dig out. Henry applies the ‘Digmon’s Drill’ Modify Card to Terriermon, which manifests as an oversized drill protruding from his forehead. After digging for a short time into the cavern wall, water begins to flood in revealing that their cavern is the only non-aqueous space in the area. Henry quickly applies the ‘Frigimon Sub-Zero Ice Punch’ attack attribute card to Terriermon, which allows him to freeze the water flooding into the cavern and block any more from entering. Finally, Takato notices his Com Device is working for the first time in quite a while. He reads the message from Yamaki sent some days prior: ‘I’m glad you’re alright. ~Yamaki.’
In the Real World, Yamaki has sent a Hypnos detail out to track down and bring in Shibumi Mizuno, Janyu Wong’s old friend and the mastermind behind the Blue Cards, to help figure out how to stop the Digimon Sovereign. But when the group finally finds the elusive figure, he runs from them and eventually disappears into a cloud of a smoke, revealing himself to actually be the In-training Digimon Mokumon before disappearing completely. The incident is enigmatic and not entirely explained even within the context of the episode, but will hopefully be explained in the following ones to come.
In a Tokyo restaurant, Janyu and his colleagues have gathered together all of the parents of the Tamer children. While Takato, Henry, and Jeri’s parents are well-informed about what is going, as their kids and their Digimon partners told them about the upcoming journey, the remaining parents want to know what is going on. Kenta’s parents are in the know as he left them a note about everything, but they still wish he had spoken to them directly as all of this Digimon stuff is completely new to them and worries them immensely. Kazu’s parents are freaking out because he only told them that he was going on a school trip and they are just now learning about the reality of his absence. And as for Rika, her grandmother was told everything upfront by her and Renamon, but her mother was left out of the loop as she would have freaked out upon hearing about Rika’s connection with Digimon and her planned journey into a potentially hostile land.
The biggest question of the parents seems to be why it had to be children who went on this quest in the first place. Janyu’s colleague explains that when the Digimon were developed by he and his friends in college, they based the Digimon on dreams and wishes they had as children. For some reason, this registered as a natural affinity between children, whose power of will and imagination is paramount, and Digimon, who are creatures of nearly pure will (and data). It seems that the power of belief and will is what allows children to help Digimon to Digivolve, and as such, they are a natural pair.
Later, Yamaki will join the group in the restaurant and be immediately brow beaten by Janyu for the most recent events involving Juggernaut’s re-initiation. Yamaki apologizes and tells him that it was merely an accident, and one that was not initiated by himself in the first place. He next retrieves his laptop and shows the parents the messages between himself and Takato. As Takato just happens to be in a location where his Com Device has wireless access, he and Yamaki begin to communicate live for the first time over the messenger application. Takato begins to communicate with the parents of the other children as if he was the other children, all in an effort to prevent them from becoming even more concerned and scared for their children’s well-being.
He hides the fact they are actually currently separated and explains his current predicament of being trapped in a cavern with no way out. Henry begins to reflect on the fact that the Com Device, which was so recently dragged through the water, is now working just fine. He theorizes that the Com Device did not get wet because it did not ‘know’ it was getting wet. That is to say, it is merely an object from the Real World translated from atoms into data that transferred through the data version of water, which is not, in itself, wet. So, Henry continues his line of thought, they too can travel through the water and not get wet, or for that matter, not drown if they just believe that they will be fine.
Henry asks his father to verify his theory, which he finds himself unable to do as it may very well jeopardize the well-being of his son if it proves wrong. But Yamaki, like the Tamers, has a belief in the strength of the will and tells Henry that his theory is correct, despite not knowing whether it is for sure or not. So Henry takes a dive and emerges a minute and a half later. His hair and clothes are not wet and he is not even breathing heavily as if he had to hold his breath. The gambit works and the three sign off of the conversation on the Com Device before taking a plunge and journeying to find their way out of this morass. Back in the Real World, the parents thank Yamaki for his foresight in giving Takato the Com Device, and Janyu, recognizing a change in Yamaki, invites him to become part of his group once again.
In any normal episode of the series thus far, this might just be the end of the plot for one episode as a ton of narrative development has occurred already. However, the series really starts to swing for the fences in this episode and become something more akin to a characteristic Chiaki J. Konaka work. Underwater, Takato, Henry, and Terriermon find a circular door in the wall of a rock face. Terriermon opens the door with a forceful shrug to find Otamamon inside and a hostile Ultimate-level Divermon who tries his best to protect them from what he assumes are aggressors. After a short altercation, the reality of the situation is revealed and the Divermon gives them directions to the topside, which will mean travelling up an electrified pipe toward an area he has never been to himself, and only heard about as a legend. The gang attempt the trip, but are immediately electrocuted and repelled from the pipe. But the Otamamon create a giant bubble for the Tamers to travel within, which gives them the ability to move freely through the pipe and hopefully toward the open air.
The tube eventually emerges into an open space of hundreds of parallel tunnels, all now transparent. They lead to a nexus in the form of a giant bubble in the centre where it seems safe to pop their bubble and travel freely once more. DigiGnomes fill the space and lead the Tamers toward a Floating Library. Inside, they find many Mokumon guarding the palace (bearing some as yet obscure connection to Shibumi who resides within this Library and operates in the Real World presumably through his Mokumon minions). In a large University-style classroom, they find a giant Digivice floating mid air high above the desks, and as the bottom of the room, sitting asleep at the teacher’s desk: Shibumi Mizuno!
Shibumi awakens and addresses them as if they were Digital Lifeforms of his creation. He tells them that he used to be a human, though he is now spectral and transparent (and oddly resembling the dying Doctor in Serial Experiments Lain). Takato tells Shibumi that they are real human beings, but Shibumi merely philosophizes: ‘Are you sure? Maybe you’re all dreaming like me. Maybe all beings everywhere are dreaming about what they will become! And when we all awake we will begin our evolution.’ The thought is a bit confounding, but reveals a mind-body dualism wherein the former is not merely a projection from the latter, but itself potentially the latent force that generates body and exteriorization in the first place.
Takato asks Shibumi about Digivices, and specifically about the large one literally hanging in mid-air over their heads. He reveals that the Digivices, or D-Powers, are not referred to as such by himself. Rather, Shibumi calls them Arks ‘for transporting data. Henry explains that his father is Janyu Wong, which elicits a positive response in Shibumi and convinces him that the two beings in front of him really are human beings and not just Digital constructs. Shibumi expresses his interest in helping them to escape this area and goes into an examination of all of the properties of the Arks in detail. He refers to the Arks as ‘toolboxes to store, organize, and connect data’ that aid in the connecting of ‘kindred pairs’ just like the tall tale of Noah’s Ark. In the case of the Tamers, which are a new category of human being, the Arks modified themselves to connect the Tamers with their kindred Digimon pair, and serve to bring the Real World and the Digital World into closer connection in the process.
As a duo of DigiGnomes retrieve a book from the adjacent shelf for Shibumi to analyze, Takato inquires as to what they are. The designation of Digital Gnomes to theses ethereal fairy-like creature is one thought up originally by Shibumi himself and is not insignificant. Traditionally, Gnomes are the antithesis of ethereal fairies, are cthonic in nature, and display openly their animosity to humans. However, these Digital Gnomes appear as fairies, are of the aether, and are helpful to human and Digimon alike. To warrant the designation as Gnomes they must have a dual nature, which occasionally makes them vicious and unhelpful as in the episode a few back when they appeared, led Rika to a stream when she voiced her desire for water, and then the stream produced a giant wave that threatened to drown her or kill her through its sheer force, which may have been the fault of the DigiGnomes.
Takato asks if the DigiGnomes are some form of Digimon and Shibumi responds that they are not Digimon and have not evolved from Digimon. Rather, they evolved on their own from the internal logical systems of the Digital World itself just as atoms in the Real World organized into compound chemicals and eventually organelles before becoming unicellular and eventually multicellular life. In this sense, the DigiGnomes can be compared to organic lifeforms in the Real World, while Digimon are more akin to artificial lifeforms like AI or machines as they were created consciously rather than through the sheer forces of nature in the Digital World.
Shibumi explains further that as the human body is composed of cells, each alive and functioning with its own survival instincts and self-preservation ready to hand, the Digital World is composed of Digimon and other Digital Lifeforms (like Behemoth and the DigiGnomes), which work to develop and evolve the Digital World’s complexity as a being in itself. This Gaia Hypothesis does not really bear itself logically speaking, but was philosophically in vogue from both environmental philosophers of the late 20th century and through Christian mystical theologians like Teilhard de Chardin, both of which have had some influence on the writer of Digimon Tamers: Chiaki J. Konaka.
Next, a DigiGnome passes by with a Blue Card in its arms. Shibumi explains that though the object looks like a card, it is actually an algorithm he produced which contains a complex mathematical formula that allows Digimon to evolve on their own. This means that unlike evolution in the Real World, which can take place over any length of time if the environmental stresses are strong enough to kill off entire categories of genetic variation in a species, but must occur through generations and cannot occur within a single organism over a lifetime, evolution in the Digital World can now occur within the life of a Digimon. Shibumi wanted to ‘prove that Digimon were more than just toys. That they were a true lifeform that could grow on their own.’ But evolution is often a slow process, and the proof of Digimon’s existence as real lifeforms would take generations to come to fruition naturally.
Takato explains that the Blue Cards in the Real World serve the dual function of Digivolving Digimon to the next level through Matrix Digivolution and establishing a child as a Tamer. This means that the Blue Card, which allowed Digimon to evolve in one lifetime to establish their existence as lifeforms, extended its intended function naturally, without Shibumi’s input, by connecting Digimon with Human Beings in an effort to more quickly establish them as lifeforms in the eyes of humanity. This act of reaching out, of communicating, seems to be an attempt by the Blue Card algorithm, which is sufficiently complex enough to apparently manifest some form of Artificial Intelligence at a latent level, in an effort to connect humans and Digimon quickly as possible. The purpose of which is already programmed into the Blue Card algorithm as an end in itself, but also foretells an upcoming event in which this connection between Digimon and human will be necessary.
As a DigiGnome approaches Takato, his D-Power Ark lights up and projects out an image of Takato’s Guilmon fanart schematics. Shibumi reasons that either the DigiGnomes created Guilmon through data packets based on the schematics of Takato’s drawing and specifications (the empirical theory) or Guilmon dreamed his data into existence, willed it into being from the wellspring of Nothingness itself, and Takato simply became aware of it. The possibility makes Takato’s head spin. And then Terriermon presents a third theory, just as likely as the second and just as troubling based on a purely empiricist, matter-based ontology: that Terriermon dreamed Henry into existence.
Takato finally tires of all of the information (which is enough for a good philosophy student to write a speculative PhD thesis on), and asks Shibumi how to get out of the Floating Library and back to his friends on the normal plane of the Digital World. Shibumi explains that they must emerge from this subterranean realm (which further explains the presence of cthonic DigiGnomes) by reaching the Highest Plane. Along the way, he will find the realm in which he friends reside, but to emerge from the very Digital World itself back into the Real World, they must reach the Highest Plane. At this level, the four most powerful and highest evolved (the notion of highly evolved organisms is bunk in real evolutionary biology, but is apparently not in the Tamers Universe theory of Konaka) Digimon: the ones referred to as the Digimon Sovereign by the Devas and the Tamers. On the ceiling of the room is emblazoned the aspect of the four Digimon in their respective geographical positions (North, South, East, and West) with the Digital Triforce (emblazoned also on Guilmon and Calumon’s foreheads) in the centre.
Shibumi reflects on the irony of the Devas and the Sovereign taking on the forms of Human gods in an effort to destroy humanity as they are so obviously all the more tied up with humanity in the process. However, the irony is not apparent upon further inspection as gods and religion are traditionally destructive (although also constructive) ideological forces that historically caused death and the subjugation of particular groups to others with more power. As such, the Devas and Sovereign’s use of the aspect of the heavens is in keeping with their goals. Shibumi believes that humans and Digimon will forever be inextricably linked together, but does not recognize that this connection could be merely a master-slave one. However, he foretells a future evolution that will only become possible when humans and Digimon learn to live together and to respect one another as lifeforms on equal moral footing, if not ontological footing (as either could have dreamt the other into existence, and skepticism prevents one from knowing truly which was the creator and which was the created in this exchange).
Finally, before the large Digivice Ark beams them up and out of the room toward their next destination, Shibumi foretells the existence of a being stronger than the Digimon Sovereign. One which is the cause of the Sovereign’s accelerated aims to further evolve. One which they are attempting to resist and gain the strength to destroy before it emerges from its ontological cocoon, from its deep slumber of being in Nothingness out into the world as an assassin of Digimon and Man alike. But who could defeat the Sovereign? As the Tamers depart the scene, Shibumi tires to falls back into a deep slumber, speaking Hamlet’s fateful words before succumbing to the numbing of sleep in the Floating Library: ‘Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream.’ To sleep the dreamless sleep of death in which uncertainty (which increases in proportion to the attainment of knowledge, of which Shibumi certainly holds in abundance) is no longer.
Shibumi is worried for the world and has little strength to change things any longer. He has done his duty by creating the Blue Card algorithm, which seems to potentially have the power to stop the force that will one day awaken and challenge humanity and Digimon as an existential threat. And maybe this feeling of being no longer able to contribute to the fight, no longer able to work up more than negativity in himself, is what has transformed Shibumi into his ghastly, spectral form as a near non-entity: a force of pure intellect dead to rights forever more. A man who has retreated not into the dreamless sleep of death, but of ontological uncertainty, as both a being simultaneously alive and dead, physical and digital, conscious and unconscious, human and profoundly Other to the human experience by virtue of his near Archimedian vantage point gained by exhaustive study in an endless Library, floating above the abyss of Being, at the nexus of all roads.
And Takato, riding through the Digital planes astride the Ark, contemplates the death of Guilmon wondering openly if this potential event bodes death for himself in the process, or at least a part of himself.
The Digidestined Cody