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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Analysis of Symbolism in the Film Robot Monster

Babs' post on symbolism in "The Wizard of Oz" reminded me of a mild folly from my undergrad days. At some point during my senior year, I got hit right between the eyes with what felt like an epiphany. I can't put words to it now, but I was overcome by a sensation of everything in life suddenly making sense -- I was suffused with an intense feeling of clarity and calm.

It was a delicate feeling, prone to immediate erosion, but in the wake of it (in the penumbra of its afterglow, I guess), everything I saw on television or the movies, or read in a book, seemed to be telling the same, transparent story: the story of the soul's alienation, in its usual state of fragmented individuality, and the attempts of the soul to break the bonds of its idiotic solipsisms, to join up with a wider, more universal soul. Commercials, daffy duck cartoons, whatever passed in front of my eyes seemed to have all of their metaphorical machinery pointed at this essential narrative.

This epiphanic episode occurred just a few weeks before a presentation was scheduled for a capstone course at my school (World College West, sadly no longer in existence), in which the student was supposed to sum up their worldview. For my final presentation, I decided to give a summing up of my worldview through the lens of the movie "Robot Monster," a film famous for having one of the most incompetent monster suits ever committed to film -- an ape suit and diving helmet combo. Rumor has it that George Barrows, the guy inhabiting the outfit, was given the role because he owned his own ape costume, thereby saving a little costuming budget. A fair representation of the production values can be glimpsed in the trailer, below.

"Robot Monster" seemed particularly open to that master narrative of the soul's desires. I gave what I thought was a pretty good deconstruction of the symbolism of "Robot Monster," bringing in various philosophical concepts, like the notion of Plato's cave (the monster, who's named Ro-man, has his headquarters in a cave, where a sinister alien bubble machine squats in a corner, emitting a constant stream of sinister alien bubbles), and I think ranging across the Freudian unconscious and the reptilian back brain lurking behind the cerebrum, helped along by the stock footage of pet store lizards with spiky dorsal fins glued to their backs, growling in slo-mo, aspiring to dinosaurness.

I passed the class, though I think not by much. On my final evaluation, the Prof summed up his thoughts with a line that I think I can recall close to verbatim: "When Mr. Lanier is done with intellectual fingerpainting, he may be worth having a conversation with." The jury is still out on whether I'm done with intellectual fingerpainting.

Here is Ro-man in a philosophical mood himself, asking that eternal question: "At what point on the graph do 'must' and 'cannot' meet?"

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