“You are who you choose to be.”
The Iron Giant is one of my favorite movies, easily. And yet I didn’t see it until about a year ago, probably for the same reason a lot of people missed it–the marketing campaign.
Here’s the imagery of the original ad campaign:
It’s a great design–the retro styling has the 50’s sci-fi movie poster artwork down pat, and even directly quotes it with that most seminal of 50’s sci fi movies, It Came From Outer Space.
With the excitement of the action shot, and the robot dodging tracers from fighter jets, its easy to miss what he’s actually doing–he’s carrying Hogarth, the film’s human protagonist, as he runs for his life. The white lines made by the tracers draw your eye to the giant, but its easy to miss Hogarth clutched in his hands on a fast glance. This image is really the heart of the whole movie.
Here’s the recent dvd release cover art:
Very different, No? Leads you to memories of ‘E.T.: The Extraterrestrial,’ which is a much more apt comparison for this movie. Imagine if E.T. had been fifty feet tall, was a deadly walking weapon, and had the mind of a child.
Which is a shame, because what the filmmakers had on their hands (and probably knew it) was the E.T. for the Internet generation.
I may be biased because I am a huge fan of the film’s central message of personal accountability — the giant has been constructed as a weapon, a conquerer of worlds, but when he crash-lands on earth his memory is reset and he has amnesia. Enter Hogarth, an imaginative loner and only child, who finds the Giant and after a few bumps, becomes friends with him. Hogarth teaches the Giant that he is not what he is made to be, but rather, he is who he chooses to be.
I am a huge fan of personal accountability, in life. I think it’s up to every person to be the best person they can be, to try. The reason is because through that continual process of self-improvement, a person will find things out about themselves that they may have never known otherwise. How can you know your limits if you don’t push them? How can you know what tempts you if you’ve never known temptation? I guess I am making a big positive assumption about my fellow man–after all, a lot of people are capable of doing quite horrible things, but the point of all this is knowing yourself so that you know what harm you are capable of doing to others, and then not doing it. I know it’s convoluted, but it’s simple once you get down to the bare bones of it–Know Thyself. Just like the Greeks had over the doorway of the temple at Delphi, it is your responsibility to know yourself and be responsible for yourself, to take ownership of both your flaws and your good qualities.
This philosophy is also illustrated by the Giant himself–he’s 50 feet tall, and can do some SERIOUS damage if so motivated, or even if he’s just talking a walk. If he isn’t aware of his own movements he could easily crush Hogarth, or someone else, or even wipe out the whole town.When his weapons array is triggered later on, you see how easily he could dominate the whole earth, or worse, how a small force of Iron Giants could do the same.
Iron Giant is set during the height of the Red Scare in the 50’s, when the U.S. is bitter over the success of Sputnik and the Russian space program, and paranoia is everywhere. Suddenly the world was much smaller, and there was much less elbow room for the bigger countries, and worrying too much about what your neighbor (on a global and personal scale) was doing was just what folks did.
Another great thing about the film are the supporting characters – a grab bag of 50’s tropes that could have been really shallow and one-dimensional, but who were so well-written that they really are worth a second look. There’s Hogarth’s mom, a single mother and waitress; Dean, the local beatnik scrap metal-artist (voiced by Harry Connick, Jr. in a really nuanced and great performance); even Kent Mansley, a pain in the ass G-man out to expose the giant and destroy it is well-fleshed out. He’s a man with ambition but no morals or concern about others or the ramifications of his own actions, and is essentially the polar opposite of the giant. Even General Rogard, a second-string character has unusual depth–aware of his responsibilities to the WHOLE nation, he must consider the potential risk in the idea of destroying a town of Americans in order to destroy the giant, and finds the idea horrifying and distasteful.I liked how the military wasn’t shown to be a bunch of single-minded drones; even though this film came out on the heels of the 90’s, when government plots were usually hand in hand with Sci-fi, based on the success of the X-Files.
What’s additionally interesting about Iron Giant are the questions that aren’t answered–and really, it’s a stronger story that way. It doesn’t matter, after all, it’s what he chooses to be that is the point.
Any way you slice it, Iron Giant is an instant classic, to borrow a phrase that has been overused to the point of cheapening its meaning–the movie really is a spectacular film for children, although maybe not very young children, given a few scary, intense moments. It’s literally a movie for all ages, since even at 32 years old I found it wonderfully intelligent, moving, and exciting at once.
Additionally, it was directed by Brad Bird, the genius behind The Incredibles and Up, and used to be involved with the Simpsons. Vin Diesel voices the giant (this was just as he was hitting it big), and there are a host of recognizable voices in the background of the story, all lending considerable weight to what oculd have been throw-away characters.
The Iron Giant is available on Instant Watch. You should go watch it RIGHT NOW.