Is 9, the new Tim Burton produced animated feature, anti science?
This the question that has been troubling me since before I was approached by the film makers to feature content on SciencePunk. And it’s also the reason I accepted – hoping that in payment I could pose that question to the man behind it all, director and creator of the 9 world, Shane Acker.
Why would I think such a thing? Watch the trailer below carefully (just tune out the annoying VJ at the start).
Did you catch that, chums? “Science has turned against us” Whatever does that mean? It’s nice to see that for once, a scientist gets to be the protagonist (even if he doesn’t get a name… well, at least he has his own Facebook page). And what’s this business of a scientist turning to the “dark sciences” to create sentient beings? Technology run amok, machines on the rampage, the triumph of spirituality – does anyone else feel that they are in Kansas, if you get my drift?
So what does Shane have to say about this? I caught up with him last week to find out.
SciencePunk: The central character in the film is a scientist – but he starts off as a toymaker. That’s quite the career change…
Shane Acker: Ha, yes it is. I wanted to make a reference to Blade Runner, to the artificial intelligence of his toys. They become his friends. All of the characters are doll-like, puppets, like Pinocchio, and the Scientist is this Geppetto-style character. I wanted to convey how he likes to play, being creative to bring these to life.
SP: But the Scientist’s first creation, the machines, end up attacking mankind. The trailer runs with the memorable phrase “Science has turned against us!”. Is this a story in the Victorian tradition, like Shelley’s Frankenstein, a warning of technology and the unrestricted pursuit of science?
SA: Yes – although that quote is doublespeak – those in power are blaming it on the technology, and the Scientist, even though that technology was corrupted by the dictator himself. The stitchpunks are a second chance at that technology. It is a cautionary tale, with this Oppenheimer-type Scientist, funded by the authorities and pursuing his own creativity, but blind to the consequences. Oppenheimer’s technology is fantastic, the pure scientific innovation of splitting atoms, but it fed into the most devastating weapon the world has ever known. Ever since those weapons were created, he and us have been trying to undo what we did. So a scientific goal must be measured with moral issues.
SP: The book that goes with the movie describes how the Scientist turns to the “dark sciences” to create the stitchpunks. The name, along with the symbology used, seems to be a thinly-veiled metaphor for magic…
SA: I don’t know… I would say that he turns to precursors of science, like alchemy, trying to find his sorcerer’s stone, and that leads him down a path. He wants to create machines tempered with a human soul, and he sacrifices himself for them. They become this strange hybrid, a machine with human soul inside. In some ways it’s in cyborg territory, just as in our own lives we’re becoming more dependent upon machines. How do you keep a soul if you start to become a machine? Do they accept themselves as machines or do they consider themselves human?
SP: Is this a triumph of spirituality over science? Does it imply there is something about humanity that science can’t describe?
SA: I think so. There’s some spirituality in their creation, some indescribable thing that can’t be broken down into scientific terms. Though we can start to describe brain as a complex collection of nerves that creates thought, you can say that we’re complex amino acid collections, how do you describe that consciousness that humans have?
SP: What is it that separates the two creations, making one set “evil” and another good?
SA: The machines are created purely by raw science and intellect, weren’t tempered with emotional side, of human consciousness. The stitchpunks represent difference parts of the Scientist’s psyche, following in the tradition of Aristotle’s definition of the different facets of man. These creations represent humanity, flaws and all. That’s key to the mystery of just how they came to be and where they came from.
So, is 9 an anti-science film? Perhaps not, but I do think Shane started off with a skewed view of science. It’s not just toymakers that are creative! Scientists have to be, if they are to solve problems that no-one else has. Now, the question of tempering scientific investigation with morality – that’s a big one.
So here’s the deal: I have 9 – COUNT THEM, NINE – marvellous glossy limited edition (999 copies, natch) books to give away. They feature glorious technicolor prints from the film, notes from Shane Acker and the cast, and will most likely be delivered in a very sweet sackcloth err.. sack. VERY NICE LOOT.
I will be giving one away every day from now until the release of the film, in 9 days time. So, for the first book, answer me this: should scientific investigation be tempered by emotional considerations? Or is technology neutral? Should scientists bear the responsibility of their creations?
Best answer wins, decided by an arbitrary first-name-out-of-a-hat process!