One of post-industrial humanity’s most persistent nightmare and favorite theme of science-fiction is the rebellion of technology. Robots turning on their masters and super-intelligent computers taking over control: Technology that bites back. In particular, men-made, technology-pervaded environments that slip our sovereignty and start a menacing life of their own. Just think of Charlie Chaplin being force-fed by a feeding machine in Modern Times,
Monsieur Hulot’s struggels with the all-automatic environments in Jaques Tati’s Mon Oncle and Playtime
And now think of the opposite -there are at least as many fine examples. The plot runs as follows: Technology is going nowhere and we’re back to basics. Rock bottom. Ground zero. No nothing. Mad Max Style. Walden. Water world. The Day after tomorrow. Nature calls!
The other day I was watching a short 1980’s children’s animation film by czech illustrator Zdeněk Miler with my four-year-old son, in which a little Mole – the protagonist of the story – arrives in super-modernistic, remode-controlled house of a young technophilic man. In this automated surrounding the Mole falls asleep and dreams that all oil reserves have been spent and the world is going back to a primitive community. We watch him and his fellow animal friends live in a happy anachronistic unision with the the former technological-progress-believing-house-owner, who over the course of the story now turns into a prehistoric hunter-gatherer-type-of-guy. Camp-fires are lid inside the living room in the cold of winter, fuelled by the house’s carpeting and interior and frolic dances are performed outside at the wake of spring. My son just loved the idea – especially the part with the indoor fire – and it did require some clever arguing on my side to convince him not to imitate the Mule and his gang.
Now French director Claude Faraldo pushed the envelope of the urban-caveman-theme even further in his bizarre and controversial comedy Themroc, featuring Michel Picolli as blue collar worker who snaps one day, and sends himself back to the stone age. He does so by smashing down the outside wall of his bedroom and blocking up the entrance door to create a cave. Shouting, bablling, grunting and howling throughout the movie, Picolli’s character has by the end of the film commited incest with his sister, killed, cooked and eaten the local policeman and started a trend with his antisocial behaviour, which turns out to be surprisingly attractive to the ordinary people around the city. If you ever had the urge to bark at people out of sheer frustration or satisfaction, then this film surely comes recommended.
Well, the argument has been around for a while. Remember, Freud’s ambitious work on culture and civilization and its discontent? The only reason we are able to live and work together in harmony, he argues, is because we enslave our libido. Nothing but sexual repression. There’s a Themroc slumbering within all of us. Back to the Cave, Brethren. The answers to this situation are manifold and range in its extreme from seclusion to assault, from Thoreau to Kaczynski. In any case, with technology and human knowledge exponentially growing we are confronted with the need for answers to questions we can hardly formulate.