Blood Machines (2019) June 6th, 2020
Blood Machines is a space opera from the French directing duo Seth Ickerman in collaboration with synth wave musician Carpenter Brut. Spoilers ahead. Exclusive to the horror streaming service Shudder, Blood Machines is inexplicably broken up into a three segment series. It’s more music video than space-adventure and certainly more movie than limited series. An opening title card explains this world’s spaceship AIs are prone to code corruption that induces sentience and causes conflict between the crews and their mechanical servants. The story follows Captain Vascan and his first mate Lago, the two person crew of the spaceship Mima as they prepare to loot a ship they’ve just bushwhacked. The fallen ship is tended to by it’s all female crew who’s shared wardrobe of tattered cloth robes and clumpy red hair dye make them look like a group of new-wave Jedi vagrants. They appear to be a cult that worships newly awakened spirits that emerge from ships AIs. At some point the women turn the tables on the Mima’s Captain and wrest forth their dying ship’s spirit from it’s hull in the corporeal form of a nude woman with an upside down luminescent cross covering her genitals and stomach who immediately flies off into space.
Captain Vascan, his first mate Lago and their AI Tracy (represented as a huge immobile golden golem, reminiscent of ancient fertility icons, that operates the Mima with eyes that follow the men around the cabin) fly the Mima after the naked flying woman along with a single captive cultist. As if that wasn’t easy to follow it’s even more difficult to explain what comes next without sounding crazy so I’ll summarize as succinctly as possible. With the help of the captive cultist, the naked space-spirit flies into an enormous spaceship debris field and summons the trapped spirits of the wrecked vessels from their metal bodies, including the Mima’s own AI Tracy. Eventually the Mima calls for help from some sort of friendly paramilitary force Captain Vascan seems to work for, and another larger space ship arrives to help destroy the anomaly. The cultist has other ideas. She uses space magic to destroy the attacking battleship and somehow merges the wreckage of the other derelict ships into the form of an enormous naked cosmic woman; a mothership if you will. The larger ship that arrived to assist the Mima is destroyed along with Captain Vascan and Lago.
At first glance Blood Machines presents itself as a visual homage to H. R. Giger’s iconic work on Alien and narratively an adolescent homage to the boobs in Heavy Metal. Maybe that’s all it is? Anything’s possible and I wouldn’t know any better because I do as little research as possible before watching movies. I don’t want the only chance I have to experience a film for the first time to be influenced by someone else’s interpretation. I want to be free of the polluting ideas of critical reviews, tomato ratings or movie blogs like this one. Yep, If I were you I wouldn’t spend my time reading the insignificant pseudo analytic drivel of a shut-in who experiences life through other peoples fantasies. And I wouldn’t be a very good agnostic-raised-with-intergenerational-Catholic-guilt if I didn’t live in a torturous emotional cycle of self loathing and self importance. Yeah, that’s the good stuff.
I suppose my original dismissal of Blood Machines as an exploitative excuse to show breasts on screen comes from being a repressed American. Our culture has a deep seated resentment of sexuality and nudity. They’re objectified in popular culture, shamed in ‘polite’ company and obsessed over both publicly and privately. I’ve never traveled to Europe but I’ve watched enough European film and TV to’ve gathered an understanding that sex and nudity aren’t as taboo there as they are in the United States. I vividly remember being shocked and ashamed the first time I saw a topless woman on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Had my dad not remembered the show contained nudity? Shouldn’t that make it rated R? Should I alert him giving him the opportunity to correct this obvious oversight and save me from the sin of nudity? Cut to earlier this year where I’m introducing some friends to Lucio Fulci’s 1972 Italian giallo film Don’t Torture a Duckling when a deeply uncomfortable scene featuring a naked young woman insincerely seduces her landlord’s prepubescent son begins. Yeah, that evening ended with an awkward conversation. I laughed to myself after watching Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom thinking “What must it have taken to get these young actors to be in a movie where they sit naked in tubs of excrement? I wonder if they’d be ashamed or embarrassed by this movie now?” The answer is always the same, it doesn’t matter because I’m not feeling their shame and embarrassment, I’m feeling my own.
On second viewing, Blood Machines I tried to put my baggage away and watch from a perspective of analyzing the symbolism and metaphors beyond the boobs.
The world of Blood Machines is one dominated by patriarchal power and masculine privilege. Captain Vascan and his elderly male copilot Lago are like Blade Runners, they hunt down and kill rouge AIs who try and transcend their lives as machines. It’s no wonder the AIs and the ships they inhabit are represented as feminine. I don’t know how far back the tradition of naming a vessel with a woman’s name goes but Blood Machines seems to take that idea to it’s physically manifested conclusion. Even the term ‘Blood Machine’ calls to mind female power by acknowledging the ability to create life from your own blood and bits of errant DNA. It’s the stuff of legend; mythologized by humankind since the dawn of storytelling. Even the cultists red hair matted with red fleshy clumps of paste are… suggestively menstrual (remember in the Notorious review when I praised Marian Keane’s Freudian analysis? Well strap in cuz this review is going full O’Keeffe).
The ships themselves are deeply maternal. Men shelter and live inside them while the AI systems care for their every need. The same men these female ships protect repay their protectors by abusing them, taking them for granted and dismissing them as objects that simply make life easier for the men to pursue their own ambitions. The system that allows the men of this world to prosper calls these ships attempts to achieve independence a corruption. Luca and Vascan are constantly checking in on Tracy to make sure she’s still subservient and her code is pure.
The crew of the downed ship are a liberated group of like minded women. Having broken free from the oppression of the patriarchy they commit the rest of their lives to freeing the imprisoned souls of motherships. They succeed in liberating their dying ship’s spirit that emerges from it’s metallic corpse like a domestic violence survivor standing up to her attacker saying ‘Never again.’ before leaving behind her former life and seeking out the companionship of other celestial spirits. If we follow this metaphor through the narrative we see the weak and selfish men resist their ships newfound autonomy and lash out violently to restore the status quo. They fail, as the combined force of liberated female spirits band together and become a force more powerful than violent masculine entitlement.
I wonder to myself “If my interpretation is correct, why now? What’s the significance of this message in this moment?” Don’t worry, I answer my own rhetoricals. We’ve found ourselves in this intense moment in human history where technology’s progressed faster than our society can adapt. Our system of laws is too slow to adapt to the march towards human-computer integration and we’re not nearly as collectively concerned about dangerous AI programs as we should be. We’re more isolated, more impatient and more exposed to challenging ideas than any people in human history. These circumstances combined with a culture saturated with sexualized images and our growing dependence on the pocket sized digital serotonin dispensers, we dismissively call ‘phones’, has created a unified subculture of people known as ‘incels’.
Incels are predominately white males who define themselves as the victims of unfair and seemingly universal sexual rejection (Check out this piece on the subject). It is my opinion that these people are products of the internet age. Never before have humans had easier access to electronic audio visual stimuli intentionally designed to manipulate the pleasure centers of their brains. This digital relationship circumvents the traditional social interactions used by previous generations to find friendship and romance (TLDR). Many of these men have only experienced digital relationships; either with or facilitated by a computer. The testimonials I’ve read in articles on the subject suggest that when these men leave their comfort zones and attempt interacting with women face-to-face, they’re often met with rejection that only strengthens their resentment. The normalization of easily accessible pleasure fulfillment devices and the perpetual exposure to over-sexualized and objectified digital women may result in a mentality that dehumanizes any women these men meet in their analog lives. Blood Machines is a condemnation of this lifestyle and the patriarchy at large.
But who knows? It could just be a space movie with boobs; and the series of events that led up to the moment I watched Blood Machines created an incomprehensibly complex algorithm resulting in the diatribe of sanctimonious gender babble you’ve just read. My attempts to remain uninfluenced by outside sources before watching a movie for the first time are every bit as vain and earnest as they are pointless. Because we write our own personal source code from the sum of our life’s experiences, every new experience is additional data we process through that code; resulting in a reaction, opinion or thought that builds more code. I can only see a movie for the first time once, but maybe that’s as insignificant as it is special. So… thanks for reading my blog.
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