What is the aesthetic of Aeon Flux?
November 27, 2005 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Can you explain Aeon Flux to me?

On a friend's recommendation, I rented the first two volumes of the Aeon Flux. I was assured that I'd love it. I don't hate it, but they're doing something with their story that I just don't get. Even the commentary isn't helping much.

Obviously, there is no continuity between episodes (aside from a couple of backreferences). Is this just character study? Are the animators just playing with random narratives?

What other pieces of art should I relate to this? Surrealism? Or, do I just toss it in "postmodern" and go reread Moby Dick?

I remember the ridiculous shit that the animation students did without the least bit of narrative justification (during my short stint in art school). Is this just more of the same?
posted by Netzapper to Media & Arts (17 answers total)

That goes a little way to explaining it. I'd throw out the word "postmodern", as apt as it might be, specifically because it allows such easy write offs. It is certainly surreal, but more than that it's creative. I think you definitley have to be of a certain mind set to appreciate Aeon Flux. Where we have come to expect narrative structure, there is none. It's an adventure and, usually, a death, over and over again.

In some ways, this is almost a more pure, more visceral pleasure than a mindless action film. It asks nothing of you. You don't have to remember a plot or even broad character details. It works most signifcantly, I think, as art. It begs to eb appreciated, not qualafied.

Just a few years back, Chung did a series called Reign about the "life" of Alexander the Great. It's equally as weird, although it has sembelance of plot. If the fluid nature of Aeon Flux has you flustered, maybe that'd be more to your taste.

P.S.: There is a tiny bit on continuity. There seems to be a war between two countries or, at least, an opressive government AF seems to be working against. There are allusions in at leats one episode to AF having been romantically involved the opressor himself. I think the Wikipedia episode summaries can fill you in a little bit more.

Interesting trivia: Chung helped co-design the Rugrats gang. Go figure.
posted by GilloD at 10:40 PM on November 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

You need to rent the third disc and watch the featurette "Investigation: The History of Aeon Flux" Peter Chung and his collaborators will explain everything. It also features the pilot episode and all the shorts from MTV's Liquid Television which brought on the demand for longer episodes featured on the first two discs. In the pilot episode and shorts Aeon Flux always dies.
posted by plokent at 10:43 PM on November 27, 2005

It's surreal. There's nothing to understand, which is what makes it sublime.

It plays with the ideas of conflict and plot structure. It uses both to create "pretend" plots, which either resolve, or don't resolve.

It's blank, but full of detail. Which makes it entertaining and rich, while remaining emigmatic.

I don't particularly like it, but I "get" it. Because it's about the "shape" of fictional plots, and it follows them, but it has no plot.
posted by interrobang at 11:56 PM on November 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

AF originally started as a set of short pieces, with the intention of satarizing film cliches. The lack of dialogue was deliberate, as it was hoped the action would draw the same universal appeal as silent films, and more particularly, Tom & Jerry/ Roadrunner cartoons, albeit with a more adult tone.

When MTV approved the half hour series, Chung was able to incorporate much of the backstory within his pre-production notes. The continuing thread between episodes was untended to be as daunting and obsessive as Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner. A followup book attempted to tie the loose ends together, but only raised further questions.

Reign: The Conqueror (of Alexhedran) (also known as Alexander's Obsession and Alexander: Record of War) was an adaptation of a Japanese novel which liberally explored ancient history.

If you're not up to re-watching the Flux shorts, the whale is an excellent alternative.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:14 AM on November 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

..."intended". Heh. Back to bed for me.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:15 AM on November 28, 2005


My interpretation is that it's a black comedy/satire on action films, done in the tradition of the Spy vs. Spy comics strips, or the old-style cartoon conflicts such as Tom and Jerry or Road Runner and Coyote. Spy vs. Spy is probably the closed parallel I can think of. Each strip involves a bizzare and absurd series of convoluted strategies ending with the gruesome death of a character in the last frame.

Likewise, all of the Aeon Flux episodes are probably best viewed short and individual variations on a theme, rather than parts of an interconnected whole.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:24 AM on November 28, 2005

I think of Aeon and Trevor as mythological archetypes. The episodes are very allegorical and usually explore some type of conflict through a stylized, surreal lens. What makes this confusing is that often what Aeon and Trevor represent changes from episode to episode. For example, in "The Demiurge" Trevor represents change and Aeon represents stasis, roughly. But in other episodes Aeon is the force for change.

I used to like Aeon Flux a lot but I'm a bit afraid to watch it again because my tastes have changed. I used to like very stylized, intellectual, abstract narratives, and I still do, to an extent, but these days I like my stories to at least be infused with some realistic elements, and Aeon Flux can be downright silly sometimes.

The short "Tide" still has a mathematical purity of structure I can't help but admire, though.
posted by speicus at 12:31 AM on November 28, 2005

I will say that part of the pleasure of the series is in trying to figure out what the hell is going on. You can't really rely on anything; the continuity is always shifting under your feet. This is set up from the very beginning, in how you're never sure whether Trevor and Aeon are enemies or lovers or some weird amalgamation of both. Some things become clear the more you watch, while other things remain mystifying. Maybe they're red herrings, or maybe they're explained somewhere in Peter Chung's notes, I don't know.

Which is not to say you'll never "get it," but you'll never get everything. If you don't like being confused, and if you don't like constructing your own theories about what's going on, you probably won't like Aeon Flux much.
posted by speicus at 12:49 AM on November 28, 2005

Michael Moorcock's multiverse novels featuring Jerry Cornelius explore similar themes of archetype and experimental narratives.

Not always enjoyable, but definitely fascinating, conceptually.
posted by elphTeq at 5:24 AM on November 28, 2005

I think you can explain the narrative partially in terms of the market conditions and production necessities for the work as well. It was designed to be a late night set of vignettes for a channel (MTV) which was/is well-known for choppy little short-short narratives. Think of 'bumpers'. So, I imagine the creative team was approached by MTV to do something akin to bumpers, and developed the narrative structure in part around the restrictions of that medium. I think Spy vs. Spy is a good comparison, as it probably evolved out of the assignment "Do 1-page stories for Mad Magazine". When confronted with the absurdity of cramming a narrative into such a short time frame, I think the creators somewhat naturally responded by making a kind of meta-narrative like others have described. So, instead of having a string of little pieces which, when brought together, might make sense, which is how a soap opera functions (say, you see a gun on Monday, by Friday the gun may have fired), the creators decide to make each short bit be a complete narrative. So they throw the convention that "a character can't die and then come back to life" out the window and make each episode a self-contained violent action movie. This would also mirror the monotonous and self-contained nature of music videos, where each hero or heroine pines after some lover, is jilted and either gets 1) revenge or 2) the lover back.
posted by Slothrop at 6:05 AM on November 28, 2005

I always loved Aeon Flux for precisely the reasons you are flustered by. Which is why I'm highly curious about the movie. How do you create a 90 minute movie that can possibly bear any resemblance to the original? The filmmakers have to apply some kind of plot which immediately destroys its original appeal to my mind. To me Aeon Flux is very good candy, not a meal.
posted by spicynuts at 6:35 AM on November 28, 2005

I don't like the look nor the casting of the new AF movie. It's all wrong and is apparently not what Peter Chung would have envisioned it - according to the Wired 12/05 issue's half page article "The New State of Aeon Flux" by Scott Thill.

The only positive result of the new movie is the remastered AF DVD box set.
posted by plokent at 7:36 AM on November 28, 2005

I love it for the visual design, for the experiments with plot structure (anti-hollywood movie twists and endings), and because of the way it shows you brief hints and glimpses of a strange world; the sense of mystery makes everything more magical (the episode Gravity is a good example). I expect the live action movie to suck.

Here's what seems to be a good interview with Peter Chung:

Peter: "I had arguments with MTV about...they didn't understand it and the only way I was able to sell it to them, to sell them on the idea of doing it or letting me do it was to tell them that it was a spoof. My intentions were much more...I guess you'd say academic. I was interested in experimenting with visual narrative, telling a story without dialogue and also trying to create a style of telling a story with animation that wasn't influenced by the usual kinds of things that you see. "
posted by martinrebas at 7:52 AM on November 28, 2005

Yeah I mean how the hell is Charlize Theron in any way representative of Aeon? She's supposed to be cold, razor thin, deadly and completely unemotional. Charlize Theron is like the girl next door. Makes no sense to me.
posted by spicynuts at 7:54 AM on November 28, 2005

I gotta move to spicy's neighborhood.
posted by Tacodog at 8:03 AM on November 28, 2005

Tacodog: post of the week (at least)!
posted by MattD at 9:17 AM on November 28, 2005

Also see the newspaper cartoon by Portland's Mike Russell which appeared in The Boston Globe and The Oregonian this weekend.
posted by theonetruebix at 11:59 AM on November 28, 2005

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