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Babylon A.D.

Entry updated 3 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2008). Twentieth Century Fox presents a Babylon A.D. SAS and StudioCanal production. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. Written by Éric Besnard, Mathieu Kassovitz and Joseph Simas from the novel Babylon Babies (1999) by Maurice G Dantec. Cast includes Gérard Depardieu, Vin Diesel, Charlotte Rampling, Mélanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson and Michelle Yeoh. 96 minutes. Colour.

The mercenary Toorop (Diesel) is hired by Russian mobster Gorsky (Depardieu) to escort ingénue Aurora (Thierry) and "Noelite" confessor Sister Rebeka (Yeoh) from a Mongolian monastery to a Near Future New York riven by the violent consequences of the rise to power of the Noelite High Priestess (Rampling). Her pet Scientists have, it emerges, used Genetic Engineering to impregnate Aurora with twin AI children designed to reframe the Noelite Religion as the saviour of society.

Aurora reveals herself – like "Leeloo" in Luc Besson's exuberant space opera The Fifth Element (1997) – to be possessed of a glossolalia-like ability to speak and understand the languages and machinery of the Earth. A flurry of compressed action-montages takes us to a denouement in which Aurora's long lost father Dr Arthur Darquandier (Wilson) – a Cyberneticist himself thought dead of a prior assassination attempt by the aforementioned Gorsky – first resurrects Toorop from the consequences of a bullet from Aurora's gun and is then shot by estranged wife (and Aurora's mother) Rampling. Toorop escapes to Canada, where Aurora – having survived both the short-range missile intended for Toorop and the machinations of her parents – expires decorously in childbirth (see Women in SF). An epilogue in which Toorop dons white robes to raise Aurora's Transcendent children implies that Earth's fractured social contract may be repaired via a Christianized application of the Gaia hypothesis.

Director Kassovitz blamed studio interference for the mess. Two cuts of the film – one by StudioCanal for the European market, and one by Twentieth Century Fox for an American audience – support his claim, but while the French cut further stresses the Christian-Futurist theme of Dantec's novel neither version is cogent. The idea that a society without faith or family structure cannot cohere is a strong one in France; psychoanalyst and cultural commentator Jacques Lacan (raised a Catholic) made the point with uncharacteristic clarity in The Triumph of Religion, (1974; trans 2013) insisting that only the "true faith" of Roman Catholicism was capable of erecting meaning sufficient to obscure the unbearable dimensions of "real" brought to us by the discoveries of science. Jesus is reputed to have fathered two children by Mary Magdalene – one boy, one girl, just like Toorop and Aurora – by masonic lodges in France, a rumour exhumed at length in the popular bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) and later reheated by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code (2003). Dantec himself cited the influence of philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who with Felix Guattari compared the patriarchal set-up of the Catholic confessional to that of psychiatrist and patient in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972).

A more restrained version of the Meme of the female Messiah in sf occurs in Children of Men (2006), adapted with great technical acuity by Alfonso Cuarón from the novel by P D James: there, the gravid protagonist more clearly symbolizes the missing conscience of a country without a political constitution which men with guns have made unsafe. The same allusion to the possibility of a new, perhaps female, messiah for every generation by the third-century theologian Origen Adamantius (circa 185-circa 254 CE) was used as the basis of the narrative legerdemain in Iain Pears's Restoration-set bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost (1997); Babylon A.D. fails to relay the same degree of dramatic counterpoint or authorial control to its own characters. Following the film's troubled gestation, director Kassovitz returned to the crime thrillers for which he is acclaimed in France, while lead actor Diesel went on to star in – and indeed part-finance – Riddick (2013), sequel to Pitch Black (2000) and Chronicles of Riddick (2004). [MD]


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