Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2008

Alphaville 1965 - directed by Jean Luc Godard


Discussion Questions:

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. Your answer should be around 400 words. Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it.

Your question - either a set of images or a phrase from the film - is located BELOW your name.

If your question has anything to do with the popping of pills or total control, that is where understanding (ie. having read!) A Brave New World will come in handy. Think 'soma'.

updated 18-dec-08 12:11 PM



1.Andrew Azzopardi


meaning of arrows

Arrows are presented in the film, mostly during the first half of the film, where Mr.Johnson is tracking down information and people when he first arrives into Alphaville. The arrows are presented in the fashion of a quick change of the scene or within the scene as elements embedded into the architectural framework of the city.  At first glance one might see the arrows as a reflection of modern society, the ways in which we control crowd dynamics, but they seem to be reflecting a greater idea than just this.  As we find out more about the nature of both alphaville and the alpha 60, one notices a struggle between the control and indoctrination of its citizens. The computer is constantly computing every possible outcome and probability of everything which occurs in the city. Its purpose is to blend the future and the present, into a self contained entity which can predict and control all actions. The arrows serve as a symbol of Mr. Johnsons journey, as predetermined. All his actions are already being calculated and are predicted. It is not until later on that this symbol disappears as Mr. Johnson ( Lemey Caution) begins to unravel the nature of this strange place and begins to act against the computers will.

  2.  Tyler Bowa

use of numbers

Alphaville is clearly a city that has eliminated all form of emotion, thought, art, and anything else related to being instinctively human.  It’s clear then, that the use of numbers in the film is very important.

The citizens of Alphaville are all essentially reduced to the level of robots, identified only by numbers.  They have no will of their own, do not experience any feelings, and are ultimately just masses of existence.  They live in a city that is entirely dominated by science.  It is through the use of numbers that we can clearly see how science rules everything . .
At one point in the film, Alpha 60 says, “ . . once we know the number one, we believe that we know the number two, because one plus one equals two.  We forget that first we must know the meaning of plus . .”  This statement sums up very nicely how Alphaville citizens function, and are in a way entirely reduced to the meaning of science and numbers.
Finally, a clear example of how all form of human instinct is eliminated is through the use of reflections – ie. Camera lenses.  In the film, if you look closely at any scene containing a photographer, where there should be a reflection of a human in the glass there is only an equation or a series of numbers . . Only further pushing the idea that the city is governed by numbers.


3.Martin Chow


the written word

The literature used in the film is a subtle indicator of the contrast between Lemmy Caution, and the "logical" world of Alphaville.  The books that Caution reads evoke emotion and lessons about human nature, however the main literary product of Alphaville is the dictionary.  This dictionary, called the Bible, is updated regularly with the removals of any words associated with human emotion.

In the cab, Caution reads La Capitale de la Douleur, which is a book of poems, which is indicative of the protagonist's literary capabilities and foreshadows the method of his ultimate defeat of the computer Alpha 60.

The book that he reads in the hotel room - The Big Sleep - is a mystery novel that centers on the corruption in depression-ridden 1930's America.  While the majority of characters in the novel live in desperate times and act logically to protect themselves and their money, the protagonist rises above self-interest and acts morally unlike the others.  He turns down an opportunity for sex and instead returns the nymphomaniacal girl to her home, an unnoticed private deed that will not benefit him in any rational way.  Hence, the story's message of morality is one that will not be recognized in Alphaville, but rather in Caution's own world.


  4. Jamie Ferriera


A sign is an object that identifies and guides through written and visual elements. In Alphaville, signs exist to as another method of Alpha 60’s rigid control of its citizens. Particularly, signs begin to define the world of Alphaville qualities as slogans in terms of political context and to define forms of authority. The first image, immediately distinguishes what Alphaville’s values are: silence, logic, security, and prudence, each a suppression of human emotion. Through the use of text alone, the first form of propaganda is highly minimal and effective, acting as a reminder to the people of their home. The inherent form and placement of the text also suggest a strict symmetry, and feels highly robotic, strengthening the control of Alpha 60 in the viewer’s mind.

Symbols and more image driven signs happen to be very toned and precise as well and are set in this manner to reflect the outer face of Alpha 60. The electrical signs specifically become symbolic parts of the computer body, as in the second image though the text scribes without the world, the circular imagery resembles an eye, and the watchful and calculating perception of the master. The power of the particular image starts to bring in focus the dystopia apparent in Alphaville, how citizens are continually monitored and logically calculated and subjected. Everything is identifiable and has a definition, in comparison to emotional characteristics, which are not as easily definable in contrast. Signs are highly suggestive in Alphaville and their different shapes and visuals can all be driven towards a common theme of propaganda. Most of the signs are heavily text based, and become the enforcing guide for the citizens looking upon it and seeing it as a formalized order or strengthening motif. The human element is completely removed and logic has taken its place instead, which is the one main characteristic of the machine, which sets this particular community in dystopia.


5. Meghan Galachiuk


close up images

The close ups in Alphaville are used in both the traditional filming sense and in an underlying way that speaks to the symbolism of the film.  The director is very deliberate with the use of images, of inanimate objects and symbols, with both move the plot and disjoint it.

Traditionally, in film closes up are used to show detail, to point out slight things important to the plot and show direction and signage.  This is used in Alphaville, for example when he travels through the districts or sees the images of Alpha 60. But this is not the primary use of the close up in this film. There is a very avante garde way of approaching the cinematography. Which does, by definition require a disjointed nature, but in this film this aspect serves a higher purpose. It services the plot, and the mental characteristics of the people of Alphaville.

The close up images that do not work as transition or details, serve as a way to disjoint the flow. They break the continuous normal flow, showing something that will disconnect the people from the action taking place in front of them. The lack of emotion is an important theme throughout the film and the close ups help in this. None of the close ups, except for one of Natasha near the end, are of anything human or organic. Everything is metal and cold, neon or painted that allow for very little emotional evocation.

Then there is Natasha, reciting poetry into a flashing light. The viewer watches her pupil dilate as she speaks and learns emotion. This is a scene that is meant to contrast everything that has been scene before. It is the change, the point of the film, the thing that finally makes clear what the people of Alphaville have been missing all along. The close ups are used to show the disconnection of the people who have been so beaten down in Alphaville. The images show how emotion has left them. As the film progresses, the emotion comes back and so does life.


6. Sarah Hawley


night lighting of the sets and reflections

The use of night lighting created a certain ‘mysterious’ atmosphere that was required to set a particular mood in this dystopian detective film.  By shooting the film at night it allowed the director more control over the landscape. The film is set in the future but is actually filmed in Paris, by shooting the exterior scenes at night only he is able to unfamiliarize the streets and add a feeling of mystery and dread to the film’s atmosphere.   The night lighting in the first image uses two kinds, the first being the street lights and shops lights which sets your typically night street scape of any midsize urban community. He uses the reflections of the lights off of the road to give some drama and depth to the scene however by using such a typical street setting the director is trying to familiarize alphaville as a common city. Since the film is in black and white the director is unable to play with the use of colour in the film however this is compensated with the director’s ability to play with strong black and white reflections. In the second image these reflections add a surreal quality to which would normally be a dull shot. The straight line of light through the glass that travels into the depth of the scene appears less like a reflection and more like a realistic image. By creating such a dynamic shot with the use of reflections the director helps to orchestrate the sci-fi feeling of the film. In the third image there is a strong repetitive architectural quality of the exterior windows and interior ceiling lights which plays from the control Alpha 60 has over alphaville.  By purposely closing in on such a strong regulated element the director helps to pull Alphaville away from a typical 19th century city and give an indication of the control and systematic nature that is really the underline element in the city.


7. Fernie Lai


use of the single bright light in set lighting

Seeing the source of light in a set is a very deliberate move, because you can usually light a scene without using any lighting in the actual set, and even if there were light in the set, it is usually not sufficient to light the scene anyway, especially a single light, because it only gives you directional lighting, and not enough light to show you all the details in the scene.
The use of single bright lights in the set creates much harsher shadows, which emphasizes the alienation between human beings, the absence of emotion and connection. All the individuals of a society are acting as one, in one collective direction without individuality in a totalitarian society.

In the very first scene of the movie, there is a sequence of just a single light bulb flashing on and off with seemingly no pattern or order, creating a sense of unease. The flashing of a sole light source has been known to be able to cause seizures, as it disturbs the nerve signals to your brain, confusing it, creating madness. There is no explanation as to what and why the light bulb is doing that, although later in the film, the single light bulb is associated with the computer (alpha-60) which is ruling the lives of the people; deciding which words and actions that are associated with emotion to ban. The single light bulb appears in the interrogation room, and is constantly moving around the person being interrogated, as if it were the eyes of the computer, monitoring you, brainwashing you, weakening your mental state.


8. Eric Lajoie
"What have they done?" -- "They behaved illogically."

The citizens of Alphaville live in a dystopic version of the world in which a giant computer is in charge of making decisions for the whole. People are being assimilated into computers themselves only identified by numbers, without a will of their own, with no ideas or feelings.
The slogan for the city is "Alphaville: Silence - Logic -Safety - Prudence." But this isn't the kind of logic we are used to, this logic is "if you don't do what the computer says is logical you will be put to death." It says in the movie that Alpha 60 solves problem that are too complex for human understanding, "Train and Airplane Departures, movement of People and goods, electricity distribution, crime suppression, war operations." This to me is madness because it totally undermines the complexity and capacity of human reasoning. Before the man is shot and then drowned in the pool, he yells out, "Listen to me, you normals! We see the truth that you no longer see. This truth is, that there is nothing true in man except love and faith, courage and tenderness." We need these characteristics of humanity to help us make decisions. By taking these values away from us you create a society that is Silent, Logic Safe and Prudent, but it is also flat. All perspective is lost in a society devoid of original Ideas and Feeling. We need to have that contrast in order to progress our society forward.



9.Andrea Lam
"That is not a Bible. It's a dictionary."

The repressive nature of the government of Alphaville is painted strongly through this concept of a dictionary being called a Bible. The essence of this fallacy is in the representation of an idea with a word. The Bible, in our understanding, is the 'word of God'. In Alphaville, the dictionary has been cleverly named just this. With many references to religion, it is very obvious that this one highlights Alpha60s omniscient presence, acting as the nucleus of the city. Similar to Orwell's Newspeak from 1984, which is described in the novel as 'the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year', the concept of the Bible shrinking on a regular basis based on words that evoke emotion, is completely mad. It is a strange relationship to try to comprehend without looking at it on the neurological level of understanding language. The importance is in the power of the word. As alpha60 drones on with images and catch phrases, Natacha and others sit there 'translating' his teachings. At one point he claims that 'isolated words can be understood, but when put together, they lose meaning'. The gretest irony here is that most of the words are used in poetry, where they are not understood in isolation, but in a greater context. By removing more and more words, Alpha60 is essentially limiting the possibility for free thought. Within the society, the people are being turned into drones, where their present happiness is 'carefullly' calculated by a machine. The elimination of words over time will ultimately result in a degradation of the society, presenting an interesting dichotomy between the evolving machine (alpha60) and the 'dumbing-down' of the people. This concept also hints at the question of memory of an individual compared to a computer. Where erasing data as simple as words does happen with a computer, it is next to impossible for a human brain to 'unlearn' something once it has been introduced.



10. Bi-Ying Miao
"An order is a logical conclusion. One must not be afraid of logic. Simply that. Period."

In the idealistic world of Alphaville, the control system imposes a firm hand of order on the citizens by legitimizing every aspect of its authority with logic. However, the mathematical, universal method of derivation referred as logic by the Alpha 60 is in fact not logical at, for the notion of logic in dialectic thinking and argumentative reasoning is simply forbidden from the system. Natasha warns: “one must not say why but because”, clearly reflecting the ironic nature of logic in Alphaville.  Logic in its essence describes thought, yet Alpha 60 imposes an unquestionable command that cannot be challenged, “period”.It is quite absurd that calculations by logical reasoning performed by an artificial intelligence is idealized as an unquestionable truth when the nature of logic is inherently dependent on argumentative thinking.

In the film, Godard uses this irony to emphasize the sacred power of thought as well as language. Derived from Greek, logic can be conceived from logos, "word, thought, idea”, all of which are elements that Alpha 60 strictly prohibits. It is apparent that word and language are the a means for for reasoning and thought, yet Alpha 60 removes words from the dictionary everyday to prohibit thought from its people. The stark contrast between the acts of logic and the true meaning of logic point to a mad world. Alphaville suppresses its people with a so-called “logic” that restricts the practice of logic itself. It rationalizes this by inheriting the power of logic only for its own way of thinking while the citizens recognizes logic simply as an unquestionable authority. Now, when defiance is attempted against this fascist authority, activists are executed for disobeying the rules of logic. Through brainwash and conditioning, the people no longer have the ability to practice logic and therefore cannot recognize the sheer brutality of their authority. Therefore, they do not question it nor do they fear it.

The perversion of logic in Alphaville is a dominant signifier of madness in the film. The disjunction between use of logic and its true meaning creates a hypocritical and ironic world. The execution of logical conclusions by Alpha 60 to prohibit logical thinking in the citizens portray a deterioration of logic itself. The result renders a lifeless, repressed world of Alphaville.




11. Andrea Murphy
"No one has lived in the past or will live in the future. The present is the form of all life."

This quote, by Schopenhauer in his book “The World as Will” is in reference to his studies of philosophy under Kant. He writes about life as it refers to the application of will upon the present, so in this quote he is speaking to the fact that will power can only be enacted in the present, and does not exist in the past or the future: those are stories of knowledge or dreams. When read in such a way, it is evident that he is not denying the existence of the past or future, which is what my initial response was to this quote, but rather, he is empowering the present with its ability to sustain life, which is embodied in the existence of free will.

In Godard’s Alphaville, it seems contradictory that he would use a quote from Schopenhauer in the recording that is used as a brainwashing device. The people of Alphaville have been denied free will and so, according to Schopenhauer’s definition, they are not living at all. What is intriguing, however, is that the instinctual response to this quote is that it is denying history and preventing aspirations, which seems to better fit the fascist government of Alpha 60.

Without the ability to research forbidden knowledge such as philosophy, the citizens of Alphaville would only ever get the initial impression of this quote- thus the leader is able to manipulate the words of Schopenhauer into a brainwashing recording. Through this editing of the text of great thinkers, it is imaginable that the citizens of Alphaville could hear the words of not only philosophers, but great democratic leaders and still hear only pro-fascist dogma because of the manipulation of the text, and the perpetual ignorance of the people.
The contrast of the choice of text, being a free-will philosophy reading, and its use as a fascist brainwashing recording is strong evidence of the absolute power that the leader has over Alphaville. That people could live, hearing only what they are told to hear, without the ability to research what they are hearing, or getting the whole story, is a terrifying thing to imagine when coming from a democratic society. The notions of absolute power through dictatorship combined with the censorship of knowledge in Alphaville are embodied in the pro-free-will Schopenhauer-based script of the brainwashing recording.



12. Morgan O'Reilly
"All things weird are normal in this whore of cities."

Lemmy Caution, is an agent from the "Outlands" and represents the perspective of the viewer within the plot. He is a stranger in Alphaville and the nature of the city goes against his and the viewers inherent lifestyle. The absence of emotion is a completely foreign idea and could be considered immoral. Emotion has some impact on almost everything a "normal" person does. It promotes individuality and defines us as people. For these reasons that which constitutes Alphaville is, according to Caution and to the viewer, totally unknown, 'weird' and immoral.

In exclaiming "All things weird are normal in this whore of cities", Caution quite accurately describes Alphaville. To compare the city to a whore is an analogy that is quite fitting. While sex is an extremely personal act, a whore is stereotypically without emotion when it comes to clients. Attachments are not formed and from the perspective of a prostitute, individualism does not exist among clients. At the same time the clients of a prostitute could be said to regard the prostitute as an object or a product to be bought. This once again is completely dehumanizing and extremely relevant in comparison to the city of Alphaville. These relationships, which would "normally" be considered extremely personal, are taken to a business-like level where logic rather than emotion reigns. The 'whore' and the client are then considered immoral for disregarding the natural emotional connections, which should exist within such a personal bond. 

Alphaville can then be understood in much the same way. The outlawing of emotion and illogical behaviour creates a population that is non-descript and without individuality. What would "normally" be considered extremely significant relationships, such as the relationship between an individual and their home city is, in Alphaville, impersonal and no attachments are formed. Personal relationships between the people of Alphaville are also non-existent. The people function as droids that interact with each other, only on the most superficial level. Even sex is completely emotionless and perfunctory. As logic governs, the people are characterless and reflect the power that controls them, a machine. Alphaville, like a “whore”, can be considered immoral as it ignores all natural emotional tendencies, which from the perspective of Caution and the viewer, are “normal”.



13. Sue Anne Tang
" "WHY" -- what does that word mean? I forget."

Henry Dickson, the other spy, forgets the word ‘why’ when Johnson, also known as Mr. Caution, asks him why he didn’t kill professor Vonbraun. The loss of the word “why” is an indication of the mentality and the way of life in Alphaville. The world of Alphaville is completely logical, which is represented in the control of life decisions made by the computer, Alpha 60. There is an answer to everything since life is dependent on cause and effect. An engineer tells Johnson that “No one ever says "why"; one says "because" In the life of individuals, as in the life of nations....everything is cause and effect.”

Conscious humans question their existence, whereas the citizens of Alphaville do not.  It is easy to identify the citizens of Alphaville and the citizens of the Outlands by analyzing which characters ask why. Johnson questions the reality of Alphaville which influences the emerging consciousness of Natasha begins to question her reality also. Through questioning “why” leads to Natasha’s discovery that she comes from the Outlands.

There is an absence of the fear of death since everything is logical. The people that ask ‘why’ have a conscience and are either reformed or executed. Therefore, no one questions their reality and existence. There is an outcome of life which is completely logical so there must be faith in the existing systems means that the citizens don’t have to ask ‘why”. The power of the conscience is represented in the word ‘why’, which is the reason of the abolition of the word in Alphaville. The citizens, without knowing the word ‘why’, are basically robotics fulfilling a destiny of logic and are uninformed since they don’t know what or why they are doing what they are doing. The result of the inhuman actions of Alphaville, such as the executions, is a result of the lack of conscience.

Johnson is supposed to make us question the world of Alphaville, but we also wonder what kind of world is in the Outlands. There is a contrast between what is being done in Alphaville and what id the supposed norm in the Outlands. Also, Johnson’s disregard for life and the fact that he is actually a spy, questions the integrity of the morals held in the Outlands. The audience is put in the position to recognize the importance of questioning the existing conditions of our reality by questioning the morality of Alphaville and the Outlands.




14.Meredith Vaga
"The meaning of words and expressions is no longer grasped."

All aspects of the city Alphaville are being run by a computer, Alpha-60, who’s motivating factor is a desire to have everything in the city run off order and efficiency, based on the principles of logic. A side effect of this is that the computer has logically reached the conclusion that not only is it inefficient for humans to feel or think, it is thus illogical for such potentially hindering elements to exist in the underpinnings to the city, and so expressions of these emotions through words and phrases are no longer relevant.

Various proponents of the Surrealist Movement, from which the film appears to draw inspiration, theorize on the relationship between language and humanity. Additionally, the spoken word in conjunction with known expressions is one of the ways in which cultural identities are realized. Language, specifically the meanings given to words and phrases, are firstly a fundamental aspect of humanity’s ability towards critical thought, something logically seen to be a treat to the survival of Alphaville. As well, language, above most everything else, is the means though which humans communicate and express their emotions and desires.

André Breton, one of the founders of Surrealism, posited that language as a mode of expression could serve as a linker between the inner, more subjective world of base emotions and the exterior, ‘objective’ physical world. From this we can further conclude that though language was initially eliminated to protect Alphaville from a stagnant society, without a ‘human’ response it is not actually necessary to have the meaning exist in the words and phrases.

The existence of expressions in Alphaville versus the Outerlands is indicative of the differing cultures. Lemmy Caution’s dialogue throughout the film is directly lifted from famous quotations or peppered with allusions to pop culture, such as the comparison to Dick Tracy. These scenes, whether you are familiar with the references or not, are evocative of a society in possession of a rich cultural identity and history. Conversely, the few existing sayings in Alphaville are devoid of real meaning or relevance to either the context in which they are spoken or as an expression in isolation – the words carry no meaning beyond the clue their existence suggests towards the societal state of the city. One of the most prevalent instances of false replacements is the ‘standard pleasantry’: “I’m very well, thank you, you’re welcome.” In the end, it is acknowledged that to inhibit the part of humanity that separates it from machines, while though logical when looking at the mathematics, is ultimately not progressive or viable if you still intend to deal with humans.

The various iterations of the spoken word in the film acts as a manifestation of the idea regarding the inability of the residents of Alphaville to grasp the meanings behind words and phrases. The voiceover narration of Alpha-60 sounds garbled, as if the speaker has lost his voicebox and must rely on a machine to create a crude imitation of his voice. On Dickson’s deathbed, the message he gives Caution is a series of disjointed words, whose meaning has to be deciphered. Finally, the last words spoken in the film are said very haltingly as if the characters are engaging in a charade of feeling. Even if Natasha does love Caution, does she understand the inherent weight behind those words? After all, they are words she doesn’t know.


15. Anna-Joy Veenstra


the police - justice system

In the film, Alphaville, society is ruled by dictatorship. Not dissimilar to Orwells’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World. Those in power rule the system, however, in this case it is not a human being making the decisions, rather an emotionless and logically system. With a relentless computer issuing orders, there is no room for exceptions to the rule, nor does the power of persuasion hold any sway.

In Alphaville, all free thought and individualist concepts like love, poetry and emotion are brought under submission with mind-numbing drugs and limitations on sources of information and expression.

Any value in human ingenuity or behaviour resulting in emotion is punishable by death. The police gather up the offenders noted by the all seeing Alpha 60 who interrogates them, and then they are executed. These public executions are held in swimming pools where the victim is machine gunned down on the diving board and finished off by female swimmers with knives that turn the execution into a synchronized swimming performance. It is interesting to note that 50 men are executed to every one female. Is this because women were deemed to already be submissive creatures during this time period and are therefore less likely to act up? I find this surprising, as there is a presiding stereotype that females are more emotional and prone to hysterics.

Previously the executions were done through electrocution on mass. (The Seventeenth Plan) The method was to seat them in a theater and electrocute them as they watched the show. The bodies were then tipped into huge garbage bins and the theater was ready for the next batch. However, at this time, if someone showed signs of reclamation, they were sent to a chronic illness hospital where mechanical and propagandistic treatments would cure them. This seems similar to the reeducation systems of Nazism and Communism.  Apparently the Swedes, Germans and Americans were the easiest to assimilate.

The police force is depicted as either gun toting mechanical killers or mindless thugs. Either way, these people are not acting upon their own wisdom; they are just the hands of Alpha 60. Whatever decisions Alpha 60 makes, they then carry out to completion, or die trying. The latter seems to be the case regarding the deletion of Caution. Here the police force doesn’t seem to be very competent, as Caution ends their lives in an almost comical car chase scene.



16. Rui Wang


treatment of women

Godard fetishizes women in Alphaville as objects of desire but also as objects of obedience. Caution is told that out of every 50 people executed for breaking the laws of emotion/free thinking/ only 1 is a female.

Perhaps this is his commentary on the docile nature of women and how they are less likely to rebel against the accepted laws and social system. Because the women have been so well indoctrinated, they are more comfortable in becoming merely sexual objects for men, and easily submit to them because of the loss of the idea of love and feeling.

However, Godard's one hope in the film comes in the form of his wife Anna Karina, with whom Caution falls in love with. As Caution begins to teach Karina 'banned' words, she slowly begins to come around, culminating with the final phrase, "I love you."

So Godard's females are in the end, redemptive characters, far from being purely innocent and domestic beings, but more like figures who just need to be saved.

  17. Jane Wong  

the photographer

The photographer “journalist” Ivan Johnson (aka Lemmy Caution) plays the pivotal role in the movie as the catalyst for change in Alphaville, and further heightens the madness of the city through his consistently juxtaposed behaviour. His character as a photographer –one of inquisition, observation and perception –subverts Alpha60’s system that purposefully lacks individuality, choice and truth in understanding the world and society. Caution’s precarious involvement and free movement through the city eventually causes an imbalance to the system of control, climaxing to his conversion of Natasha to an individual with emotions, and the ultimate collapse of Alpha60 and its creator.

Caution’s identity throughout the film is made clear through his abilities to move freely and independently through the city, and to constantly perceive and act on the situations presented before him. The camera further reinforces his freedom of control, not only over the machinery itself, but over the broader scale of Alpha60’s system and society.  We can see a clear contrast of control between the photographer and the subject when the camera is used against physical representations of the system (the women, objects, technology). In these cases, the photographer has complete control of the situation, which directly translates to Caution’s maintenance of self-control and power over the rest of society, and its futility for freedom.  We are blatantly reminded of Caution’s lack of assimilation into the system with such statements as “I refuse to become what you call normal,” his ability to bring death upon those he chooses, and his remembrance and knowledge of words that have erased and forbidden from Alphaville.  The purpose of the camera also lends to this quality of persistence as a way of recording the past, maintaining the linear structure of time, rather than conform to Alpha60’s conception of time as a “circle endlessly described,” which in turn further demonstrates Alphaville’s irrational way of life.

The final and ultimate destruction of Alpha60 is brought on by Caution’s introduction of foreign concepts of love and individuality, which is the key to Caution’s riddle. His involvement with Natasha sparks a wave of instability of the Alpha60 to prevent her conversion, and immediately following Caution’s challenge of the riddle, we see the city in complete hysteria, unable to function and live without Alpha60’s working logic.  Natasha’s ultimate point of migration to conscience and individuality is, not surprisingly, instigated by Caution, and brings the movie to its close.


18. Yoshi Hashimoto


the pervasiveness of intelligence mechanisms

Set in the future, yet looks no different, employs no special effects.

The movie is arguably all about intelligence, and the attempt to create a uniform, efficient, society which runs as smooth as a machine.

From a strictly logical and scientific viewpoint, emotion does not really serve an obvious purpose in terms of providing basic needs:  we seek water when we feel thirsty, food when we feel hungry, appropriate shelter when we feel discomfort.   Emotion does not directly assist us in any of these associations; rather its purpose is that of an evolutionary track.  Emotion is what promotes and sustains partnership and procreation, loyalty and aversion.  They can help make the pursuit of sustenance and amenities easier, and aids in making beneficial relationships or avoiding unpleasant incidents, but in most cases they are merely a backdrop.  Man is a cunning creature that is capable of surviving the short term without help from his neighbours.

Alphaville does not reveal the reasons or history of how things developed to be the way they are.  All we know is that it is a totalitarian existence which seeks total order, and condemns emotion and illogical behaviour with death.  The all powerful figurehead in the city of Alphaville (known as Alpha 60) would like to maintain a uniform, efficient, society which runs as smooth as a machine.  He believes that true intelligence is devoid of emotion, most likely because he is one himself.

Alphaville was created presumably as a showcase to this ethic.  Full of only the most vital of gadgetry, of intelligence mechanisms, devices to maintain order, cleanliness, and surveillance equipment to ensure absolute adherence.  This is what you get when you cleanse a city of emotion and passion: sterile but efficient perfection.


19. Elfie Kalfakis


the leader

We are introduced to the leader in the film as an objective.  Mr. Lemmy Caution, a spy, is in his hotel room in Alphavile when an abrupt beeping noise occurs with a shot of telecommunication infrastructure.  Lemmy answers the phone and then recalls a photo he has in his breast pocket as he is informed that Miss Vonbraun is there to see him.  It is a photo of Professor Vonbraun, with “Dr. Vonbraun, inventor of the death ray, return alive or liquidate” written on the back.   Dr. Vonbraun is a person; a person to be abolished or acquired for some sort of government surveillance. 

Dr. Vonbraun is depicted for the most part of the movie as a static image.  He is the only person in the movie that wears glasses and dresses in a pinstripe suit.  His picture appears in scenes where Mr. Caution is interfacing with technological elements of Alphaville – telecommunication centres, paying Mr. Dickson, a hypnotic swirling of his image as the police infiltrate Lemmy’s room.   And, it isn’t until the execution scenes that Vonbraum is a physical character in the scene. 

In relation to Lemmy, Vonbraum in some ways is his opposite.  Lemmy is a little dischevled an wears a white trenchcoat loosely.  Whereas Vonbraum is usually properly fit in his wardrobe that is mostly black. By the actions and positions in the movie I believe Lemmy represents to the humane aspects of man where Vonbraum relates to the technological/ intellectual aspects of man. 

So Vonbraum is introduced not even as a human, but as an object of achievement, and through a means of technology, the photograph.  He is the only person in the movie who actually wears glasses, another form of technology.  He is portrayed in a static manner continurally through the movie and is only seen physically when the efforts of a technological society attempt to abolish any irrational human actions (such as emotion) through executions.  Our only perception of Vonbraum as a real human being is through the recollection and anecdotes denoted by Lemmy.   The image of Vonbraum in relation to Lemmy is essential for understanding his character.   Vonbraum is so obsessed with technological triumph that he has become soulless, or dead, for instance the reference to Nosferatu, a 1920’s vampire film character.   This is the opposite of Lemmy who evidently falls in love by the end of the movie).  

“Such people will serve as a terrible example when technical power and its triumph is the only act in their repertoire”

I think that Vonbraum not only represents the achievements and triumph of a technological society but, it could be argued that he in fact is the computer.   His role in the movie is almost equally as ethereal as Alpha 60.   The final scene where Lemmy kills Vonbraum, we see Lemmy shoot Dr. Vonbraum, but the only thing we actually see dying is the computer itself.  Another interesting aspect of this scene is that Lemmy is in the dark and Vonbraum is in the light.  The killing of Vonbraum then is a metaphor for the killing of the ‘technology’ and in turn the abolishment of the civilization Vonbraum mentions.  


20. Elaine Lui



Technology in Godard’s essay movie Alphaville permeate the lives of those living in a galaxy where the film is set.  The images presented are as follows: firstly of Lemmy Caution in a telephone booth, a seductress in front of record player in her panties, and the hardware of the supercomputer alpha 60 in the Bauhaus first curtain wall clad building in Paris. The images presented provide a layered view of the extent technology has transformed Alphaville’s citizens’ existence; ultimately making them dependant upon the technology that surrounds them.

Lemmy the spy can only make contact to the outside galaxy through types of communication; here they are represented as phones that are housed specially in their own building. He enters a lobby then up stairs to a receptionist that points him to where the services are – of which there are many individual telecommunication booths for people to call other locations. On one hand, the housing of these devices represents a world of privacy and impersonality to the general populace.

The seductress, who had been denied her advances to Lemmy seeks for entertainment from a jukebox. The music that issues forth – which should have brought pleasure – accompanies Lemmy as he beats up a perpetrator to his room. This scene further presents the society as removed from the luxury of enjoying music as it should be a means that evokes emotion. It is interesting that despite that fact that music as an expression of emotion that it has not been banned from the society of Alphaville.

Finally the Alpha computer shown in the final image as the city’s instigator of morals, the machine brainwashes individuals to become emotionless and forbids the natural products of emotion such as art, and love. The demonstration of this technology that permeates the sets posed as large televisions in the corners, or behind dining tables gives clues to the viewer that the computer has power over their everyday lives.

The technology described here is in the period where they made the movie was current, and although their convenience pales in comparison to our own – Godard was able to present lives that are dependant upon the networking of society.


21. Reggie Macintosh


Alphaville, a city presided over by the highly advanced Alpha 60 computer system, tolerates no independent thought, denies the use of an ever changing list of words, and punishes those who step out of line with a public and sporting execution.  The use of propagandic imagery and phrases throughout Alphaville allows the audience to rapidly understand the environment that they are about to enter.  It is a world where there is only one answer to a question and only one meaning to a word.  The images shown above are three examples of propaganda used in the film. 

The images shown as propaganda in Alphaville have been hand drawn in a simple fashion to provide simple information:  do not question authority.  The first image, depicting the words ‘pourquoi’ and ‘parceque’ floating on a breeze, translates to ‘why’ and ‘because’ and acts as both a question and an undeniable answer.  This is effective in terms of propaganda as it teaches the observer two things; that there is always a specific answer to every question and that one should not be asking questions in the first place.  This was visible in the film as it was prohibited to even ask the question “Why?”  The second image shows a female and male head, eyes replaced with the words ‘oui’ and ‘non’.  This is similar to the first image in that an answer should be inherently understood no matter what the question.  The programming of the population should be so complete that there is no requirement for further explanations.  The third image is more abstract than the previous two.  All words listed are shown in a manner that reflects their meaning, so that there is no room for interpretation.  ‘Escalier’ is shown on two levels, depicting stairs.  The letter ‘c’ in ‘absence’ is missing.  The drawing of the letter ‘v’ in ‘vagues’ is lengthened to appear as a wave.  To interpret this as propaganda we have to refer to the previous images as a guide.   They are direct in stating that there is only one answer to a given question.  Similarly, the third image shows words can only have one meaning, as it is drawn for the observer to see.

The propagandic imagery of Alphaville is used specifically to imbue the ideals of Alpha 60 into the population; there is always only one answer and that nothing should be questioned.  Since there is no one to question the computer’s authority or even to have the words to do so, it is within these boundaries that the Alpha 60 computer system can exude full control over the city.


22. Judith Martin


Nudité de la vérité
«Je le sais bien»

Le désespoir n'a pas d'ailes,
L'amour non plus,
Pas de visage,
Ne parlent pas,
Je ne bouge pas,
Je ne les regarde pas,
Je ne leur parle pas

Mais je suis bien aussi vivant que mon amour
[et que mon désespoir.]

Naked Truth
«I know it well»

Despair has no wings
nor does love
no faces;
they don't speak
I do not move
I don't look at them
I don't speak to them

but I am as alive as my love
and despair.

Alpha 5: Do you know what illuminates the night?
Caution: Poetry

Within the computer controlled and regulated environment of Alphaville Lemmy Caution finds himself in a sticky situation while on a mission to destroy the control centre computer Alpha 60 and its creator.  Lemmy finds himself infatuated with Natasha Von Braun who is desensitized and ignorant of the concepts of love and consciousness apparently due to her inhabitation within Alphaville.  Lemmy attempts to sensitize Natasha by revealing truths to her about her past as well as through poetic explanations about the concepts she claims to know nothing about.  Poetry acts to aid Lemmy’s quest through revealing the dystopia within Alphaville by depicting a society and urban fabric that exists without artistic expressions.  Within Alphaville words are constantly removed from the “bible” (dictionary) and many concepts are given single layers of meaning and undisputable definitions.  Poetry’s nature is exactly the opposite of the Alphaville concept of diction and language.  Poetry’s essence is to form layers of meaning and challenge literal definitions of words by using them in an artistic and intelligent manner.  Natasha begins to display her break from the Alphaville ‘curse’ by reciting poetic proses:

 Redbreast, weeping...
Save those who weep
...autumn light...
...tenderness, too

Natasha’s use poetry pushes her to deduce that she does know the words she merely forgot their meanings.  Poetry ultimately expands Natasha’s perception of the world and enables her to think of a life outside of the Alphaville template..  The use of poetry in Alphaville is used specifically to address forgotten concepts of humanity such as love, anguish, freedom etc.  During the interrogation Alpha 5 performs on Lemmy, Lemmy explicitly declares the value of poetry by responding to an interrogation question in a poetic and literal manner:

Alpha 5: Do you know what illuminates the night?
Caution: Poetry

Lemmy’s response could be interpreted as a metaphor about poetry’s effect on Alphaville.  Poetry is illuminating or illustrating the dark or veiled nature of Alphaville. Poetry acts as a protagonist in Alphavile, acting as Lemmy Cautions partner in the quest to destroy and expose the oppressive powers of Alphaville.


  23. Derek McCallum  

pills, tattoo and sex

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the citizens of the future use the pleasure-inducing hallucinogen soma in situations ranging from relaxation and concentration, to those requiring confidence and sexual performance.  It used as an escape from the grinds of daily life, and is used by the government to control people through pleasure – if they can get their satisfaction from this drug they will not act out in other more public ways, and their emotional desires will be kept in check.  Throughout Alphaville, characters are constantly shown popping pills at seemingly random times and for no particular reason.  The pills keep the population in a constant state of tranquility and apathy in the absence of recollection or memory.  By maintaining its inhabitants in a state of unwavering indifference, the state can go about changing the meaning of words or deleting them altogether and re-educating them on their birth and origins, thereby controlling both their understanding of the world and their place within it.  The tattoos are another way for the government to control its population by giving them a number through which they can be identified.  Not unlike the Nazi custom of emblazoning numeric tattoos upon people, the logical association of a person with a number as opposed to a name and a history allows Alpha 60 to remove the emotion from the death of a person, or their killing my firing squad, and treat them as just another variable in a logical equation. 

Sex in the film is used in a similar manner as in Brave New World.  In both societies, sex is used less for pleasure and certainly not for procreational purposes, but rather as a distraction, to keep the people from enquiring about illogical issues and emotions.  The difference, however, is in Brave New World sex is a universal activity, participated in by everyone, at just about every available opportunity, and often in association with the use of the soma drug.  In Alphaville, sex is used as a control for potentially unruly citizens, to keep them occupied and from participating in subversive activities, by professional seductresses who treat sex as merely part of their job as opposed to the men seduced who enjoy it for the pure pleasure.  Women are regarded as sexual objects to be exploited and used at the whim of men and are not seen as equals in the society.  In some ways then they are another kind of pill or drug used by the state to control its population and bend it to its will. 



24. Sarah Neault


Alphaville is a mix of film noir and American detective genres with a splash of science fiction thrown in.  As is always the case with the detective genre, there is a romantic subplot to the film.  Godard uses this subplot to expose a twisted society controlled by a master computer - Alpha 60 (the sci-fi twist).

In Alphaville the political and social systems have become corrupted.  The people no longer have any free will, instead the “logic” of the system makes all the decisions.  That which is inefficient or illogical is forbidden.  There is no room for emotion or thought - as Natasha says "One must not say why but because."

Natasha knows nothing about love and conscience (two words Lemmy asked her about)  because those words cannot be used - they are not in the “bible”. What Natasha has called the “bible” is in fact a dictionary.  New editions are issued every few days forbidding more words each time.  Godard is playing on the importance of language in shaping the way people think and act.  Without the words to express them, emotions have become forbidden, or worse, forgotten. 

The relief from this claustrophobic, controlling environment is a moment of hope: Natasha “knows” the feeling of love without ever having known the word for it - it only took Lemmy to bring it out in her.  Together they take on the emotionless, relentlessly logical Alpha 60 and in the end Natasha not only feels love, but can speak the words. This is Godard’s message: free will, love, and the conscience have the power to elevate the individual to unforeseen heights.



25. Lisa Rajkumar-Maharaj

use of rectalinear forms in the architecture

Architecture plays a large role in this film, in framing views and creating an overall sense of the almost fascist world that is Alphaville. The sense of the city we gain is of a network of rectilinear forms, connected by streets and borders. Within the buildings themselves, movement on the set is carefully framed, moving in and around the architectural set. This heightens the impression of peering into this world, simultaneously giving the sense that everyone in this world is being watched. Architecture definitely contributes to the dystopic science fiction world view presented in this film.

The exterior views of buildings, as shown in the provided stills, are strongly rectilinear, unrelentingly repetitive and cold. The rectilinear form juxtaposes the idea of the circle or circular motion. This juxtaposition is made most clearly between the movement of people in and around the sets, versus the rectilinear door and window frames, through which the broader scenes are portrayed. The eyes looking into the scenes are therefore rectangles in a sense. This reflects the robotic efficiency of the design of the city as well as it underscores the structured, manicured and circumcised expression of humanity that the society is allowed to portray. This is seen as a deficit of traditional moralistic human values, replaced by a sordid world view; clipped of its love, compassion and poetry.

The scene of Natasha descending the spiral staircase is unique and relates to what Lemmy perceives as her world, which is innately different from the rest of Alphaville. There is also the reminder at this point that the film is seen through a rectangular frame. This sense of voyeurism is inescapable in the film, as we frequently see the backs of the characters, as if we really were intruding into their world. This is a reflection of the all pervasisve view and influence of  Alpha 60. The metaphorical rectangular eyes that look at all of the inhabitants of Alphaville are of Alpha 60, reflecting an element of robotic efficiency in its perception of human space.

In conclusion, rectilinear architecture in this film builds the idea of Alphaville being a society that is part of a machine, or that is essentially mechanised. The human condition is framed and contrived into an existence that lacks the spontaneity and passion that typifies Lemmy, the outsider. This dystopic world, like many of the movies we have seen, reflects its inherently inhuman axioms through architecture. 



26. Michael Taylor

use of curved forms in the architecture

The spiral stair in particular is the predominant feature of the curvilinear form in Alphaville. It has the curious potential to simultaneously reveal and hide the faces and backs of the individual as they move through it.  Through the cinematography the scenes containing the spiral stair allow the viewer to have a constant visual connection with the character even though the camera angle changes.

There is also a vertical transition between the life of the pedestrian and the life of the machine.  Remy must find his way to the heart of the machine and to do so must enter into the mind above the pedestrian where he finds alpha sixty.

Some parties may argue that curved surfaces in architecture give buildings an organic form or presence, but in the case of Alphaville, the scenario implies a direct contradiction to this.   More specifically, there is an absence of any architecture that would suggest a natural setting at all within the film.  The allusion to direct control would be more evident in rectilinear repetition and scale rather then a reference to organic patterns in nature.  Even the arc in the second image is reminiscent of something symmetrical and manmade without giving any reference to a natural derivative of its form. 

There is also the idea of the absent sky.  There is no visual connection to any sky or arcing horizon throughout the entire movie.  Many of the scenes are focused on interiors or dark exteriors that give no indication of any natural setting to begin with.  It is supposedly a mechanistic environment governed and created by a machine inhabited by humanity.



27. Alison Janes

environment and absolute control

Alphaville is controlled by a sentient computer system, Alpha 60, created by Von Braun. The computer is in complete power of the inhabitants, systems and natural environment of the city.
In the pictures presented with this question, you can see that the computer system is controlling the seasons. Buttons can be pressed for winter or summer. That Alpha 60 must be in control of the seasonal rythyms, and daylight hours suggests the absolute control over the inhabitants such that they are no longer part of natural ecosystems (temperature fluctuation, daylight, rain, wind, etc.). Rather they are held apart in an artificially controlled system that emulates an earth-like environment. Alpha 60 would therefore have control over people’s sleeping patterns, comfort levels and even mood (depending on the amount of light available).

It is also interesting to note that there are not options for spring or fall. This suggests the “black or white, yes or no” logic imposed on the society by Alpha 60. The liminal qualities of spring and fall represent uncertainty and in-betweeness – there is no clear indication of when summer ends and fall begins… the same with winter and spring. The qualities represented by spring and fall are therefore illogical and not accepted by Alpha 60.

It is also interesting to note that Alphaville is divided into the North Zone that is cold and the South Zone that is warm. While the computer is still emulating the opposing seasons in the different hemispheres on earth, it is doing so at a micro level. I wonder if separating the two zones into winter and summer enables greater control over the inhabitants, separating them into smaller populations and perhaps preventing communication or gathering?



28. Allan Wilson

value of life

Existence in Alphaville has been systematically reduced to a complex order of highly mechanized individuals, interacting in a purely logical and matter of fact taxonomy. Considering the forbiddance of the expression of primary emotions, the most obvious interpretation of the value of life in a society such as the one presented by Goddard emerges. As quoted in a section of Natasha’s education regime, Alpha 60 states that “the present is the form of all life”, immediately followed by Natasha’s sentiment that “death and life are in the same circle” when asked by Caution if she fears death This reaction makes it notably evident that life is meaningless in this society, since one can never evolve past the ineffable moment which is the “now”. That being said, one is also discouraged from propelling their consciousness into the future; since projective emotions like love and caring are deeply codified. And in such a deeply existential milieu deviant reactions are ironically punishable by death. A pre-existentialist deifinition of the value of life might typically be suggested as an individual acting within the boundaries of a particular set of moralities (be they religious or personal) to which you would then iterate circumstance. But because the residents of Alphaville deny or ignore their own personal evolution this cant be true. No one fears dying because they are not taught to appreciate life, only to adhere (with absolute convicition) to a self inflicted, dogmatic, social framework. Consider then when professor VanBraun states that “[Lemmy Caution] will become something worse than dead, [he] will become a legend”.  Essentially, If people are forbidden from emotional attachment to an individual or to personality, then having a powerful mythology applied to oneself posthumously would guarantee absolute erasure from any collective consciousness.

Alternatively, a second reaction to the value of life would be much more optimistic; that life is absolutely valued in Alphaville. This is supported by the belief that purely the act of existing, in any capacity, immediately dictates a value association. The fact that the majority of people (although deeply conditioned) seem content with the social structure and their place therein is evidence enough; perhaps because the alternative of not existing seems completely illogical and counter-intuitive. Emotion is reduced to an unnecessary waste of time because it recognizes a previous or subsequent event rather that immediate existence.  And if that should involve the dismissal of love or crying then so be it. In this scenario there are only two fundamental accords in Alphaville; living and dying.



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