Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2007

The Fifth Element (1997)


Discussion Questions:
last updated December 22, 2007


The film The Fifth Element is the most recently executed of the films we are looking at this term. It has had the benefit of great advances in film making technology, as well as the ability to use precedents as they have been developed in many of the previous films.

This film makes surprising use of physical models in combination with green screen shooting. The detail in the models stands up to close scrutiny... The shift to "bright light levels", versus the somber, rainy mood of Blade Runner, also puts the graphics to the test.

Your name is ABOVE your set of images and phrase. Each question should direct its answer towards perceived issues of The Uncanny in this film. Feel free to draw in comparisons to any of the other films we have viewed this term if it helps to support your answer.



  1. Adam Brady : Vertical movement in the city x

The vertical movement found within the film the Fifth Element can be interpreted in a variety of sense.

In a literal sense, it represents the mass consumption of mankind. The city has become overpopulated with human life and their waste. The city has developed this desire, a need to grow upwards; a flower reaching for the sky. Density within the city has called for a need of more transportation. Movement upwards has become a necessity for manoeuvring around the filth of urbanism. Mankind is trying to escape the mistakes of the past by simply building atop the shadow past lives.

In a more metaphorical sense, the vertical movement represents the transition of one’s fall from grace. This image of Leeloo high above the city, neither flying nor falling is a state of purgatory, is the beginnings to her fall from grace. She is this perfect being, brought forth from among the heavens to save mankind. She is readily met with fear and the rejection. She is then cast among the filth and waste, into the depths of the city, into the hands of her protector. This same motif is found active in the Rintaro’s film Metropolis. The heroine(s) in both films are portrayed as the femme fatale, following their fall from grace, and the ensuing rejection by humanity, until reaching their ultimate purpose. In Metropolis, Tima, a super being created to perfection, becomes lost amongst the trash of the city, along with her protector, Kenichi. Leeloo and Tima both have a similar quality of innocence about them. Both are ‘born’ into an unfamiliar setting. Tossed into an urban fabric, confused, their child-like innocence turns to them to thoughts of fear and despair.

Society is too often frightened by the nature of foreign substance, whether that substance is living or inanimate. One, who is highly regarded within their own society, can easily be turned away by another who is too proud.  Insecurity rushes in. They choose not to accept this outside help, nor the fact that it may actually be useful. After this reluctance, desperation sets in, as society realises that this foreign being may be their only hope.


2. Cassandra Cautius : Fhlotsan Paradise


In the stylistic, future metropolis of New York city as depicted in the film The Fifth Element, there is no better getaway then Fhloston Paradise. It would appear that such a trip is highly coveted and would stand as a symbol of status in the metropolis of 300 years time.  The city here is not depicted as rotten and decayed, not dark and damp as the portrayal of Los Angeles in Blade runner, but rather gleaming and fast paced, convenient and accessible. So one might wonder why the ultimate getaway to paradise becomes a necessity? When Korben receives 2 free tickets to paradise, he also receives countless nagging phone calls from his mother. The social structure of life here appears to remain mostly intact, skewed like anything only by great time. Korben’s mother exclaims, among other things, that she personally is more deserving of a vacation and a tan. This notion is, to us, unquestionable as a vacation or a getaway is an escape from daily life for an emersion in nature and contact with fresh air, exotic growth, and warm sunlight. Yet once Dallas and Leeloo arrive at the Fhloston hotel we are given a chance to examine the so-called paradise, highly touted on earth, and we find a sterile, indoor environment. The luxury in this hotel is found in its universally acclaimed amenities which one would think could all be found in the city from which any of these tourist have come. The theatre in which Plavalaguna performs is hailed as a perfect replica of the Royal Opera House in Covent Gardens, an experience that in no way would require planetary travel.  The indoor environment of the ‘paradise’ seems of no bother to its inhabitants but the lack of contact with any natural environment promotes a sense of unease as one is left to wonder where it is that Korben’s mother would have found her tan? In artificial sunlight in a tanning bed that is planets away from the tanning bed likely down the street from her earthly residence? So why the bother? Why the distance? And why the unlikely name of paradise?  It would appear obvious to me that the reason is boredom. The pace of society and all it has to offer is so intense that it offers no need for imagination. This is a society in which you are controlled, not physically, but mentally.

Constantly bombardment of instructions and reminders, and activities. Reaching another planet for these same activities is now an escape from the exhausting and repetitive cycle of life on earth.  This to me is the representation of the uncanny as I see such trends beginning here and now in my own life, where my younger brother is already growing up generations apart from myself and already finds himself bored with an interactive wii console, and feels that at 12 he requires a laptop computer, when I was satisfied with a few barbies.


3. Alexander Chan : The use of neon colour


In the majority of the previous films that we have watched the sense of uncanny was one that was shrouded in mystery and horror. The Golem was a man-made creature born of clay and underworld magic. As for Cesare, his monstrosity resides in his eerie nature. He is a prophetic sleepwalking being capable of refined violence under total control by Dr. Caligari. Roy Batty shares similar qualities through his calm exterior demeanor that barely contains his savage will. It was these otherworldly personas that caused us to fear the antagonists.

In the Fifth Element, this approach changed. The sense of uncanny was now associated with fear through paranoia rather than fear through horror. This shift now emphasized the flaws inherent in all of humanity rather than focusing on a marginal group of irregularities or subhuman. This can be seen in the second image where the relatively normal genetic scientist is in a black light corridor. This environment turns the man’s to blue and eyes to green while also highlighting the man’s sweaty exterior and dirty hair. This appearance on a social level is undesirable and alienates the man from the audience. His characteristics were strange to begin with but with the added visual distortion he seems demonic and very unsettling.

Light was once used to exaggerate shadows. For all the black and white films and Blade Runner there is a high contrast between light and dark almost reminiscent of the painting technique chiaroscuro. The main objective of the shadow was to hide and mystify things. However, in the Fifth Element, light is used to reveal rather than obscure. The uncanny is now rooted in the things that we find socially uncomfortable with. I believe it addresses more significant issues such as when people seem less than human instead of androids wanting to be human. In a way I believe that a human that is less than normal is worse than a thing is not completely human.


4. David Henderson : The Portrayal of the Architecture at the "main" city level


The future portrayed in The Fifth Element is a very wild and chaotic one, which seems to be not a new futuristic society, but a society very similar to our own. Unlike the future as depicted in Blade Runner, which is a world of decay and despair that has forgotten and abandoned the world of the past, this world is a matured version of our own. Taxis still clutter the streets of New York City, outrageous people are still plastered all over TV screens, and giant corporations still get away with anything they want. The world as a whole seems to function very much like it does today, the main difference being that the plane of action has shifted.

In our world, most of our lives take place at ground level, except time spent in condos or office towers, but even still we are limited by gravity. To the world in The Fifth Element, gravity is not a limitation, thus the plane of action is no longer defined by it. Korben Dallas, one of the main characters, starts his days by waking up, checking his messages, grabbing a bite to eat, smoking a cigarette and then it’s off to work. The garage door opens and he drives out. All of this is very similar to how any one of us would start their day, the main difference being of course, that instead of driving down an asphalt driveway, he drives out over nothing but air which continues for hundreds of feet straight down below him. In the first image of the set we see a restaurant with people sitting on an outdoor patio, next to a nice little tree. Another fairly typical scene from today’s world, except for the fact that on the other side of the railing is not a concrete sidewalk next to a road, but a massive canyon between the two sides of the street.

Not only have the activities of the main city level remained basically the same, but the style of the architecture has as well. The interesting thing about this is that ground level, which used to be the place where this type of architecture was found, is a very different world than the main city level. It is a dark, dreary and unfeeling place, reserved mainly for maintenance and city operations. So, the new New York City was not built upon the architecture that was already there, but it was torn down and recreated hundreds of feet above ground level. This tells us that things aren’t the way they are just because there was already something there, as in Blade Runner, but rather there was a conscious effort made to reproduce the style and feel of the past. This very clearly demonstrates the additive philosophy of this society. It is built upon the ideas of the past with the technology of the future and in much the same way that we have become dependant on technology in our day, the people in The Fifth Element have become even more dependant on their technology. This world, as crazy as it may seem, is a very plausible projection of where our society may be headed.

  5. Minwoo Lee : of robots and aliens  

The movie, Fifth Element, envisions a future in which aliens, humans, and robots co-exist as integral constituents of society. In the social and chronological context, there is already a general acceptance of these anomalies into the daily lives of people as they take up different functions in society. The alien races are portrayed in likeness to human beings; they share similar emotions of anger and greed that displays their animated personalities. They are also a part of a larger civilization with functioning government and interest groups that suffer similar strife over ideas and beliefs as our own society. These similarities to the human society, lead us to believe that aliens are conscious, rational beings that must be treated with similar regards as human beings treat each other.

 In terms of their functional role in society, robots assume occupations that are traditionally occupied by human being, serving to support the function of the city. This employment of robots identifies competence in artificial intelligence to serve in complexities that are beyond the traditional level monotonous work. However, despite their functional, there is a sense of discrimination in how they are perceived relative to humans in the social hierarchy. Like in Tezuka’s Metropolis, the significance of robots is isolated only to this functional purpose. Similar to how robots are cast down into the subterranean support structure of the city in Metropolis, they are confined to the spaces of their occupation and are made incapable of participating in social interactions.

The alien races are portrayed in a social position that is on par with human beings or perhaps even excelling them in their mysterious portrayal. This portrayal of the alien race is made clear by the way in which human beings associate with them. Aliens function integrally as a social equal to humans, making diplomatic gestures, fighting wars, and making business. On the contrary, despite their greater potential, the roles of robots are downplayed as mere machines. The sense of uncanny rises as speculations of how the human race is different from machines arises. As seen from the reproduction of Leeloo from a DNA specimen, human beings are reproducible as machines are. Also, the incapacity of machines to socialize can be seen as the result of intentional design rather than the intrinsic limitations of machines. In this case, the only justification for the discrete slavery of the robots is the fact that robots cannot rebel against the slavery they cannot acknowledge. The potential for human beings to become cruel masters of slavery is ever present; we merely haven’t found a method of doing so without facing criticism and revolt.


6. Paula Lee : the role of the police/authority


The police in the movie, the Fifth Element, the police appear in one of the first scenes where they are chasing Leeloo as they cannot distinguish her status or identity from their profile list. Their uniforms are reminiscent of RoboCops and drives airborne automobiles. The police almost looks foolish in their costumes and this is clichéd when they are fooled by a loserly cab driver, unable to perform their duty. Also loss of authority of the authoritative figures in the film is also evident with the fact that a character that is the least flattering and of least authority, a cab driver or an ex-military man, is assigned as the one to save the world while all the big government and police agencies are almost oblivious to the situation at hand, which makes their existence trivial and useless. Also the fact that police are always using a mechanic device or computer-related objects reflects upon their total dependencies on objects, adding to the idea of the powerless authority in the film.


7. Evelyn Lo : eating and food


The Fifth Element portrays a future that despite being a whopping two-hundred and fifty years ahead, still bears an uncanny resemblance to the everyday American world of today, provoking viewers to compare and contrast the world of today with the possibility of the future world presented in this film. Many aspects that pervade daily American life, specifically with regards to ‘eating’ and the popular culture of ‘fast food’ replacing home cooked meals, is prevalent and recognizable in the film, yet skewed and exaggerated to suit the futuristic context to enforce its very possible reality. Specific instances in the film, are the depictions of arguably the two most popular fast food joints – Mcdonalds and the typical Chinese Noodle Bar.  Mcdonalds is still a huge corporation monopolizing the fast food business as illustrated by the gigantic billboard and is also still catering to the convenience of the customer on-the-go, with drive-throughs, paper packaging and customer service with a smile – all aspects of which we are all familiar with from our present time. The stark difference is that the drive-through points have relocated themselves off the ground plane and are located above ground to accommodate for the floating traffic flow. The Chinese Noodle Bar also presents itself as the very same as those we know today- the friendly Chinese man behind the counter, instigating conversation and dressed in typical chef fashion stir up a vast sense of familiarity with viewers. New to viewers is the fact that the chef as well as his entire joint have not only also defied gravity but has the ability for motion as well- able to transport himself with his counter and cooking paraphernalia directly to the customer’s home, hovering outside their windows for quick and efficient fast-food service. This further encourages the laziness and inactivity that is becoming a grave issue of today’s society. The film presents the typical attitudes towards eating, and ‘fast food’ as having a striking similarity to that which we know today. This naturally instills an unsettling and foreboding feeling within viewers in that even so far ahead in the future the concept of ‘slow food’ or home cooking meals is rare, and that the majority of the population still prefers the sheer convenience and accessibility of fast food. This contributes to the ‘uncanny’ that is consistent throughout the film, and is successful due to the lack of differences between the future world and our own, creating a future that is unsettling and disturbing in that not very much has changed at all.


8. John McFarlane : parking


Parking vehicles in the New York of The Fifth Element becomes uncanny because of the portrayal of the traffic in the city, the heights involved, and the way societal controls creep into his life as Korben Dallas starts his car.

The first two of these conditions exist in the way the future New York City is constructed and functions. As an exaggerated and imaginative extrapolation of the current conditions of the city, its traffic is shown to be perpetually busy, angry, and dangerous. Korben’s cab is nearly swiped as he is leaving his parking bay and the density of traffic in the city is illustrated by his need to dodge multiple layers of concentrated traffic in his later efforts to escape the police. The density of traffic in The Fifth Element can be compared to its relative scarcity and much different flow patterns in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in which the flying cars are much further between, following trajectories that relate more to helicopter flights than to the apparently strict corridors in the sky of The Fifth Element’s New York, although this may be due to a difference in perception between New York of the slow-moving traffic grid and Los Angeles of the expressway.

These aggravating conditions give rise to a sense of unhomeliness that is multiplied by the enormous heights involved. In contrast to present conditions in New York, the parking in The Fifth Element is at an unspecified height far above grade. The inherent danger of the height is quickly established in the film by the depiction of vertical movement in the city: both Leeloo’s fall and her escape with Korben from the police. The specific effect that height has on the perception of parking in the city is that to the uneasiness inherent in the task of parking an expensive vehicle in a busy city full of reckless traffic is added a sense of lethality, amplifying what might otherwise remain only uneasy into uncanny.

The most interesting uncanny element of parking in The Fifth Element is the systematic control over the starting mechanism. Korben’s taxi cab requires his license to be inserted in order to start and the vehicle registers his license and determines whether or not it will start based on the driving record of the owner of the license. The implication is that controls over licensing, (insurance and registration) misbehavior, (tracking traffic violations by tickets or other means) and ownership (security by key or in this case by license) have become much more systematized and coordinated. This intrusion by systems into the life of the individual decreases autonomy and fosters societal cooperation and control by the necessity of interdependent interaction and can be read as an extrapolation of the process of modernization underway since (arguably) the French revolution, through our present condition, and into an equidistant future.


9. Sava Miokovic : Travel through space -- the passage of time?


In the future world presented in The Fifth Element, space travel is a common and regular occurrence.

The distortion of time that is presented is somewhat unsettling.  When Korben Dallas enters the spaceship, he is escorted to his compartment by the stewardess and is immediately put to sleep with injected gas.  He is asleep for a duration of time unknown.  Usually, we sleep at regular intervals of 6 to 12 hours.  In this case, you can still grasp what events occurred while you were asleep.  Thus, all people exist within the same time  frame.  In the movie, while the passengers are asleep for a period of time unknown, the spaceship crew is conducting their tasks.  This means that there is a disjunction in the scales of time that individuals live their lives.  This idea is unsettling because their is a loss of control.

It is also somewhat uncomfortable how the fates of the passengers are put entirely into the hands of the spaceship crew since they were asleep for the duration of the trip.  I imagine myself in the same scenario and think about how uneasy I would be with it.  We all take a calculated risk when we choose to travel by aircraft, speed in exchange for the unlikely event of death if the plane were to malfunction.  However, the act of traveling through space in the movie, which occurs in a manner very similar to the standard plane flight, is unsettling because if something were to go wrong, you wouldn’t even know about it because you are unconscious.  But then again, would you want to be awake?

I think the feelings of the uncanny were strongly downplayed by the comedic atmosphere.  The dialogue between Korben Dallas and the crew was humorous, being rushed along without being told anything.  The attire contributed to the humorous atmosphere, being very “cartoonish” in it’s aesthetic.  The lack of realism in the film downplayed or masked the trigger of feelings of the uncanny in the audience.

  10. Reena Mistry: the architectural manifestation of Zorg and its evil genius (notice how the view outside the window changes...)  

The architecture of the Zorg building, though shown fairly quickly during the movie, includes a few essential elements that are comparable to the architecture of the wicked powers in the previous movies studied thus far.

Located at one of the highest points of New York City, the capital of the world in 2259, the headquarters of the evil Zorg portrays a powerful position in society. Though it is unclear if this is actually the highest point in the city, the view from the window makes the building’s height and thus prominence in the city very apparent. This can also be read literally as “being on top of the hierarchy”. Similarly, the dominant power of Metropolis, Joh Fredersen, has his office located high above the earth, basking in the luxuries of the sun and sky, with views across the city. Blade Runner has a similar location for the Tyrell Corporation in Los Angeles 2019, offering the glow of the sun, high above the density of the city. All three of these movies place the architecture of the heads of corporations at the top, depicting the “powerful capitalist status” that their architecture represents.

The most apparent element of the Zorg building is emphasized by the giant “o”, the view to the city. This oculus that observes the city is a prominent theme apparent in many modern movies, the act of seeing or being seen. Like the uncanny feeling of being watched, explored in Playtime (and even the extremity of this theme in The Truman Show), the oculus in Zorg’s façade creates the effect of the watchtower in the panopticon city. This advantage of being the eye is menacingly inverted as the view changes with the phone call from Mr. Shadow when hazy glow of the sun is darkened to an evil wash of red; the evil that threatens even its allies, is capable of seeing past the eye, and produces a view onto its omnipresence.

Overall and at its basics, the architecture of Zorg announces the character of Zorg’s evilness: the brutal businessman intently focused on his evil goal, as portrayed by the brutal mass of a ridiculously tall structure with the eye that spies on the capital of the world.


11. Melissa Ng : circular rooms and corridors (why?)



The symbol of the circle is representative of infinity; it is continuous and endless – a polygon with an infinite number of sides.  The use of circular spaces in the film Fifth Element relates back to a concept of design to allow an observer to be able to observe all and vice versa where everyone else has a view of the observer.  Furthermore, the focal point of the room and the scene is obviously evident in these circular rooms and corridors - the most significant always positioned in the core of the space.  It is as if these individuals have become isolated and their being becomes concentrated upon themselves along with the rest of the world.

The individual based at the centre of these circular spaces is always a significant figure in the film; the President is the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth, Zorg is the most evil genius corporate leader, and the Fifth Element is representative of the divine.  When these figures are positioned at the core of these circular rooms, the attention of all the characters along with the eyes of the audience is drawn toward them as well as the immediate recognition of their power.  Conversely, though the world is an obvious observer, the figure observed also has the power to be the supreme observer.  The President sits at the centre of the aircraft, with a 360 degree view of his operation and workers.  In a circular space, it is possible to see everything that is happening around oneself.  Nothing is hidden from his view.
The type of circular space used is also a representation of the nature of the characters which reside within them.  The President is portrayed in a circular room versus in circular corridors as a result of the space being indicative of a democratic environment – much like the round table or a council circle, where the members are all of same prominence.  The circular room also allows for endless and infinite views – the democratic view of endless possibilities.  Zorg, on the other hand, is portrayed in circular corridors as opposed to rooms.  The circular corridor speaks of one direction, the one-track mind of Zorg.  He is unable to see any other views besides his own – the corridor only has one view.  Furthermore, the circular shape of the corridor along with the lighting of the space creates an inverse-halo around Zorg which only further pushes the idea of evil in the film.

These spaces support ideas of uncanny of the film as one must envision being in the atmosphere of supreme beings of political power and evil.  There are no corners to hide into and the figure is will always have you in his glance.  These spaces create a feeling of intimidation and amplify the awareness of the central figure’s authority and magnificence.


12. Aisling O'Carroll : fashion


The entirety of Luc Besson's film, The Fifth Element, is visually stimulating. Through action, setting, and characters, each scene is captivates the viewer and draws you in to the sci-fi world of future New York.

One element heavily manipulated in the film is colour, and the fashion provides a medium throughout the film to convey this stimulus and elemental manipulation.

Being an incredibly visually oriented film, it is interesting to note that the costumes for the film were designed by Jean-Paul Gautier, a well respected fashion designer. As well, many of the roles in the film are played by models - Leeloo, played by Milla Jovovich; Eve Salvail who plays one of the Mangalores trying to take Korban's place on the flight to Fhloston; Sybil Buck, Zorg's secretary; and others who play roles including a few attendants on the cruise ship. The importance of high end fashion, and beautiful people, is indicative of Luc Besson's concern with the aesthetic quality of the film. This future New York portrayed in the film is aesthetically driven, and appears aesthetically superior, however no better prepared for protection.

With this visual conciousness it is not surprising that there is such an emphasis on fashion in the film. The characters concern for appearance reflects the nature of their person as well. Vitto Cornelius, the priest, wears quite regular clothes for our day. As a priest of the ancient line, watching the Mondoshawan temple, Vitto represents a primeval character, and so his wardrobe reflects that character. The government officials of the Federation all wear a similar uniform with subtle distinctions between rank. The costume is simple and formal, and leaves the characters with simpler personalities. The collective unit of officials appears like a single, simple-minded force - with immense technological intelligence behind them, but less practical intelligence in terms of solving problems. Zorg, with a somewhat similar role to a used-car salesman, however with respect and status, has a more stylized wardrobe than the government officials, while still maintaining the formalities of rank. His suits have fine details like in the collar, or the fabric. Most of his clothes seem to constrain him somewhat, making it appear as though he is more concerned with appearances than practicality or comfort - similar to his character. Zorg's subjects are all dressed in much less formal or respectable attire. It is as though his minions are his distraction as well, dressed to entertain him, be it his secretary in feathery outfits, or his assistant, who wears a black jacket and no shirt.

Korban Dallas, who plays a less fortunate character, but the protagonist role, wears much less formal fashions, and much more attention grabbing colours and styles. His outfits usually make obvious his physical strength, emphasizing him as the the strong hero of the film. His clothes seems cheaper still than those of other characters like Zorg or the President.

Ruby Rhod is clothed in fashions that are just as utterly superfluous as his character. The outrageous nature of this radio host is carried through his clothes as well, even though in any case the general public can hear rather than see him.

It is interesting to note the use of colour in the fashions, the major characters are generally clothed in brighter more obvious styles, while background or minor characters are not. One scene that makes this point clear is in the airport, where most people are in somewhat normal clothing, but at least dark if not black, where as the main characters, Korban, and the Mangalores, are dressed in brighter colours that pop out on screen more easily.

It is also interesting to observe the changes in fashion with the changes in class and position. The lower class characters have brighter, more rave-style clothing, while the characters of higher classes have darker, more formal styles.


13. Shannon Ross : the city of New York in 300 years time


the left hand image is linked to a larger one so you can see it better

Both these images relate to the uncanny because of the density of the buildings in the city.  Because of this density one can imagine very grim spaces with poor light and air.  In the city conceived in the movie one cannot avoid interacting with technology or their built environment.  The city seems completely void of natural elements.  This creates an artificial atmosphere and suffocates human knowledge and memory of nature and all of its benefits and beauty.  In that sense the city portrayed in the movie reveals unhomely characteristics.

But unfortunately, in 300 years time the city portrayed in the Fifth Element does not seem that far off.  One could expect that with an increase in population, the density of our citites will increase as well.  Even though there are some grim spaces, it seems as though many buildings receive sufficient natural light.  This contrasts the vision of the future portrayed in Bladerunner.  Bladerunner described a dark and damp future and in the Fifth Element there seems to be more natural light and more liveable spaces.


14. Terry Sin : common persons and intermediary spaces


In many instances of the Fifth Element, and similarly in previously viewed films, the vision of the future seems to be an amplification of the present. One of the primary elements that arise from our present is that of compactness and convenience. Our culture is obsessed with the idea of saving time and space. A perfect example would be to watch Sunday afternoon infomercials on the television; such as the EggWave, a device to cook eggs in the microwave or battery powered scissors. In a more common sense, examples would be our obsession with getting the smallest cellular phone or going through the drive through. This capitalist idea is exaggerated to the fullest in the Fifth Element and can be best observed in the spaces of common people and intermediary spaces. Korben Dallas’ apartment is a prime example of the compact. It is essentially the size of a small bedroom, yet still contains all the elements of a regular apartment, such as a bed and bathroom. However, all these items are “stored” on the sides like drawers or cabinets. Similarly, the intermediary spaces, such as the corridors of the apartment complex, are narrow and have sliding doors to eliminate swing and increase floor area. This idea of efficiency also leads to the idea that aesthetics (in the way that we interpret them) begin to disappear as everything becomes functional. For example, the forms around the apartment doorways seem to be purely structural, while the forms of the corridors seem to be privacy guards. These ideas lead to the uncanny in the sense that it is a forecast of our own future. With the rate of our own obsession with the compact, it is possible that we may reach to the same level of the Fifth Element. Furthermore, urban density is already impacting living spaces with large spaces becoming overpriced and smaller areas becoming more economical. The common persons’ and intermediary spaces of the Fifth Element is an uncanny representation of a possible future.


15. Helen Tout : the architecture of the paradise destination


Fhloston Paradise is the prime destination spot in the universe in the film The Fifth Element. Spots on this paradise luxury liner are limited and fully booked far in advance. The planet Fhloston has beautiful blue clear water and over 400 sandy beaches that close at 5pm. Fhloston Paradise is a massive cruise liner that floats above the water of the planet. The ship has 12 swimming pools, a sun deck, a large opera house with glazing behind the stage, luxurious suites and its own bomb detection device. The hotel has everything that people want and cannot usually have in their everyday lives.

This hotel is all about luxury and extravagance. Every one of our whims is provided for yet this hotel is not at all homely. We can see this in Korben’s suite, it is extremely impressive and has everything he needs and could possibly want, yet he looks completely uncomfortable in these surroundings. The room does not speak to his character at all. This perfect destination is designed to impress and bedazzle us with things that we have grown accustomed to wanting, riches, extravagance and an easy life. When people come here they want to forget about their lives and problems. In this way it ignores reality and can be compared to places such as Las Vegas and Versailles, places of extreme luxury where the real world melts away and the fantasy that we are left in seems inhuman and unfeeling in scale and decoration. This world is seemingly perfect yet is not reality; it appears as a dream world that almost doesn’t exist apart from when you are there. It can be compared to the robot Maria in the 1927 Metropolis in that it has no flaws outwardly yet it is somehow not human. We believe this place is good for humanity but it provides us with a sense of unease or dreaming where our own reality disappears.


16. Jamie Usas : state of the environment


Waste Not

The two images taken from Luc Besson's The Fifth Element similarly depict a possible dystopic condition of a post-modern consumer culture.  Both images illustrate waste as a substance that must be confronted, beyond our contemporary perceptions that place waste which is out of sight, out of mind.  The waste presented in the film surrounds the viewer, forcing the viewer to ponder the implications of post-modern consumerism, and that which may result from human inability to maintain it's consumer tendencies, despite the progress of technological innovation.   The first images frames citizens maneuvering through a futuristic airport amongst a enormous mountain of waste, implying that it is no longer possible to conceal and must be confronted on a scale which is beyond human.  The uncanny arises in this image when we are forced to except that the by-products of culture have as powerful an effect in shaping reality as culture itself, and the ability to form in scales beyond that of there construction. The second image shows a police car hovering over piles of garbage.  This image implies that at a specific point in time, the city had no sufficient storage for waste and was forced to build the city up and away form the chaos that has over taken "life at grade", effectively superseding all human occupation and establishing itself as the new condition of "life at grade".  The images elude to contemporary speculations that at our present rate and coarse of growth and expansion will will literally run out of space to store our waste.  

  17. Susan Varickanickal : advances in technology  

The advances in technology in the film The Fifth Element, show the scientific and technological progression of humans from present date to the era of the Fifth Element (year 2259).  In the film, the character Leeloo, was recreated from a few tissues of living cells, after her body was destroyed in battle.  The machine used not only repaired her physical body, but also restored her mind (memories) as well.  With this idea of technology rebuilding human bodies and minds, how does one prepare for death?  In the film many characters are seen dodging bullets and getting out of harms way, yet with their present technology that should no longer be feared. 

With the technology evolving, one would think that the humans would evolve with it and loose some of their natural instincts due to their dependence on technology; however, in the film “The Fifth Element”, there seems to be no change in human behaviors.  They still fear being injured even though there is the technology to repair them, even after death. 

Also with the idea of the uncanny, the human and super-human mind can also be restored with the new technology in the Fifth element.  Humans are now capable of recreating / restoring life which plays into the ideas of “humans playing the role of God”.  Human interference in the natural life cycle is now common technology, which creates the feeling of strangeness in the sense that are the recreated being still the same person?…Have they changed in any way from their original form?  This puts a value on the human life.  Is it expendable due to the advances in modern technology or is it more valuable compared to other species? 


18. Chao Lun Wang : The Diva


The diva, Plavalaguna from Luc Besson’s Fifth Element is one of the iconic characters of the film. She has a minor role in the film but her staged performance was one of the highlights of the film and a prelude to the climax of the plot.

The uncanny aspect of the diva comes from the contrast between her physique vs. colour, and the score vs. vocal. The diva is a humanoid alien. Her figure is mostly human, and rather attractive. She has the physique of a modern day pop star in her slenderness and  her well-defined curvatures. However the glittering blue colour of her skin is a completely alienating feature that establishes a sharp division between her and human. This contrast between the homely and the unhomely creates a strong sense of the uncanny in her appearance. It also questions the audience how she is being accepted in the prospective future.
The musical aspect of the role also suggests a strong sense of uncanny. The Diva Dance opera performance featured music from Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor "Il dolce suono", the mad scene of Act III, Scene II. Her vocal for the first part remains a calm classical style, but it abruptly shifts into a frenzy of physically impossible vocalizations. This performance became iconic as it combines a musical score that reflects western culture with the vocalization breaks the barrier of our specie.

In both cases, the diva is an extraordinary character that reflects both the human cultural influence and a break through of our limits.  


19. Benjamin Wong : architectural precedent


The architecture of the film seems to satisfy a popular imagination of a future city as established by previous films of the same genre.  Most notable are the clear similarities of Luc Besson’s New York 2259 with Ridley Scott’s L.A. 2019, in Blade Runner.  This is quite evident in the first image, which depicts an industrialized and uninhabitable area of the city.

A comparison might also be drawn to the 1927 film, Metropolis.  Similar to Metropolis, The Fifth Element portrays the uncanny through creation of an upper and lower world.  In the film, Manhattan has become a city entirely composed of skyscrapers.  It is also a world that has been forced to vertically separate its inhabitants from the desolate and unviable ground level city.  Similar to Blade Runner, the problems of mass consumption, pollution, etc. have become multiplied to a horrendous extent in the future.

At the same time, the world of NY 2214 is also a very stylized world in terms of its architectural language.  The density of the city takes on a quality similar to that of a painting by Erasmus Salisbury Field (19th Century) titled, Historical Monument to the American Republic.  Unlike the Art Deco city of the 1927 Metropolis, The Fifth Element is a monstrous expansion of the existing 19th century architecture that often defines the New York cityscapes of today.  The film has used this architectural language to allow the audience to identify the future city as New York.  The second image, which is an image of the priest’s apartment, is an excellent example of an interior of this style.

Apart from these images, the film also presents a series of other forms of architecture that have a clear connection to architecture today.  For example, the sleeping pods that Korben and Leeloo traveled in to get to another galaxy.  These are very reminiscent of the “Capsule Hotels” in Japan. This asks the question of whether it is simply an acceptance of this type of traveling culture and experience in the western world?  Or did it become the only solution to the problem of overpopulation and consumerism in a future world?


20. Erin Corcoran : communication?


Communication within the 5th Element, though advanced in its use of both audio and visual interactions, as well as its ability to be used everywhere, leaves the user and viewer feeling more alienated than connected.  The technology is presented as somewhat omnipotent, appearing impossibly through walls, as in the top two images, falling from mysterious tubes, shown in the bottom left, or uncannily following the characters, bottom right, in the case of Dallas, the ability of his mother to be able to use the technology to contact him wherever he is, whenever she pleases. 

Like the issues present in the now common use of the cell phone, one never knows or needs to know where the other user is, or what they are doing.  Conversations can be had across countries, inside or outside, without ever thinking about the situation in which each half of the conversation is present.  In the movie, police can peak inside your homes at will, residents can view those wishing entry without their knowing, mail is manipulated into homes by outside forces, and unwanted phone conversations can follow you across galaxies.  All the while, real interactions can be avoided, ethics and manners can be ignored, and isolation from true contact is ever present. 

The people of the city in the 5th Element are constantly conversing, connected, and monitored, but at the same time they are discontent, fearful, and isolated.  The uncanny element lies within these advanced methods of communication and the tangled web of mistrust they have created simply by being far too effective and efficient.


21. Matthias Heck : the height/cross section of the city


In Besson’s Fifth Element the sheer height of the buildings in the 2259 A.D. version of New York is an aspect that seems striking to the audience at a first glance. The play with the extreme vertical appearance of the buildings, the mega dense structures and the airspace between the buildings, which is used as a street for flying vehicles, take the whole concept of high rise buildings and urban density one step further beyond our current perception. Especially the airspace that is used for transportation creates a new spatial perception and in a certain way provides a “right to exist” for the extreme high rise buildings. Therefore, the interesting notion about the metropolitan architecture displayed in this movie is the exaggeration of the vertical notion, aspects like the “Manhattanism” and the vertical schism, probably developed to the maximum. The idea goes as far as depicting the central park in the future New York City, which is supposed to have the same size as the real one and being in the same location - but more than 100 feet in the air.

In this highly-stylized future metropolis these buildings and the portrayal of the city stand in huge contrast to the image of the future we see in movies like blade runner, for instance, or other dystopic movies. The general appearance of the city is more uplifting and cheerful, although the pure height of the buildings might induce the opposite feeling. This cheerful atmosphere is created and enforced by a lively and colourful ambience like the vehicles and the traffic, warm bay-coloured brick buildings, retro-styled buildings and objects in general, and hence creates an urban landscape that is not only expansive but also intimate as a result.

A similarity to other movies like Metropolis or Blade Runner though is the change in the vertical appearance and the character of the cross section of the city, where we find a rather dirty and creepy atmosphere in the lower levels of the city, and a gradual change as the buildings get higher. In the same way we once again encounter a social gap, with the lower social classes residing in the lower levels of the city and the mighty and influential people (like Zorg and his corporation) being on top of the whole city.


22. Suzanne Gibson : The Opera House


Upon entering the Opera House Ruby Rhod describes it to his listeners, “And now we enter what must be the most beautiful concert hall in all the universe – a perfect replica of the old opera house… but who cares!” and for the majority of the audience I imagine this is the case.  Unlike the rest of the resort with it’s over the top baroque design, saturated colors, and unnatural lighting conditions, the opera house with its traditional architecture is a welcomed change. The architecture has an earth bound feeling that can be easily related to, unlike the rest of the movie with it’s futurist architecture, the opera house feels like a place bounded in modern time, a place the viewer can easily relate to; a fitting style since the further of world is dependent on this scene.  However the comfort found in this style of architecture is countered with by two different elements. The first is the view, directly behind the stage, a window displaying the plant that the ship is orbiting around, and second on the stage is a sinewy blue rubber alien who despite her rubber ness has humanlike facial qualities and many human attributes, giving the sense of unease to this otherwise normal setting. 

The first act opens and with the camera placed behind the alien, the circular form of the room with it rows of seating and a generally pastel and monochromatic color pallet off sets the vibrant blue singer, the camera angle and tears of balcony seating emphases the already super tall beings height.  The uniqueness of this particular shot plays upon the unreality of the alien superimposed on a traditional setting. As she sings the camera pans around to view the singer from the front, it is in this shot that the view of the planet which the ship is orbiting, becomes visible. And suddenly the context has changed completely, no only is the alien a foreign object but rather the opera house itself has become foreign.  This play on juxtaposition between earthy and un-earthy is interesting in that it highlights the importance of architecture creating and framing an experience.  It also demonstrates the importance of architecture and context, the scene feel very different with the view of the planet in the background although the architecture itself has not undergone any changes.


23. Kate Gould : The Frame Story


Although the movie The Fifth Element is set mainly set in a futuristic version of New York it both opens and closes with scenes set in the Egyptian desert.  Thus although the movie is set in this world, the relation back to Egypt gives it mythical and historical relations.  There is great symbolism in the relationship between the Egyptian culture and mythologies and the Fifth Elements central theme of good versus evil.

At its base the temple represents an all-powerful secret weapon, all of life’s only weapon against a Great Evil.  This is the only possible force to be used against this evil consists of a great weapon created within this temple in Egypt.  This weapon is comprised of the basic four elements of water, fire, earth and air.  These basic elements when combined with the final fifth element, Love, become the power to stop the Great Evil.

The temple or pyramid is a great symbol to be used for the house of this holy weapon.  This symbol represents man’s ascent to the heavenly skies, in particular, the Pharaoh’s ascension to Heaven and the Afterlife.  As well, the angled sides of the pyramid represent the sloping rays of the sun, as a source of eternal strength and energy.  Hence, the weapon that is contained within this pyramid has great symbolism.  The power within the temple holds that of the sun, of pure light.  This relates to the idea that the great evil represents anti-life – eternal darkness – and that the only power that can stop it is pure light, with love at its centre.

The setting of the opening and closing scenes is particularly uncanny when thought of in relation to the rest of the movie.  The bulk of the movie takes place in a technologically advanced future; however, the aliens probably picked this remote location for the location of their weapon as it remains unchanged over the hundreds of years that have passed.  As well, the desert location is particularly uncanny as to activate the stones one needs to use the base elements, of water, fire, earth and wind, which is almost impossible in this stark locale.


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