The Iron Giant

Iron-Giant-Movie

What if a gun had a soul?

That was the sentence used to pitch The Iron Giant, a “children’s movie,” to Warner Brothers executives. I’m constantly surprised by the mature themes and questions addressed by this genre of film – one that is generally characterized as “light” entertainment with colourful visuals but little substance (unless Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner constitutes “substance”). However, this genre of film has some of the most thought-provoking and intelligent films around.

The Iron Giant follows a similar plot to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: a young boy befriends an alien creature while the government (and all the adults) are afraid of the alien and consider it a threat. The major difference between the films is that the alien creature in The Iron Giant is essentially a conscious nuclear warhead instead of a botanist. And that’s how the question – what if a gun had a soul? – is explored.

I don’t think there’s one “true” answer to the question. It simply spurs on more questions: If a gun had a soul, would it choose to shoot or refuse to shoot? Is it really a choice when the gun has been built to shoot (i.e. shooting is the basis of its existence)? Can a gun be a pacifist?

The most important moment in the film is when the boy is showing off his collection of comic books to the Iron Giant and gushes about Superman. The Iron Giant notices the cover of another comic book – a robot that looks similar to himself, attacking innocent people and destroying a city. The implication is clear: the comic book robot is the villain, and because the Iron Giant is a robot, he must be a villain also. The boy explains to the Iron Giant that this isn’t true – you’re not born a villain, you choose to be a villain. And then the boy proudly proclaims that the Iron Giant will be like a Superman – a hero.

That’s the theme of the film (and the film’s answer to the gun soul question): you choose who you want to be. It might not be the right answer, or the most satisfying one, but it is the most hopeful answer, and that’s why it’s the best one. Despite the Iron Giant’s programming to be a weapon of mass destruction, he can choose to be a hero and not hurt anyone.

In the 1950s, the television show The Twilight Zone used the science-fiction genre for thinly-veiled political and social commentary. This was during the McCarthyism era, when any questionable opinion or association could get an artist “blacklisted” for being a communist sympathizer. The Twilight Zone was able to sneak subversive commentary by authorities by dressing it up with fantastical elements like robots, monsters, and spaceships. Obviously, something with these elements couldn’t be carrying with it a serious message, at least that’s what people unfamiliar with the genre thought. Children’s movies like The Iron Giant are doing the same thing: provoking serious discussions under the guise of “light” entertainment.

Grade: A

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One Response to The Iron Giant

  1. Nostra says:

    Awesome movie. Always have to think of Vin Diesel as he voiced the giant.

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