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Top 12 Most Luddite Films of All Time
by Jerry McCarthy
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What is the most luddite film of all time? The top 12? Maybe these questions have never come up, but here are the answers anyway. The Luddite Reader website today announces the Luddite Top 12. The most luddite film of all time is Godard's Alphaville (1965), the only film in which the central character actually says, "Technology, hah! Keep it!" Alphaville also features the most luddite character name of all time: Lemmy Caution, a comic-bookish detective played by the durable, somewhat eroded Eddie Constantine. And the top twelve films? They are:

1. Alphaville (Godard, 1965)
2. Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1926)
3. Tie: A Nous La Liberte (Rene Clair, 1931) and Modern Times (Charlie
Chaplin, 1936)
4. Tie: Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) and Young Frankenstein
5. Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut, 1965)
6. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
7. Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)
8. The Gods Must Be Crazy (Jamie Uys, 1984)
9. Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
10. Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
11. They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)
12. Gattaca (Andrew M. Niccol, 1997)

Why 12 and not 10? Well, our favorites couldn't all fit in 10. In fact, we left one very important film out, so here's an additional category:

Missed congeniality: Jonah Who Will Be 25 In The Year 2000 (Alaine Tanner, 1976) That's fifteen, if you are counting.

Some of these have been sequelled, of varying degrees of quality (Terminator, The Gods Must Be Crazy, and Robocop, and the champion property of all time: Frankenstein, produced in 80+ varieties, including Frankenpooh and Frankenweenie, a Disney dog) and knocked off by cheap imitations. Another Terminator is assuredly in the works and a Mel Gibson remake of Fahrenheit 451 has long been rumored, but the rest of the list is fairly safe from remake, or is it? Imagine Bruce Willis as Lemmy Caution in Alphaville2: Die Hard Disk; a Tim Burton / Madonna Metropolis; or Jim Carrey in Modern Times. Worse things have happened
to better people.

But why these fifteen twelve great films? Here's why:

#1 Alphaville (Godard, 1965) - The only luddish film in which the protagonist actually says, "Technology, hah! -- keep it!" Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) establishes the archetype of the Luddite detective (spy/assassin; agent 003) in this wordy classic that critic Carlos
Clarens called "Science Poetry." In another galaxy (a Ford Galaxy, if you must know) Caution enters Alphaville, a technocracy ruled by the Alpha-60 computer, to retrieve or kill its creator, a Dr. Nosferatu (formerly Dr. von Braun). Clarens described the Alpha-60 this way: "a giant electronic computer that processes, classifies, and programs the life data of its residents. This control has brought about a cult of absolute logical behavior and those who do not conform to it (i.e., those who show some emotion) are ruthlessly destroyed by execution
during staged acquacades, or by submitting to the persuasion to commit suicide. To abet this law and order of the machine, words are kept in place by changing meaning, some being suppressed altogether while new editions of the bible/dictionary are issued daily." Caution kills Nosferatu, causes Alpha-60 to autodestruct by feeding it poetry, and rescues Nosferatu's daughteer (Mrs. Godard). It's a film both pretentious and funny, more amusing to talk about afterward than it is to watch.

#2 Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1926) The film that established the beauty of robots as well as the question of who can remain (and know they are assuredly) "real" in a culture which is replacing humans with machines. It's all here: dehumanization of work; polarization of society; unionism; marianism; robotics; and art direction that has influenced science fiction films ever since.

#3 Tie: A Nous La Liberte (Rene Clair, 1931) and Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936) - Two benchmark films about working in factories. A Nous is the original, depicting the boss as a thief (literally), fascist factories, and the prison-like tyranny of factory worklife. Chaplin
lifted this concept for the most memorable bits in his last tramp film, Modern Times, which played on the haplessness of the factory worker as demonstrated by the Tramp. Chaplin comments on the Taylorism movement for worker efficiency in both the speedy assembly line scene and the automatic worker feeding machine scene. Of the two films, Modern Times has become more emblematic, perhaps because stills of Charlie caught in the gears of a giant machine have become one of luddism's most widely seen icons.

#4 Tie: Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) and Young Frankenstein - The original Frankenstein has become a genre unto itself. "It's alive!" It is the Ur-film [after Metropolis] of modern mad science. It remains the prime example of the message that things you make may turn on you. It is also, with Metropolis, one of a only a few examples of the expressionist theatrical style on film. No other film has ever spawned as many derivative descendents, including such screen gems as "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" (1966). Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein used the original props and has one genuinely remarkable scene which pokes fun at the marketing of the acceptability of science and technology: Dr. Vicktor Frankenstein puts on a show with his monster and they sing and dance a duet of "Putting On The Ritz." The townspeople are not fooled. What monsters are we creating?

#5 Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut, 1965) In the future, most people live in fireproof houses and the job of firemen is to burn books for the state, to protect the populace from ideas that might make them unhappy. Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury's parable of how technology destroys heritage and self-knowledge, and how television anesthetizes the populace. The underlying message of this film is that you don't have to physically burn books (the title refers to the temperature at which paper burns) to "burn" books. It is also the canonical film about censorship. The book is probably the most widely assigned luddite text
in US high schools. This is probably the most likely luddite film to be remade, although it will be difficult to find someone who does angst better than the late Oskar Werner.

#6 Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) If we can make real-looking androids, how can we be sure who is real, or even if we ourselves are real? And if we can create an android (replicants, they are called here) that looks like Daryl Hannah, why can't we make future Los Angeles look like someplace you might want to live? Most importantly: if we create a near-human consciousness, what rights do we endow it with? This film is Phillip K. Dick (from his novel "Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep") made technoir through the Hollywood blender.
Important as much for its art direction as for its message.

#7 Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) As if you didn't have enough to worry about... The evil future is sending cyborgs back to crush the prenatal spark of humanity [by killing the not-yet-pregnant mother-to-be of a hero of the future (the leader of the rebel forces, no less) who hasn't been born yet - got that?]. Arnold Schwartzenegger gives the performance he was born to play: a cyborg who says, flatly, "I'll be Baaaaack!" And keeps his promise. Message: in the future, when machines get the upper hand, we become the cockroaches.

#8 The Gods Must Be Crazy (Jamie Uys, 1984) Our trash is still pretty advanced technology in much of the world. This film is the apotheosis of the returnable bottle. A noble savage encounters less than noble civilized folks on his way to the edge of the earth to dispose of some disruptive technology, a soda bottle thrown out of an airplane and into the desert habitat of his tribe. The message? Don't assume that our technology is good for everybody. Currently inexcusably out of print.

#9 Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) In the future, the machine that will be most dangerous will continue to be the bureaucracy. In a bureaucracy no one admits to hearing you scream. Brazil presents a bleak dystopian future where a literal (smashed) bug causes the film's hero big trouble. Robert DeNiro plays the kind of handyman that we are all going to need in the future.

#10 Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987) Luddite paranoia on film: the threat of high-tech outsourcing. You say your job is killing you? This is worse. Your job has killed you, and you come back as a cyborg owned by the evil outsourcing company that made your job hell in the first place, and you are tormented by UHF reception problems in your memories of your
former family. A really well done satire of cold-blooded corporate R&D run amok, comic book heros, and action films.

#11 They Live (John Carpenter, 1988) Ever get that feeling, at about 10 in the morning, that maybe the world is run by a bunch of ugly aliens in some kind of Amway scheme, and that they are keeping you compliant with subliminal messages everywhere such as "consume," "Don't question authority," and "sleep," that you could see if only you had these special sunglasses? Beyond luddite paranoia and into the bounds of schizophrenia, this is the primo educational film about subliminal messaging and may even be Noam Chomsky's favorite science fiction film.

#12 Gattaca (Andrew M. Niccol, 1997) The database as enemy. If your company has a DNA code instead of a dress code, "casual friday" can be murder. Great technoir film about the future uses of genotyping. In the future, faking your resume to get a great job may include faking your DNA. Interesting and gross title sequence (once you understand what you are seeing). Gore Vidal as the hero's boss (!) "Jerome," the hero, wants to fly in space, with the Gattaca Corporation. But he is naturally conceived and born, not genetically engineered to be perfect, as Gattaca requires all employees to be. So he can clean the toilets with Ernest Borgnine (Marty!) or find some way to fake his way in. A murder investigation complicates it all. Set in Frank Lloyd Wright's last design, completed posthumously, the Marin Civic Center. Medical histories and treatment databases already limit employment for many (cancer survivors particularly). This film provides an extreme example of how the uses of such knowledge might become, ab ovo, even more controlling in the future.

More: And now, our missed congeniality selection: Jonah Who Will Be 25 In The Year 2000 (Alaine Tanner, 1976) This is the best film ever made about people resisting development (and about the failure of resistance). Luddism is really not about machines, it is about
considering humanity and community before technology and development, without measure against the holy standards of profit and efficiency and markets. This film is about a group of people who gather on a farm and resist local developers. It has one scene that is unique in the history of film and that will never be equaled in Hollywood: the characters gather around a dinner table and sing a song to the unborn child Jonah, in the hope of his future. Since this film has been made their hopes seem to have been misplaced, and at least one reviewer has speculated that Jonah has become an MBA.

There are informative websites for several of the top 12 Luddite films:


Modern Times


Fahrenheit 451

Blade Runner


Gods Must Be Crazy



They Live


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