Somehow, WordPress ate my long and arduous post but I will painstakingly recreate it for your viewing pleasure, to the best of my ability.

This post is going to be somewhat long and rambly but I haven’t posted on the blog in a while and I wanted to discuss a film that’s been giving me some pause for a while.

A few weeks ago I was watching Jurassic Park with my girlfriend Michelle and having a good time. It ended quite quickly, despite being over 2 hours long and reminded me of the discussion we’ve been having in Experience Design about flow. However, the thought that passed through my mind as I looked at the DVD sleeve is “boy is time sure relative”. I’ve been thinking about this as well as the discussion about horror and humor that the classes have had in the last week or so.

A few weeks before Jurassic Park, I was sitting on my futon, teeth clenched, fists tightened and the sound low. Shortly after I went to my room to lay in my bed alone with the lights off. Michelle asked me what was wrong since I was acting weird and my response was “I just finished watching Tetsuo: The Iron Man. I need to think for a litle bit.”

For a 67 minute film (and apparently there’s a 77 minute version that I may watch when I recover), this was a seemingly endless all-out assault on the senses. Despite that, it was engaging and drew me in for the duration, even if it was a fucked up menagerie of events from basically start to finish.

Let me post the plot synopsis from Wikipedia:

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The film opens with a man (called only “the man”, or the “Metal Fetishist”), cutting open a massive gash in his leg and then shoving a large threaded steel rod into the wound. Later, upon seeing maggots festering in the wound, he screams, runs out into the street, and is hit by a car. The driver of the car, a Japanese businessman, and his girlfriend try to cover up the mess by dumping the body into a ravine, but the dumped man gets revenge by forcing the businessman’s body to gradually metamorphose into a walking pile of scrap metal. This process starts when the driver finds a piece of metal stuck in his cheek while shaving. He tries to remove it, but realizes it is growing from the inside.

The scene shifts to the businessman at his home having breakfast, with a bandage over his cheek. The businessman receives a phone call, consisting of nothing but him and the other speaker (possibly his girlfriend) continuously saying “Hello?” to each other and thinking back to having sex after dumping the Metal Fetishist.

The first of several highly stylized chase scenes starts with the driver pursued through an underground train station by a woman whose body has been taken over by the Metal Fetishist. The businessman seems to win this encounter by breaking the back of the radically transformed woman (she begins the sequence as a demure office worker and ends it as a wild metal-infected woman) after even more metal has erupted on his ankles and arm.

The next segment is a terrifying dream sequence where the businessman’s girlfriend, transformed into an exotic dancer with a snake-like metal probe, terrorizes and rapes the businessman. After waking from this dream, the businessman and his girlfriend have sex at his apartment and eat erotically. As she eats each bite given to her, he hears the sounds of metal scraping. The businessman suddenly discovers his penis has mutated into a gargantuan power drill. A fight ensues where the businessman terrorizes his girlfriend, and acquires more and more metal on his body. She fights back and in the end impales herself on his drill and dies.

Helpless to do anything, the businessman, now the Iron Man, is visited by the Metal Fetishist, who emerges from his dead girlfriend’s corpse to show him a vision of a “New World” of nothing but metal and turn his cats into grotesque metal creatures. The Iron Man flees and is followed by the Metal Fetishist into an abandoned building. After the Metal Fetishist explains to the Iron Man how both of them became what they are, a final battle ensues. The Iron Man ends by attempting to merge himself with the Fetishist into a horrific two-headed metal monster. The two agree to turn the whole world into metal and rust it, scattering it into the dust of the universe by claiming “Our love can put an end to this fucking world. Let’s Go!” The duo charges through the streets of Japan in a horrific fusion of the two men and the accumulated metal, in a largely phallic form. The film ends with the words “GAME OVER” as opposed to “The End” after the closing credits.

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Long story short, the film explores a lot of different dark human emotions: fear of the unknown, of domination and/or rape, death, loss of control, etc.

What the synopsis doesn’t cover is some of the other things that make up the film: The pounding repetitive soundtrack, the jump cuts between reality and fiction, the minutes-long action sequences where frames are cut to create a stop-motion effect. The jump scares from awkward silence to deformed monsters chasing the main character. The fact that there’s only about 3-5 minutes of dialogue in the film. It’s a dizzying experience that makes the intro to Run Lola Run seem rather tame by comparison.  I would say that this film explores just about everything that makes something a horror film by the Carroll definition:

In Noël Carroll‘s ‘Philosophy of Horror,’ he postulates that a modern piece of horror fiction’s “monster,” villain, or a more inclusive menace must exhibit the following two triats:

  • A menace that is threatening – either physically, psychologically, socially, morally, spiritually, or some combination of the aforementioned.
  • A menace that is impure – that violates the generally accepted schemes of cultural categorization. “We consider impure that which is categorically contradictory[14]

What I think I took away from this film and the horror genre lectures is that there is room in interaction design to explore these negative and uncomfortable emotions. I think too often we focus on things that “make sense” or make us happy or function efficiently. There’s nothing wrong with plumbing the depths of our confused and primal existence which is covered by a thin veneer of normalcy. Films and literature have long explored (and games more recently) negative emotions: things with poor closure, things that make us angry or confused. Things that make us question ourselves.

We can make long-lasting and meaningful interactions and designs that stay with us, but we shouldn’t be afraid to explore that range of emotions that we often refuse to discuss: depression, hate, lust, anger, confusion, sadness, etc.

Watch the film if you’ve got a strong constitution.

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