Iron Giant, The

The Iron Giant, directed by Brad Bird, is an animated adaptation of
Ted Hughes’s fable which recruits it
for a role in Hollywood’s continuing
attempts to re-mythologize the 1950s according to “progressive” notions. The old
mythology, now long discredited so far as Hollywood and the media are concerned,
was that during that period God-fearing Americans living decent, hard-working
lives with their happy nuclear families in middle-class suburbs were the
backbone of American power. They showed their moral fibre by supporting their
government’s admirable resolution in
standing up to Godless, corrupt and oppressive Communism during the tense early
years of the Cold War when Soviet power threatened to subjugate the whole of

Hollywood’s re-mythologization of
this story is based on two assumptions. One is that the happy families were not
really happy but instruments of both oppression (of women) and repression (of
everybody) and that the popular culture, especially
played an important part in breaking these shackles. The other assumption is
that Communism, though perhaps a failure as an economic system, never really
posed a threat to the American way of life at all. The Cold War was simply a
product of mutual fear and misunderstanding, and the greatest danger the country
faced during the period came not from the Soviets but from our own
government’s paranoia and propensity
to violence.

The Iron Giant makes both of these assumptions. Its hero is a boy
called Hogarth (voice of Eli Marienthal) whose mother (voice of Jennifer
Anniston) is a single parent and has to work as a waitress to support her
fractured family. Clearly the 1950s,
“Ozzie and
Harriet” ideal
didn’t work for her! There is
no mention of what happened to
Hogarth’s father, but the implication
is that he was never a part of the
boy’s life. Hogarth lives in a small
town in Maine which, we are given to understand, is in the grip of Cold War
paranoia. Only an improbable beatnik called Dean (voice of Harry Connick Jr.)
who lives in a junk yard and makes sculpture out of scrap metal stands out
against prevailing modes of thought among the credulous and simple-minded

Just as unexplained as the absence of father is the presence of the eponymous
Giant, a Promethean and messianic figure from outer space which only Hogarth
knows about and which he keeps in the barn. Why a single mom who works as a
waitress lives in a house with a barn is also unexplained.
Hogarth’s Giant-father, a lovable
naïf with super powers, is really more of a little brother, requiring to be
tutored in all the ways of the world by Hogarth. This includes political and
moral instruction. “It’s bad to kill,” says Hogarth. “Guns kill. You don’t have
to be a gun. You can be who you choose to be. You can choose.” And what the
Giant chooses is to be Superman, whom he encounters in one of Hogarth’s comic

Yet this part of his instruction, at least, hardly seems necessary, as the
only moral or intellectual datum the monster brings with it from outer space is
a programmed response to guns and other sorts of weapons. When it sees one, or
even a child’s toy that looks like
one, it shoots a death-ray which destroys it and, probably, the person holding
it into the bargain. We are to suppose that the death ray itself is somehow
exempted from the creature’s general disapproval of killing machines. The Iron
Giant, like many a progressive before him, is only opposed to guns in the hands
of others.

But Hogarth’s secret is not to be
kept for long. The government has got wind of the
Giant’s appearance and sent an
immensely obnoxious, pipe-smoking G-man called Kent Mansley (Christopher
McDonald)—clearly named for his role as agent of the
patriarchy—to poke around and ask
questions while patronizing both Hogarth and his mother. Experienced Hollywood
watchers will be able to predict everything else about the film from this point
on. Mansley naturally turns out to be a vicious coward only interested in his
own career who persuades his fellow fascists back in the Pentagon that the Giant
is a security risk.

In their subsequent attempt to capture or destroy him they unleash a nuclear
missile whose destruction of innocent life is only averted by an act of
self-sacrifice on the part of the Giant. Greater love hath no robot, it seems,
than he who getteth himself blown to bits for the sake of a cute little
kid—and because Superman is his role
model. And the moral of the story, children, is always to trust in the
benevolence of space junk and beatnik artists and to mistrust that of the U.S.
government and armed forces. In other words,
don’t let your kids anywhere near this

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