“State of flux”
Difficult though it may be to credit, especially for younger readers, there was a time when watching MTV could actually be interesting occasionally, back in the days when the station had its own animation division. The best-known product to seep out was Beavis and Butthead, but more interesting was Aeon Flux, perhaps the most dense and impenetrable animated series to reach a wide audience – even if the general reaction was “Eh?”
It debuted as part of Liquid Television, and right from the start, makes an impression with its lack of dialogue, weird design and astonishingly high body-count. The first series of mini-eps depicted the mission of an apparent secret agent, Aeon Flux, who comes within moments of solving the case of a mysterious epidemic, only to meet an untimely death. Undaunted, the second series had a variety of cases, whose only real linking theme was the repeated untimely death of Aeon.
Then MTV commissioned some 25-minute episodes, and things inevitably started to mutate. The characters started to speak (gasp!), but anyone who thought this meant it would become easy to understand was in for a shock – if anything, it added an extra new dimension of complexity. More of the setting was exposed: two countries, Monica and Bregna, of opposite character and once united, but now in perpetual tension. Extra characters were added, most notably Trevor Goodchild, the Breen leader, whose relationship with Aeon (a Monican “agent”?) is perhaps the central focus of the series.
“What I was trying to go for was a kind of ambivalence.” So said creator Peter Chung, and as ambivalence goes, there’s little doubt he succeeded – rarely has a show hidden its light quite as effectively. Very little is laid out for easy consumption, and each episode repays, and indeed demands, repeat viewings. Every action and line of dialogue sometimes seems to have multiple meanings.
If it has a weakness, it is perhaps too obscurist, and you wonder whether the show is quite as deep as it wants you to think. In addition, there are parts which, however stylish, just don’t seem to make sense. But Aeon is a fabulous character, who in the words of Chung, “is not someone who reacts to things. She makes things happen…she’s a force for change as opposed to the status quo”, and the combination of intelligence and malevolent brute force is immensely appealing. Chung again: “I think it’s undeniable that there’s a certain glamour or a certain seductive power of violence on film. Her whole design and the way she looks, the way she moves is engineered purely to evoke that attraction.”
A feature version of Aeon Flux has occasionally been hinted at (Liz Hurley would seem a leading candidate for any live-action version!), but at the moment seems somewhat unlikely, especially with MTV having now folded their Animation Division. Chung has moved on too, first to work on Phantom 2040, whose characters are clearly cut from the same cloth, in their spidery style, and then off to the Far East, for an animated series based on the life of, I kid you not, Alexander the Great. Whether anything created in his future will be as memorable, intense and downright impenetrable as Aeon Flux is surely in doubt.
Creator: Peter Chung
Star: (voice) Denise Poirier, John Rafter Lee