The Iron Giant

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sat Aug 21 18:02:43 MDT 1999


    Thanks for your take on the Iron Giant, which I've only read now, after
having gone to see the film yesterday with my ex and our two kids (9 and 5).

    I was indeed very surprised by the explicit polemical tone of the film.
I'm surprised it hasn't been denounced in Congress as un-American (perhaps
it has an I missed it).

    Interestingly, although I quite enjoyed the movie, my ex, who is
English, said she was moved to tears by parts of it. And thinking about it
there was something quite British about it.

    I missed the 50s --didn't get to this country until 1960-- but I'll tell
you that for someone who lived the missile crisis as an 11-year-old in
Miami, parts of the movie brought back lots of memories. I think I may go to
see it again with the kids next week (they're off school, and I'll be with

-----Original Message-----
From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>;
pen-l at <pen-l at>
Date: Tuesday, August 10, 1999 2:05 PM
Subject: The Iron Giant

>It is 1957. Home alone, the 10 year old Hogarth Hughes is eating Twinkies
>and watching television, while his waitress mother is at work. He is enrapt
>by a scene in a scary late-night science fiction movie about brains
>crawling across a laboratory floor. Since reports have been circulating
>about the arrival of a UFO into the ocean waters near his small seacoast
>town of Rockwell, Maine, the self-reliant Hogarth is prepared for nearly
>anything. When all of a sudden the reception on the television begins to
>fade, he goes to the rooftop and investigates. Somebody or something has
>taken a huge bite out the antenna. After noticing immense tracks in the
>dirt leading away from his house, he descends in the woods with a BB gun in
>hand to confront what must be a space monster.
>So begins a powerful animated film titled "The Iron Giant," based on a
>novel by Ted Hughes, England's poet laureate, written in 1968. Hughes, who
>died in 1998, wrote "The Iron Man" to comfort his young son after the death
>of his mother, the poet Sylvia Plath, in 1963. It is about, among other
>things, the persistence of life in the midst of death.
>Surely enough he discovers an immense iron giant robot eating metal parts
>from an electrical power station in the dead of night, as languidly as a
>gorilla nibbling on vegetation. When the iron giant accidentally touches a
>generator, he is jolted by a huge electrical charge which threatens to kill
>it. Making a snap decision--one that sets the plot in motion for the
>remainder of this great animated film--Hogarth runs through falling metal
>and arcs of high-voltage electricity to shut down the power. After the iron
>giant regains consciousness, he follows Hogarth home. Although immensely
>powerful, the giant is like a small child needing protection in an
>unfamiliar setting. As it turns out, the iron giant is the source of the
>rumors flying about Rockwell since it is he who has plunged into the ocean
>a few days earlier and swum to shore. Wandering about the woods of rural
>Maine, he has been subsisting on metal wherever he can find it--in parked
>cars or power stations.
>Hogarth soon learns that Kent Mansley, a government agent and the villain
>of the movie, is on the tracks of the iron giant, since anything
>un-American in 1957 is considered a threat to national security, whether it
>comes from Russia or outer space. After discovering that the giant is
>harmless unless attacked, Hogarth becomes his best friend and protector.
>Hidden away in the barn next to his house, the boy is teaching the robot
>the ways of the planet earth mainly through comic books like Superman and
>Mad. As he turns through their pages, we learn that their omnipresent theme
>is the threat of nuclear war. In one story, Superman defends the planet
>earth against a radioactive monster. The iron giant, who is slowly learning
>to speak, tells Hogarth that he wants to be like Superman. At school, the
>threat of nuclear war is every bit as real as it is in the comic books and
>in science fiction movies. They watch a movie called "Duck and Cover" that
>shows children how easy it is to survive a nuclear attack. Just duck and
>Hogarth finds an unlikely ally in the local beatnik sculptor Dean, who
>lives and works at a junkyard. He works there because he can use the scrap
>iron in his "far out" sculpture. After Hogarth has introduced him to the
>iron giant, Dean wastes no time putting him to work. He directs the giant
>to stack old cars one on top of another in a monumental sculpture. Those
>that aren't used in the artwork go directly into the giant's stomach. Dean,
>who is the polar opposite of Mansley, is a forerunner of the cultural and
>political changes that would emerge in the 1960s. He was one of the rebels
>"who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union  Square weeping and
>undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down," as Allen
>Ginsberg put it in the landmark poem "Howl".
>This film has all the appeal of "ET" or "Terminator part two". The myth of
>a child taking an extraterrestrial or dangerous monster under his wing and
>teaching him the ways of his world is vastly alluring. What gives "The Iron
>Giant" additional appeal is that this relationship is set against the very
>real backdrop of global annihilation in the 1950s, when the threat of
>all-out nuclear war was very much on the mind of all children, including
>myself. Hogarth Hughes was exactly the kind of animated feature character I
>could have identified with, and one, I'm sure, that contemporary ten year
>olds, both male and female, can identify with. The movie offers an
>alternative to the sentimental pap of the Disney studio as well. Instead of
>presenting challenges drawn from the world of fairy tales with a
>"politically correct" overlay, director Brad Bird confronts the real evil
>that lived and lives in American society. The voice of Hogarth Hughes is
>done by 12 year old Elie Marienthal, while Harry Connick Jr. is Dean and
>Christopher MacDonald is the government agent Mansley.
>Louis Proyect

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