The Hard Technological Bodies of Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow

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Presentation given at the 2015 SCMS Conference in Montreal.

Presentation Slides: SCMS presentation 3.0 The Hard Technological Bodies of Elysium and Edge – film stills

Presentation Talk: SCMS 2015 presentation – Hard Technological Bodies

Abstract

Susan Jefford’s work on Reagan-era action movies established the “hard body” as the over-muscled biological spectacle that functioned as a unifying force for both “a type of national character” and “the nation itself” (25). The “mastery” that the hard body represents is echoed the equally spectacular hard technological bodies of the exoskeleton-enhanced protagonists of Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow. While Jeffords argues that the 80s hard body was deeply suspicious of “technological innovation” as a possible polluter of the hard body’s “individualism” (40), the 2014 hard technological body arises in reaction to the increased globalization of the world and terrorist attacks that has made international borders and conflicts far murkier. Simultaneously, such a body also reflects the extreme interpenetration that computerized technology has had in both global-national militaries as well as the average posthuman Western moviegoer’s life.

vlcsnap-00001Different than the all-encasing machine “suits” of the Iron Man and Robocop films or Pacific Rim, the exoskeleton, specifically as combat weapon, is one that deliberately melds the human and the machine so that both biological and technological are visible simultaneously. The literal “man-in-the-middle” soldier created by such an assemblage has roots in Norbert Weiner’s and Claude Shannon’s work at the Macy conferences post-WWII and is currently being developed for both military (formerly as the Future Combat System now as the Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization) and commercial uses. While I will briefly trace the representations of the exoskeleton through Aliens, The Matrix Revolutions and Avatar, a focus on the recent use of exoskeleton combat in Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow shows that biological muscle combined with and augmented by a technological apparatus generates a spectacle reminiscent of the 80s hard body. In this, the hard technological body has morphed its focus of mastery from international and physical conflicts to virtual and borderless ones. Such a transition encourages the contemporary machinic movie audience to view themselves not as the healthy symbiotic posthuman N. Katherine Hayles promotes; instead, the hard technological body, in an attempt to heroically reassert human exceptionalism, treats his/her computerized technology, specifically the Internet, as, first, a tool to be conquered and then a weapon to conquer with.