Character/Plot Assassination – Iron Giant

This is a film that never got the accolade it should have when released in theatre, but like many unappreciated things, it gained its fame as a cult classic. It became popular as it was well loved and well received in its consumer appeal once it came to physical media.

But what is it about this film that makes it so special? We explore not just the movie, but the character of Iron Giant, and I show through my highly critical nature, my imagination, and the emotion in my eyes the magic I found.

Until a few weeks a few weeks ago, I never actually seen this film all the way through. I knew what it was about and saw the ending, but it never moved me until I saw the whole thing. I admit, I cried at the end. There is a lot to this movie, and I officially state it as my #5 favorite film of all time. This film gets one of my highest ratings of 98%.

What is great about the film is the titled character. Essentially, the Iron Giant, lands on the world and through a freak accident, he suffers amnesia. At first, the only person to know about him is Hogarth. There is the cliché in the film that his mother doesn’t believe him, thinking it is just his wild imagination. But I am not put off by that.

After making a second contact with the Iron Giant, he makes friends with him and teaches him to talk. But the secret of him cannot be contained and a man from the Government, Mansley, wants to find the giant and destroy him. The film is very good at capturing the mindset of the people and the country of the 1950’s.

So Hogarth brings him to the junkyard where we meet Dean. Dean, played by Harry Connick Jr was a great character, my second favorite in this film. We need more movies with Harry Connick Jr in it. So I will take a moment to pause here to talk about the Iron Giant, as it is here that he begins to develop more into a character.

During the meeting in the woods, we see the Iron Giant basically a blank slate. He begins to emulate Hogarth and though very mechanical, speaks. He shows signs of sentience, and throughout the film, begins to become sapient. At first he understands very little, but given that before he was a mindless killing machine, we cut him some slack. That is until his curiosity gets the better of him and wrecks the train tracks. Hogarth is able to convince him to put it back together. Here we see that not only does he have a curiosity, but also that he cares what Hogarth thinks.

So then we are in the farmhouse, the amnesia is played well that the Iron Giant is not fully aware of what he is, surprised that he repairs himself. Also in the farmhouse, the film uses Superman to begin the idea of morality. Hogarth insistence that the giant is Superman, the giant grows an attachment to it, despite having seen Atomo comic.

It is this instance that we begin to see the nature of the giant. He is becoming human. In his act of wanting to be more than what he is, and idolizing a comic book hero. This is a very humanesque thing to do. More than that, it is something we do as children. As children, we emulate our heroes, and the giant does this very much.

Of course, the biggest challenge any of us face is our nature, and whether we can be ruled by it or not. The problem we face in the film, is that the Iron Giant and his friends don’t understand his nature, and when seeing a gun, even a toy gun, his programming reacts to it and he becomes a weapon. This is not something he can control, but he doesn’t like being that thing. I do like that the character Dean was able to figure out that it was a defense mechanism.

Disappointed in himself, he runs away. Now he demonstrates guilt. But he redeems himself when he hears the cries of the town and comes to the rescue of a few boys falling to their death. This is the final component of the character, in becoming sapient. It wasn’t his programming that told him to save those boys, he made the choice to do so. Telling Hogarth that he is not a gun.

The Army now shows up and tries to stop the machine. The giant tries very hard not to let his programming overtake him, and was quite successful. He overcame his nature. Like anyone who has anger issues or suffers from addiction, he became more than the sum of his parts. He even covers his eyes when his programming tries to take over.

Like a human, he has a breaking point. This comes when he thinks that Hogarth is dead. He tried so hard to keep Hogarth alive and was his friend. Sorrow turned to anger, and anger allowed his defensive protocol to activate when the Army began to attack again. Eventually Hogarth gets up and goes after the killing machine, that is ready to destroy him and tells him:

It is bad to kill. Guns kill. You don’t have to be a gun. You are who you choose to be. You choose.

Hogarth is able to convince the Iron Giant to stop, appealing this its humanity. The humanity that Hogarth taught it to have. During this whole time, Mansley has been instigating the attack, believing it is best to destroy the Iron Giant, even recommending launching a nuclear bomb. This is where I subtract it two points. There are plenty of places I can criticize the film, but that is simply nitpicking. When the ship asks for the Generals orders to launch the nuke, Mansley gets on the radio and orders it. No military personal would take orders from anyone than the person who gives the orders. Even with the yelling, they would questioned who that was. This was bad writing in my opinion, to give the reason for the ending.

With the nuke launched, Hogarth explains it to the giant, that everyone will die. The Iron Giant looks at the people and understands, and then knows what must be done. He repeats to Hogarth what Hogarth said to him upon their first meeting and launches himself into space after the missile. The words that stopped him from being a weapon said by Hogarth repeat in his mind, that “You choose who you want to be” and right before the bomb hits, he utters, “Superman”.

To the very end, he only wanted to be something great, something better than what he was. Sometimes as humans, we forget this notion. A child’s imagination can have more virtue than most adults, and the Iron Giant proved that. More than that, he was willing to die to not save just Hogarth, but everyone, even the people who tried to kill him. Even though he technically survived, this was a true sacrifice.

That is a truly great character. What this made this character is Vin Diesel. He was the voice of the character. I was reading that the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, that the character Groot only has one line that is repeated throughout the film, “I am Groot”. That’s all he says. They tried to bring in other actors to play the role, but none of them were able to do it just right. Until they brought in Vin Diesel, and he was perfect for it. Not just because of his voice, but he kept asking the question, “What am I trying to say here?”, and with that, was able to give life to the character. I truly believe he did the same thing for the Iron Giant. He’s more known for his Fast and Furious films, but he is truly a great actor, and I think he is under utilized.

This is a truly magnificent film. I haven’t said everything there is to say about it, but then, you should go watch it if you haven’t seen it. Then again, you shouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t seen it. How far Brad Bird has come, From this, to the incredible, to Ratatouille, to Ghost Protocol.

Highly recommend this film.

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