The Iron Giant comes to us from the year 1999, but was really written and in 1968, by Ted Hughes. The original story and the film involve a giant metal robot that comes to Earth in the midst of the Cold War eventually meeting and befriending Hogarth Hughes. Where the film has “anti-war sentiments [that] are slightly more straightforward, with the Giant (spoiler) protectingthe world from a nuclear bomb instead of an interstellar dragon,” the basis for the multiple themes comes from the novel. Not only does the film take the leap into the anti-war camp it also presents themes of anti-gun and gun violence, and a critical look at the American military and ideologies that were instilled in the people of the 50’s. With the number of messages and the way the film casts the 50’s into such comical absurdity Giannetti would say this was an explicit leftist film that values Relativism and the future over absolutism and the past (Giannetti, 403-414).
The main message of the film is “Guns kill people.” Not only does Hogarth say it to the Iron Giant, he says it twice. It is the mere sight of guns that turn the lovable Iron Giant into a death machine. The first view of a Hogarth’s rifle sends the Giant into a frenzy that destroys a power station he is only able to get out of his rage due to being shocked. The next view of a gun comes from the death of a deer where the Iron Giant and children learn that guns are connected to death. The idea that guns equal death is never expounded beyond its original simple implication. The last guns are from the American military who has naively been attacking the Iron Giant. Lastly, because of the aggressive violence of the military it is up to the Iron Giant to then save the beautiful town of Rockwell (named after Norman Rockwell) from nuclear destruction. Whether this is a positive message or not is dependent on one’s own political views. If you are against guns this would be a very positive message, but if you strongly believe in the second amendment this movie would pose a negative message.
Another ambiguous message that this film provides is the way it questions and critiques the 50’s mentality. At every turn, director Brad Bird chose to make fun of and portray the 50’s as a crude and ignorant time. As Hogarth is in school they are watching on of the infamous “Duck and Cover” video that became a standard for a time when any day people expected World Wat Three to start with nuclear weapons that they could avoid if only they ducked and then promptly covered. The best and most incriminating part of the video within the movie is when the character that has done the above-mentioned duck-and -cover is literally hit with a rocket which blows up everything around them except they and the ground they were on are fine and surrounded by a massive trench. By exaggerating the ridiculousness of the already outlandish sentiments of how to be safe in case of nuclear war the movie paints the people of the 50’s as either idiots for believing this when it was so clearly not going to work or so desperate they have to believe in something. The film also takes a stab at the general Americanness of the 50’s through the military agent Kent Mansley. First and foremost, the name “Mansley” is probably a play on the ideologies of the time where men had to be Men(!) and they had to be manly to protect their country and provide for their families. This character is in a way what Giannetti was talking about with implicit film. Although the Iron Giant is still an explicit film, this subtheme is presented implicitly as the Protagonist and Antagonist “represent conflicting values” (Giannetti, 405). Mr. Mansley also has a short montage where he is trying to get information from Hogarth and in doing so uses every 50’s word or iconography of America possible. He uses every old-school term he can to refer to a young boy; “Sport, Buckaroo, Slugger, Tiger, Buddy, Ranger, Scout, Champ, Cowboy.” He smokes a pipe and even accompanies Hogarth to the diner. Mansley IS 50’s America, but he is the antagonist who is sneaky, sometime scary (especially when he locks Hogarth in a room and interrogates him even though Mansley already knows the answer), ambitious, and selfish. Mansley not only represents 50’s America he also represents a “National Security Agency” which is just the CIA. It may be a good thing to question the poor choices and ideals of the past especially when looking back on a time that encourage McCarthyism and Nuclear holocaust, but subtly infusing a distrust of the government can cause problems.
For me, I think this movie is good, and not just aesthetically or story wise. It has some interesting messages that I believe outweigh any other messages of questionable standing. In today’s society gun violence reaches new heights each year and the American people are being told to pick a side. Though this movie slants hard left on gun issues its never bad to instill the severity of guns in children. A weird sentence yes, but between the news, TV, and video games (all things that I think are awesome) children need to understand guns. I will say that I appreciate the demystifying of the 50’s that the film engages on, because it’s not a normal stance and the 50’s were awful! So, The Iron Giant will always be a great film that presents interesting, if one sided, messages and themes. 4 Stars!