With the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), and Westworld (1973) technophobia became one of the major ‘meta-narratives’ of 1970’s American cinema. It sat comfortably alongside the ‘Revolt of Nature’ movie, the conspiracy thriller, the disaster movie, and movies set in post apocalyptic wastelands. All of these thematic strands functioned in very similar ways, and all of them sought to punish mankind for its hubris and arrogance. Other interesting examples of the ‘Revolt of Technology’ narrative include The Terminal Man (1973), Killdozer (1974), Futureworld (1976), The Car (1977), Android (1982), The Lift (1983), and Runaway (1984 - any more nominations please feel free to leave a comment!). But arguably the most absurd extension of this thematic pulse came in 1977 with Donald Cammell’s film of the Dean R. Koontz novel Demon Seed. Unlike his contemporary Stephen King, Koontz has largely been overlooked by Hollywood producers, and now churns out novels with such alarming regularity that each feels as inconsequential as the previous one. Whilst cinema screens have proved resistant to Koontz’ brand of fantasy, he has found a more receptive environment on television. A cursory glance at Koontz’ filmography however indicates that Demon Seed is easily the most prestigious and important film to be based on his work.
Whatever anyone might say in justifying the motivations and desires of Proteus, one undeniable fact of Demon Seed is that Susan Harris (Julie Christie) doesn’t deserve the torment she endures. She is a child psychologist, and is particularly sensitive to the notion of birth/children thanks to the untimely death of her daughter from leukaemia. Alex is able to totally absorb himself in the realisation of Proteus (to his credit one of the first results of the computers creation is a cure for leukaemia), but Susan must endure seeing the dehuminsation of both her husband, and the environment she lives in. Their home is entirely automated and run by a computer called Alfred. The marital problems suffered by the couple are odd, because they hinge entirely on opposing philosophical viewpoints about the nature and extent of computerised automation. One error that Proteus makes when he takes control is forcing Susan to do what he wants. One would expect him to have some sympathy for her situation, considering it was his own lack of control that has led him to take the action he has. But with the exception of the nerdy and harmless Walter (Gerrit Graham) Demon Seed is completely lacking in compassionate and understanding male characters. It comes as no surprise that Walter fails to survive the film, and his bizarre decapitation is something of a grisly highlight. With the cold, clipped, and precise vocal delivery of an uncredited Robert Vaughan as Proteus IV, he is a total reflection of the conceited male pride that has fostered him.
© Shaun Anderson 2011