Trevor Goodchild & Desty Nova: The modern evolution of the "mad scientist."greenspun.com : LUSENET : Aeon Flux : One Thread
This is actually something I wrote about several weeks ago in my livejournal, but I figured it's something that could spark an interesting discussion in here :) Most of this is copy-pasted from the LJ entry, but with a few more recent additions.
This isn't meant so much to reduce Goodchild and Nova to a "new" version of the mad scientist archetype, but to analyze their vastly complex personalities in such a way that those properties naturally become more obvious. Here goes:
Having beaten the SNES game Terranigma again recently (fantastic action RPG if you haven't played it before!), the character of Dr. Beruga got me thinking. For as long as I've appreciated various forms of fiction (books, movies, comics, manga, video games, etc.), I've always gotten the most satisfaction from the archetype of the mad scientist. Not just the standard maniacal inventor you see in B-movies constantly, but a more complex variation of that character. The more "advanced" version of the mad scientist actually has benevolent - or at least positive - goals, often aspiring to resolve humanity's greater ills and conflicts; however, his own past experiences and his present character flaws blemish those higher aspirations, and his means are less than sterling. The two most fitting examples of this archetype are Trevor Goodchild (from the MTV show Ĉon Flux) and Desty Nova (from the manga GUNNM/Battle Angel Alita).
Trevor Goodchild, through his extraordinary willpower and intelligence, sets out on vast, all-encompassing plans of radical change for mankind; both his willpower (which requires a massive ego) and his intelligence (which fosters cynicism, realism and pessimism alike), however, force him to realize that not only are baser means necessary for these endeavours, but that few will appreciate his efforts and that he'll simply have to go over their heads. Becoming the dictator of Bregna seems more a consequence of these attitudes and motivations than a cause of them. Trevor's image is further tarnished when his less admirable attributes show themselves: his self-centered nature - his benevolence serves his ego more than anything else; his fundamental insecurity, which he attempts to disguise and overcompensate for through his various actions; and his desire and constant drive for dominance, manifested via Flux herself. Thus, his expansive, positive endeavours - forced evolution, a fundamentally greater openness of society, the creation of new and varied life - become either self-serving, negatively manipulative or outright destructive through his need for independence, his perception of his own superiority, and his own baser desires; the Aldus B ray would instigate evolution at a great cost of life, the openness of society fulfills his own voyeuristic bent and ensures his continued dominance over Bregna, and the Habitat necessitates an ocean of paralytic fluid to keep out meddlers. Goodchild still displays a great deal of humanity and sensitivity, though, especially in episodes like "A Last Time for Everything," where his own machinations result in both the gain and loss of the one he most cares for. His love/hate relationship with Flux speaks volumes not only of his capacity for empathy, but his immediately human, imperfect passions: even as a man driven by genius and "higher" goals, his desires and emotions have just as great a stake in his actions - and his character as a whole - as any of his other properties. If one analyzes Aeon Flux with Goodchild as the focal point, Flux herself becomes the natural foil and counterpart to expose and excite these aspects of his personality. In the end, he's not just some kind of evil scientist/dictator, but a man whose genius, sensitivity and benevolence are at odds with his arrogance, cynicism, insecurity and manipulative nature.
Desty Nova displays a lot of similarities to Goodchild: his first and foremost goal - to free mankind from the shackles of karma and allow him to fulfill his greatest potentials - comes at the cost of gruesome and ultimately destructive experiments. Nova's own insanity and his elevation of science to a humanist ideal taint his methods even further, and though he retains a sensitive personality he has no qualms with sacrificing people for his grand experiments. His character was created by a member of a culture (Yukito Kishiro) whose fiction often chastises its characters for elevating science above nature, which casts an even more negative light on Nova and his methods. Yet despite his crimes and misdeeds - his rigged augmentation of Jashugan, his allowing Zapan to run amok in the berserker body, allowing Den to become a menace from Kaos's body, and especially the hundreds or thousands of people mutilated by his other experiments - Nova displays great sensitivity and acts as a catalyst not just for the advancement of the negative characters, but that of the positive characters as well. He gives Gally the Imaginos body, gives her the means to destroy Zapan, and in the final world the Ouroboros created for her acts as a father figure, and even displays his utter humanity when questioned by the "altered" Gally - taking off his glasses (for the first and, so far, only time in the series, acting as a metaphor for his stark emotional nakedness at that moment) and reflecting on his ultimate motivations. After expressing his desire for a world without decay or imperfection - he "spits upon the Second Law of Thermodynamics" - the Ouroboros dream shatters, and, deprived of that brief, dizzying moment of perfection, weeps openly as he attempts to destroy Gally one more time - and Gally shares that desire for that moment. Ultimately, though their relationship isn't nearly as close or as varied as that of Goodchild and Flux, the bond between Nova and Gally forged at that moment speaks of just how vulnerable and passionate Nova can be, beneath his various elements of cruelty, vanity and insanity.
In the end, both characters are sensitive and positively motivated, but commit numerous crimes, often horrific ones, because of the nature of their expansive plans, their own massive scientific and/or politcal power, and ultimately their own human flaws. One might compare both these characters, and others of their kind, to the Ayn Rand-ian ubermensch - geniuses whose far-reaching ideas could only prosper within amoral boundaries and total, utter independence from both societal mores and moral restrictions. Their methods also point to a kind of social Darwinism - only the strong shall survive, and the progeny of their ideas and deeds shall in the end become both stronger and more beneficial to humanity as a whole. But these characters are ultimately more flawed and imperfect than Rand's idealized characters, and as such are far easier to believe and identify with. These characters - and others like them - display such a vast range of character that although they maintain iconic, larger-than-life qualities, they still inspire both empathy and understanding.
Hope this opens up some interesting avenues of discussion ;)
-- Brian Davis (email@example.com), March 28, 2003
Hate to bug people like this, but *bump* for the New Answers page. :)
-- Brian Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 31, 2003.
Wait... you had Terranigma in English? Lucky bastard.
It's one hell of a post alright. I don't know enough Alita (having only read 1 volume, and seen the anime by Madhouse) to comment on it, but your analysis of Trevor seems accurate.
-- Inu (email@example.com), March 31, 2003.
Whoa, I might try that game.
In regards to ethical doctrine, would you call both characters utilitarian? - I don't know what avenues are opened up by a belief in Karma - but their ultimate ideals seem befitting. Or, such may be a front disguising that both, when it comes down to it, are egocentric absolutists. (Could you elaborate on Desty's "ultimate potentials"?) Why not render the rest of humanity harmless via sustaining each and everyones constant satisfaction.
Should a single person achieve such a thing, would their value stand, above the sum of that equity, or seperately equal to it. Or is it the inability of both these two, to join such a collective, that prevents the acheiving any such goal at all?
-- Sam (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 31, 2003.
blah, thats fucked, was very tired.
-- Sam (email@example.com), April 01, 2003.
"In regards to ethical doctrine, would you call both characters utilitarian? - I don't know what avenues are opened up by a belief in Karma - but their ultimate ideals seem befitting. Or, such may be a front disguising that both, when it comes down to it, are egocentric absolutists. (Could you elaborate on Desty's "ultimate potentials"?) Why not render the rest of humanity harmless via sustaining each and everyones constant satisfaction. "
If what I take as your definition of "utilitarian" is accurate, I think their personalities stem in both directions. As experienced and intelligent individuals, they recognize that, ultimately, standard moral and social values can only act as a hinderance upon a person's potential in any capacity. They apply this to themselves, of course, giving them more leeway in their pursuits, but they apply this to all other human beings as well, even their adversaries. If Trevor didn't value (and indeed lust after) the vast willpower and strength, and the potential therein, of Aeon Flux, would he have ever let her even exist, let alone run free most of the time? He pursues Aeon, in an attempt to exercise dominance, but very rarely does he actively restrain her; only when she begins to interfere with his own plans and actions does Trevor attempt to suppress Aeon's will. Desty Nova is even more liberal in his attitude toward individual potential: stated in an alternate form by Gally, Nova's desire to eliminate karmic restriction comes from his desire to "let everybody fly with their own wings," i.e. act independently and assertively in order to realize and exercise the full extent of their own strength. Rarely does he act to restrain characters, and most of the time acts to augment their imperfect bodies in order to fully realize what he believes to be a perfect psyche and will (this runs the full gamut of characters from Makaku, to Jashugan, to Den, to Zapan, to Sechs [in Last Order], even to Gally when she doesn't immediately threaten him). Nova only acts as an adversary to Gally when she attempts to stop his experiments or thwart his plans, but even then he's revived her, reluctant to waste what he believes to be an incredibly strong human being.
Perhaps some of their goodwill comes more as a form of self- justification and ego-inflation, but for the most part their basic desire is for a benevolent, unrestricted egoism: that each person act independently and unfettered in pursuit of his own desires, and achieve whatever his ultimate potential may be. Yeah, it's pretty Rand-ish, but Rand portrays her egoist characters as unilaterally beneficient and flawless, while Goodchild and Nova exist in an imperfect world and are themselves quite flawed. Their attitudes and practices, and thus their methods of "benefitting" mankind, are flawed and come entirely from a human perspective, casting them in a negative light; but to be able to see beyond these flaws, into the more complex aspects of the characters, is to better understand them, and gain more satisfaction from them in general. Thus, I can believe in and support these characters a lot more than a Howard Roark.
"Should a single person achieve such a thing, would their value stand, above the sum of that equity, or seperately equal to it. Or is it the inability of both these two, to join such a collective, that prevents the acheiving any such goal at all? "
Again, the whole egoist thing kinda covers both bases: each individual has almost unlimited potential, that when unfettered he can achieve things far beyond other men; yet the ultimate ideals that peek through the seemingly malevolent or destructive actions of Nova and Goodchild are that every man have the opportunity to exercise his willpower and achieve to the very limits of his imagination, without the restrictions of societal or moral boundaries.
-- Brian Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 02, 2003.
I just realized something else as well: Trevor Goodchild and Desty Nova are, for the most part, very solitary characters, and in light of their attitudes one can draw from Henry Thoreau's Walden as well. Thoreau believed that, to fully recognize and understand the self, one must separate himself from society at large, which in his perspective almost entirely suppresses introspection and understanding. Thoreau believed in immersion in nature, but Nova and Goodchild find their own solitude in their "ivory towers," so to speak. And, as Thoreau's tone in Walden often conveyed contempt for and superiority to those who disagreed with him, Nova and Goodchild share that superiority complex, albeit in a more outwardly active form. There's even one passage in Walden that, whether Throreau realized it or not, indicates that total immersion in nature can result in an even further retreat into the self, to the point where one loses perspective on the external world and cannot function as before; and I think Goodchild and Nova have lost some perspective in their practices of isolationism and self- absorbtion, rendering the execution of their plans less than ideal.
(This is what I get for being a lit major. :P )
-- Brian Davis (email@example.com), April 02, 2003.
They recognise that 'standards' hinder the individuals greater potential. Yet, standards in a society are what stand up to the collective. Surely, prevalent standards exemplify what boundaries are required for the maintenance of any such collective at all. Such states are of course mercurial, improved standards are often due to pushed boundaries. One could argue that such changes are as gradual (slow) as they actually need to be - trial and error maybe?
I take it, both Trevor and Desty feel they perceive the best ways in which to direct change, or change direction. In any case, I wonder if, as agents of change, their contributions would be catalytic or mutagenic? Bits of both I guess, but I just want to separate the two for reasons undefined thus far.
I'd probably associate Trevor as a mutagenic agent of change, he gripes about how no one is on his wavelength, and seeks to alter humanity so that all are mutually beneficial. Of course he also seems to have no qualms with altering himself if need be. Perhaps it was his inability to stand the alienation caused by his retreat into the self that drove him to come up with his variety of utopian ideals in the first place. If his plans are of 'alien' origin, it seems reasonable to assume that the effects would be mutagenic. I guess transmuting could be perfectly desirable, yet if he is to bridge the gap between himself and humanity, bridging a gap between himself and Aeon may be required to assure his own stability as such a component. In fact therein may lie the only real source of his problems - An inability to connect with his significant other? Attempting to achieve his goals without such an 'other' (as he does), may be unwisely denying the biological truth of duality - therefor for his influence could cause ensuing mutation to a perhaps, undesirable degree.
Desty seems like a catalytic agent; wishing to initiate what sounds like a desirable inevitability, ie. The apotheosis of humanity, whereby all are as individuals realising their greatest potentials. It's a quantum leap, sounds dangerous though; what of conflicting issues? Or, is the point that, despite the diversity of paths, all would ultimately reach the same apex (nirvana?), thus beneficial mutuality would ensue? Desty's isolation, may well be what gave him the ability to take an external vantage point and perceive a greater direction for humanity, yet in tie, deprived him of the ability to perceive its scope internally.
View: Panoramic, yes - Kaleidoscopic, no. Or vice versa? What do think?
-- Sam (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 04, 2003.
I like how you described the difference in effect between Goodchild and Nova. You got it precisely right: Nova believes that the ultimate potential for nirvana (or perhaps "nirvana," in that his intentions are more to bring out potential to its greatest manifestation) is inherent in every human being, and only needs the right "encouragement" in order to instigate it; whereas Trevor seems more pessimistic in his view on societal perfection, believing that humans are inherently imperfect and that their greatest potential is not possible unless great changes - psychologically, socially and even physically - are imposed upon them. As you said, Trevor is a mutagenic agent in that he wishes to change what he sees as flawed, whereas Nova is a catalytic agent because he wishes to foster that which he believes already exists.
And yes, Desty's plans for society point toward the idea that, despite each individual's divergent paths, their combined potential, when brought out to its fullest, will ultimately be beneficial for society (and perhaps act as catalysts themselves for others to exercise their ability). Trevor's view is slightly more complex, though: his plans attempt to benefit and change society at large (revealing a more communal and unified, yet more uniform version of humanity), whereas his personal goals are entirely individual and personal (in dealing with everyone from Aeon to the Seraph Trebs, Sibyl, Bargeld, and so forth). Trevor's perspective may be that each individual is forced to live within a larger society, but inevitably must follow his own will as well; thus, changing society at large will instigate change on a personal level as well. It's interesting to see that, despite their different perspectives on human nature, their opponents are very similar: strong-willed and assertive, yet sensitive and emotional at the same time.
As for panoramic/kaleidoscopic: can you define what you mean by these terms? I'm not exactly getting what you're saying there.
-- Brian Davis (email@example.com), April 04, 2003.
Man, after a while I'm going to have to write a more "official" version of this. This discussion has actually brought out a lot of ideas I already had about the two, and if I could get it into the form of a single paper it'd be pretty powerful I think. :)
-- Brian Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 04, 2003.
I was kind of, vaugely speculating on possible ways to describe the views offered by either characters points of isolation: Panoramic, pertaining to the unbroken view of an entire area (would telescopic be more suitable?). Kalidoscopic, in regards to a view of constantly changing colours. They seem contradistinctive whereby one is suited to a comprehension of outer-scope and the other; inner-scope. In either case they sound like the kinds of omni perspectives an isolated genius would cognize, or try to.
-- Sam (email@example.com), April 06, 2003.
I'd say Trevor definetely has a more panoramic view of humanity and his goals: all his actions, as both a leader and scientist, tend toward vast, universal and unifying changes in humanity. Nova, on the other hand, has a much more fragmented and kaleidoscopic perspective on his goals, concentrating on the potential of each individual as an indicator for the whole, rather than on the entire mass of humanity at once.
-- Phi-Human (firstname.lastname@example.org), May 23, 2003.
Ooh! yaii bemember when that snake head dude stried to kiss alita? his tung sho was big!!! Desty Nova is like ma cousin Merle. Merle even eats Flan. Delicious Flan....
-- Hachiman Nishkawa (email@example.com), November 23, 2004.