It’s hard to think of a genre to slot Immortal into: science fiction? Well it’s set in the future, 2095 New York, and there are flying cars. Fantasy? The Egyptian god Horus jumps out of a giant pyramid. Dystopian? A company called Eugenics holds the city in virtual slavery, complete with nasty creatures called Dayaks who have a penchant for ripping people’s brains out.
The story is just as much a polyglot, with the plot being part thriller, part romantic and part philosophical quest. Made by Enki Bilal and based on the comic of the same name, Immortal flows around the need of Horus, condemned to death for a failed rebellion, to find someone with whom he can mate with before his un-timely demise. This quest leads him to Nikopol (Thomas Krestchmann), a rebel like himself, whose body Horus partially takes control of and together they seek out Jill, an alien being turned into a human by John, (who’s a kind of alien trafficker). Jill (Linda Hardy) and Nikopol are wanted by Eugenics who use aliens for medical experiments, so both must rely on Horus for protection.
Science fiction fan? Have a look at our preview of Star Wars Episode VII.
The film has come in for criticism because of its effects and strange cocktail of genres, with some reviewers complaining of too much to see and too little to think about. What many critics failed to acknowledge was that Immortal is a film that deliberately sets out to break the mould. The world of the future is half live action, half a strange cartoon-like CGI, the blending of the two serving as a visual cue to the way the film blends together the disparate strands of its narrative. In much the same way that when completing a jigsaw, you start at the edges before filling in the rest of the picture: so Immortal introduces us to the players and then gradually brings them, and the differing aspects of the film, together for the denouement.
The nature of what makes life Human is the central theme of this film as Jill completes her transformation from alien-to-woman. Brought to Earth by John- who for years has been helping aliens to sneak into New York. Jill sheds her skin quite literally, developing hair, organs and even tears. Those tears stain her skin blue, which brings her to the attention of Dr Elma Turner, (Charlotte Rampling), amongst others, who pays Jill to record her transformation. This part of the narrative explores what can be best described as the immigrant experience with Jill plunged head first into finding out what it means to be Human. There are even comedic moments, with Jill ripping up a monkfish, which she eats raw before telling a snooping inspector that she likes to caress herself with bird feathers, ‘preferably black’. There’s wonder too as Jill wanders around a museum wide eyed over human anatomy, her naivety and discovery endear you to her as a character. There’s also danger however, and a reminder that she has few legal rights until she finishes becoming human, with the threat of Eugenics picking her up just the way they would a stray dog.
The action is quite frenetic in places, particularly the finale which takes the form of a good old-fashioned car chase, (apart from the fact there’s just one car and a flying hammerhead shark).
Much of Immortals’ expression lies beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered rather than overtly presenting itself, with the film’s message expressed in little moments here and there, but this isn’t a movie where accusations of a slow pace (a charge sometimes applied to Bilal’s other films such as Bunker Palace Hotel) or an overly pretentious narrative could be applied. The action is quite frenetic in places, particularly the finale which takes the form of a good old-fashioned car chase, (apart from the fact there’s just one car and a flying hammerhead shark). While the characters are utterly fantastical, they remain relatable and as a result, the film is immersive. There’s even a happy ending of sorts but for the most part Immortal is a film that wins you over through its combination of action, drama and unique visual appeal (which, admittedly, is not universally appealing,) all of which serve to make an unoriginal plot; boy meets girl pursued by the bad guys; into something far greater and far more rewarding an experience to watch.
By Gareth Wood