The Iron Giant was created as The Iron Man, a sci-fi novel by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. The original setting for this science fiction fairy tale was rural England. However, the film adaptation takes place in Rockwell, Maine, in 1957. This is at the beginning of the space race and at the height of Cold War tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
The Iron Giant Comes To Earth
The Giant enters the Earth’s atmosphere as a fiery meteor and lands in the Atlantic. A local fisherman initially sees The Giant and spreads the word to everyone in town. While the Giant makes a meal of the local power station (he consumes metal for sustenance), a young boy, Hogarth Hughes, meets him for the first time.
Overall, we are guided through the eyes of Hogarth Hughes during this story. He lives with his widowed mother Anne Hughes in the woods surrounding Rockwell. Hogarth is an outsider to the kids in his class because of his fascination with science fiction, pulp magazines, and the paranormal. The unknown fascinates him while most fear it. Moreover, his curiosity leads him to discover and befriend the Iron Giant.
The Character Of The Iron Giant
The Giant’s character is the most developed in the film. He is a being of stark contrast. On one hand, he could wipe out humanity with impunity. On the other hand, the Giant shows affection and kindness to others. He grows into a type of Christ-figure. Christ had all the power and authority to destroy us, but He offered salvation instead. This is the question the people of Rockwell and the military must answer: is this god-like being here to destroy us or save us?
Hogarth needs to find a hideout for the Iron Giant, and he takes the Giant to the local scrapyard. Here, the Giant can hide and eat metal to his heart’s content. The situation is ideal until the owner, Dean, discovers the Iron Giant living there. Dean is different from the people of Rockwell because he is willing to look past his fear and listen to Hogarth.
Hogarth persuades Dean to allow the Giant to stay for one night. By the time Hogarth returns the following day, Dean has the Giant creating junk sculptures. Dean sees the capacity for creativity in the Giant. The three of them spend time together each day. Dean watches out for Hogarth and Hogarth begins to look up to Dean.
Kent Mansley: The Restless Antagonist
Detective Kent Mansley soon arrives in Rockwell after hearing reports of the Giant. Mansley is a stand-in for the paranoia that can seep in as fear replaces compassion. He rents the extra room in the Hughes’ home. Kent sits at the breakfast table next to Anne Hughes. He symbolically fills the space that Hogarth’s father would have occupied. Kent is a paternal counterpoint to Dean. Kent is willing to use Hogarth, but Dean protects Hogarth and spends time with him. Dean is in every way the compassionate man that Kent is not.
Kent Mansley’s hunt for the Giant culminates in a direct conflict between the U.S. Army and the Giant. Kent, in a fit of madness, orders a nuclear strike on its position. The people of Rockwell, military personnel, and the Giant await certain annihilation. The Giant completes his arc as a messianic figure when he leaves Hogarth and flies into the missile’s path. Pieces of the Giant then rain down over Rockwell.
In The End, There’s Hope
After a brief time jump, we see Anne Hughes and Dean walking arm in arm. Hogarth plays with his friends in the shadow of a monument to the Giant’s sacrifice. This bittersweet coda becomes hopeful as we see the disparate pieces of the Giant begin to move and reassemble. We don’t end up seeing the Giant’s resurrection in the film but it is certain.
In conclusion, The Iron Giant is a wonderful film in the tradition of ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It is no surprise that Spielberg directed both of those films. He framed supernatural wonder in domestic American life. All three films show that amazing power is most clearly understood by those with very little of it. They demonstrate that there is no neutral ground when confronted with such power. Christ, in the same way, came to the weak and demanded an answer from all.
You may also consider reading another Live The Adventure Letter Article: Casablanca: Movie Review
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