Media in the 90s was a weird creature. It was the decade the Internet boomed but had yet to achieve complete supremacy over media migration, and because of that circumstance it was the last decade new media was learned about via word-of-mouth. A weird concept to appreciate fifteen years after that practice held significant influence over what we consumed. Weirder still if you were a kid in that decade like I was and heard about Peter Chung’s Æon Flux.
As a kid I regularly consumed media that wasn’t age appropriate. I did so on purpose, surreptitiously, of course. And anyone who knows Æon Flux knows that it’s not fit for that age group despite it being animated, but I say it was inappropriate because I was unable to grasp what I was seeing at the time. It was something too wild for my mind to comprehend at the time. And despite it being horribly misunderstood, I lived for years with images of an industrial future where long-limbed people warred with each other for freedom and sexual payback with twisted sci-fi methods lifted from a mad scientist’s fever dream. Seeing it as an adult clarifies a great many things, making its oddities all the more mesmerizing.
Peter Chung’s Æon Flux is set in the midst of a shadow war between the only two nations in the world. Aeon Flux, a spy, saboteur and assassin from the nation of Monica, undertakes a series of missions to disrupt and undermine the ambitions of Trevor Goodchild, the technocratic dictator of Bregna and her occasional lover. The long and sordid history between spy and dictator fuels their enmity and attraction, making playthings of Monicans and Breens alike.
Æon Flux is art house in all its avant-garde glory and confusion. On the surface, one sees an industrial world pushed to its limits as the last two peoples slaughter each other while lusting after sex and power with animalistic voracity. And while those themes still hold true the deeper you look at what’s presented, there’s a great deal of esoteric offerings beneath that top layer of flesh.
In the original pilot and second season of the show, not a word of intelligible dialogue is exchanged. Each of those six episodes are silent stories of debauchery and death, where Aeon dies before the credits roll. In the pilot, we see how Monicans deal with this: An agent in Monica remotely atomizes Aeon’s body and incinerates her possessions and home, removing all trace of her existence, then awakes another Aeon Flux to resume her missions in Bregna. While this was a stylistic choice by Chung, who was unsure that MTV would allow for a full series order of his show, the title of the series and the name of its hero hints at the world’s main operating philosophy.
Aeon, as known in Valentinianism, a Gnostic exploraiton of Christianity, is the source of all being, made from male and female pairings known as syzygies. With the title and the character’s name, Chung intends to say that Aeon Flux is the source of all things in this reality, and her actions fluctuate the potential outcomes for either nations, Trevor, even herself. But this importance is only bestowed upon her when interacting with Trevor, giving their relationship reality-altering consequence. At the end of the original run, we see that to be the case, when Trevor and Aeon become inhuman in their pursuit of transcendental enlightenment. Yet only Trevor manifests as a different creature, identifying their relationship as something stranger when viewed under this new scope, revealing Aeon to be the demiurge of this reality and Trevor but a mere disciple, a follower in her footsteps, undermining his supposed brilliance that he used to lord over Aeon, Monicans and Breens.
With this realization in mind, the acts of sexual exploration, even outright deviancy, take on a new shape. They become less about perversions for the sake of titillating the audience and more about power struggles, ones where Trevor tries to enforce control over others to solidify his own superiority, and others where people beg Aeon Flux to take control from them. And so the world is is caught in a dilemma between these two characters. Will they allow themselves to be placed under the control of a god king like Trevor? Will they seek enlightenment from a supernatural force in the form of Aeon Flux? In the end, does it even matter? Or have they all been unable to choose paths all along?
I can wax poetic about Æon Flux for days on end. It’s one of the smartest pieces of fiction from the ’90s, certainly one of the most daring. For the attentive audience member there will be something new to discover upon each viewing, but it isn’t the most accessible work. Another reason why it maintained its obscurity despite being on MTV during one of its most popular eras.
As essential as a Gibson novel or every cut of Blade Runner, Æon Flux is an influential example of experimental storytelling that stands apart, free from comparison and emulation. A true original.
Æon Flux (10/10)