“Did we crawl out of the prehistoric ooze for this? For 4chan and Hipster Runoff?”
The digital is a god’s-eye view, more perfect than the human eye can bear. The only human figures who appear in Bang! are a cartoon Neanderthal dragging his knuckles, a gaggle of 3-D animated children, and a man wearing a dog’s head. Every other character is played by a dog. The animated children are the least human apparitions; blank-eyed, smiling fixedly and rendered in a range of skin tones, they float around the philosophising dogs, more sinister than cute. ‘Man anthropomorphizes himself – that is the first misrecognition,’ squeaks Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola, played by a Jeff Koons-style golden balloon dog, as the equally hollow-looking children float off into the ether, mysterious grins still intact. An introduction in which Pico explains that his name is ‘Latin for tiny’ and his surname ‘sounds like mirror’ uses the tone of BBC educational programming only to open up new vistas of incomprehension. ‘I wrote 900 theses,’ says the dog, referring to a seminal work by Pico that attempted to lay the grounds for total knowledge; the children float away, unconcerned. The script seems visually unsupported here, cut loose; but these moments where image and text detach are enjoyably disorienting, and allow the film to hover between didacticism and the pleasure of images – again, not unlike children’s TV, although free of the nostalgia that implies. Yet the film is more dialectical than that; the fluent, ultra-contemporary images point to the didacticism of the spectacle, which teaches us how to see, and the history and philosophy lessons that comprise the script are compressed into brief, saturated moments: images.
Faithful to the Theodor Adorno quote that begins the film – ‘No universal history leads from savagery to humanity’ – Bang! doesn’t presuppose the human as a natural fact but presents the necessity of formulating it, or protecting its promise, through social effort: art, philosophy, struggle. The long history the film (preposterously, humorously) traces is not the endurance of an always-existing humanity but a history of how the human has been understood in different social conditions. Socrates, played by a stone dog presiding over Victoria Park, announces ‘Men have no world, but they have language’; in response, Alcibiades (also a statue of a dog) speculates eagerly, ‘If I’m not yet a man, I could be some kind of god!’