Aeon Flux | 2005
Peter Chung, creator of the original MTV animated series, distanced himself from the big-screen transfer, though it’s hard to see how his near-silent, semi-abstract vignettes could have been turned into a feature film without dialogue and a solid backstory.
In the year 2415, after a disease has wiped out most of the human race, the Earth’s last city, Bregna, is protected by wall from the outside world and ruled over by Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), a descendant of the person who brought the mysterious infection under some sort of control. Life in the city, though, is something of a gilded cage, challenged by an underground resistance group called Monicans.
First choice to represent the city of ‘Bregna’ was Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, but ultimately the selection of Berlin’s ultra-design-conscious architecture is perfect – a startling array of chapels, a crematorium, a prestigious art museum, a foreign embassy and even a 21st Century state-of-the-art animal shelter.
The opening montage of the supposedly ‘perfect society’ gives a glimpse of many of the locations seen throughout the film.
The production was based at the the Babelsberg Studios at Potsdam, southwest of Berlin. Built in 1917 as the UFA (Universum Film Aktien Gesellschaft) Studios, the studio really is where Joseph Goebbels shot his notorious propaganda films for the Führer. Yet before being co-opted for such noxious vehicles as the infamous Jud Süss, Babelsberg was home to such classics of the Twenties and Thirties as Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Metropolis and The Blue Angel. The studio has had something of a resurgence in recent years with Inglourious Basterds, The Grand Budapest Hotel and V For Vendetta among the films shot here.
Not surprisingly, several of the film’s locations are near to Potsdam. The formal terrace garden bisected by a staircase can be found at Sans Souci, Potsdam’s complex of elegant palaces and parks. It’s here that Monican agent Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) receives, in a kiss, the pill that enables her to communicate psychically with The Handler (Frances McDormand).
From central Berlin, you can get a train to Potsdam and from the station, it’s a short bus ride to Sans Souci itself. You can see the palaces in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and in the ill-fated 2004 remake of Around The World In 80 Days.
Back in central Berlin, the inclined white pillars which form the striking façade of the marketplace, where Bregnians seem to be disappearing, is the entrance to the Embassy of Mexico (Mexikanische Botschaft), Klingelhöferstraße 3, directly south of Tiergarten.
Perhaps the most unusual practical location provides the overview of the city and the site of the final battle. This is Tierheim (animal shelter), Hausvaterweg 39, Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, northeast of the city.
The ultra-modern facility, one of the largest animal shelters in Europe, supplies ‘Bregna’s’ central core of circular buildings and water gardens. Opened in 2002 with cat houses, dog houses, a small animal house, a clinic and even an animal cemetery, Tierheim has since been expanded to accommodate rescued farm animals.
The pill swallowed by Aeon puts her into a trance state where she’s able to communicate with the Handler in what looks like a ghostly lecture chamber. And that’s just what it is. Continuing the animal care theme, this is Langhansbau Anatomisches Theater (Anatomical Theater of the University of Veterinary Medicine), Philippstraße 12/13, east of Luisenstraße in the historic quarter of Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt. The oldest surviving academic teaching building in the city, it’s now used as an exhibition and events space by the Hermann von Helmholtz Center for Cultural Technology.
The mission given to Aeon is to sabotage the Goodwill surveillance facility, which monitors Monican activity.
The spy centre with its swoopingly curvaceous elliptical roof turns out to be Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the World's Cultures), John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10, Germany's national centre for the “presentation and discussion of international contemporary arts” – a space for art exhibitions, theater and dance performances, concerts, films and conferences in the Tiergarten. Like many of the city’s landmarks, it has its own slyly descriptive nickname, in this case the Pregnant Oyster.
The unique history of Berlin weights many of its sites with a baleful significance which it’s hard to ignore. So it proves with ‘Bregna’s’ giant mural of Goodchild and the entrance to the city's subway system. This is the wide, blank frontage of Kirche Maria Regina Martyrum, (Commemorative Church of Mary Queen of Martyrs), Heckerdamm 230 in Charlottenburg-Nord.
This church honours the martyrs for freedom of religion and conscience during the years of Nazi rule and is a short walk from walk from Plötzensee Prison (now the memorial Gedenkstätte Plötzensee), where so many who resisted Hitler were executed – including those involved in Claus von Stauffenberg’s 1944 plot against the life of the führer.
The circular corridor surrounding the bustling marketplace, in which a man is desperately searching for his missing daughter and where Aeon meets her sister Una (Amelia Warner) to explain she can’t come to her party, is Kapelle der Versoehnung (Chapel of Reconciliation), Bernauer Straße 4.
The chapel stands on the site of the old Church of Reconciliation which, following the division of Berlin in 1945, found itself marooned in the Soviet sector, though most of its congregation came from the neighbouring French sector. As a further indignity, the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 left it inaccessible to everyone except border guards, who used its tower as an observation post.
In 1985, the church was finally demolished on the orders of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) government. The new chapel stands alongside the old foundations, which you can still see.
Una’s housing complex, where she’s mistaken for a member of the Monican resistance and killed, is the Bauhaus-Archiv, Klingelhöferstraße 14, which you’ll find a little to the south of the Mexican Embassy.
The Bauhaus Archive Museum of Design displays art pieces, documents and literature relating to the Bauhaus School, the influential minimalist functional design movement founded by Walter Gropius in 1919.
Aeon is now instructed to terminate Goodchild himself, and she insists on her companion Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), who’s usefully had her feet replaced by a second set of hands, accompanying her to cross the frontier garden to reach the government zone.
The oddly-crenellated section of wall where Sithandra meets up with Aeon is the Skatepark in the Volkspark Potsdam, northeast of the Sans Souci park in Potsdam. Created to host the 2001 Federal Horticultural Show, the park itself provides the deadly frontier garden with its booby traps and lethally spiky grass.
Another extraordinary location is the citadel chamber in which Goodchild witnesses the friction between his brother Oren (Jonny Lee Miller) and Giroux (Paterson Joseph). This is a crematorium – the Krematorium Baumschulenweg, Kiefholzstraße 221 – more superlatives – the most modern cremation plant in Europe when it was opened in 1999.
The film’s signature oval corridors, terminated by vertical slats, in which Aeon and Sithandra find themselves, are Windkanal, the Great Wind Tunnel of the Aerodynamic Park in Berlin-Adlershof, built in 1934. The tunnel, protected as part of the former location of the German Aerospace Center, was used to investigate air currents but it’s now not very stable and rarely opened to the public.
With the assistance of a guard’s headset, Aeon gets directions to the auditorium in which Goodchild is rehearsing his address to the council. The 1920s art deco Renaissance-Theater, Knesebeckstraße 100 at Hardenbergstraße in the Charlottenburg district, offers a break from all the bleak modernism. It was built to house a student association in 1902, becoming a silent cinema in 1919.
In October 1922 it reopened as the Renaissance-Theater and is claimed to be the only completely preserved original art deco theatre in Europe.
Aeon hesitates in her mission to kill Goodchild when he appears to recognise her, and calls her Catherine.
Arrested, Aeon soon escapes with the aid of a flock of little metal balls to confront Claudius (Nikolai Kinski), another Monican, about his collaboration with the Goodchild regime.
Botanist Claudius is beavering away among his plants to discover why the people of Bregna are experiencing strange dreams and memories of events that never happened.
The garden contains around 20,000 tropical plants, including orchids, epiphytes, and trees, including a palm grove and mangrove swamp, along with a waterfall, two lakes, and tropical wildlife, including iguanas, snakes, spiders, frogs, geckos, and pheasants, as well as a butterfly house. It is open daily (admission fee).
Aeon begins to realise that things are not as simple as they appeared – and perhaps Trevor Goodchild isn’t the villain she’s been led to believe.
Spoilers: It transpires that the cure to the industrial disease had the side-effect of rendering the population infertile and the human race is being kept viable by cloning.
Trevor and his brother Oren meet their clones in the Clay Headquarters Compound, the former American headquarters on Clayallee at Saargemünder Strasse in the Zehlendorf district.
Originally constructed by the Luftwaffe before WWII, the building was commandeered by the US Army Berlin as HQ for General Lucius D Clay during the Berlin Airlift (the emergency operation to deliver supplies to West Berlin after it was blockaded by the Soviet Union in 1948).
The compound has been sold to a private developer with plans to convert it into (surprise!) commercial office space and high-end condominium residences.
When the ambitious Oren declares his brother a traitor, Aeon and Trevor team up, escaping into Bregna’s subway system.
The entrance to the subway is Kirche Maria Regina Martyrum in Charlottenburg-Nord. again, but the station platform is the interior of the Velodrom, Paul-Heyse-Straße 26, in the Prenzlauer Berg district.
More than just a cycling arena, the Velodrom, built for the unsuccessful bid for the 2000 Olympics, now hosts all kinds of indoor sporting events as well as trade shows and concerts.
Aeon and Trevor suddenly pop up from the subway on the Spandauer Lake Bridge, crossing the River Havel, just north of Spandau (famous of course for the prison in which Rudolf Hess was long held).
When Trevor needs to recover his notes for the cure, the pair sneak into the guardroom tower, where guards are talked into cooperating. This cylindrical tower is the Trudelturm, another part of Berlin’s Aerodynamic Park (which earlier supplied the tunnels).
Once below ground this time, the team are making their way through the arched brick tunnels of the disused Gothic Filtergewoelbe Wasserwerk Friedrichshagen (Friedrichshagen Waterworks).
Once again, superlatives – when completed in 1893, this was the largest and the most modern of its kind in Europe, planned by UK engineer Henry Gill. Its buildings occupy a park-like setting on the bank of a lake, the Großer Müggelsee, and are preserved as the Waterworks Museum.
The final battle takes place back in the grounds of the Tierheim (the animal shelter). For the sake of the occupants I assume – and hope – the sound effects were added in post-production.
There’s a bittersweet epilogue set in the present day, as Trevor asks Catherine “Will I see you again?”. This takes place in front of the entrance to a small private garden alongside Riehmers Hofgarten, Hagelberger Strasse 9.