Film reviews

#490 – Artemis 81 (1981)

Artemis 81 (1981)

Film review #490

Director: Alistair Reid

SYNOPSIS: An epic battle for the future of mankind is about to wage between Helith, the angel of light, and Asrael, the angel of death, Novelist Gideon Harlax finds himself caught up in the middle of this struggle, as the world becomes the battlefield…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Artemis 81 is a 1981 TV movie. The overall story concerns the battle for the future of mankind between the angel of light named Helith, and the angel of death, Asrael. At the centre of it all seems to be Gideon Harlax, an occult novelist who has detached himself from all emotion. This TV film is very slow-paced and meandering: the first act deals very much with exploring the human creative process and dealing with emotions, which as you might expect is a very broad and varied wander through a lot of different subjects. The film definitely requires your full attention to understand what is going on across its three-hour runtime, but even then you might not get the whole picture, as the themes it explores are very subjective and may not directly impact the story. There’s definitely plenty of depth to it’s exploration of its subjects, and it pushes the boundaries of what you might expect something produced in 1981, in terms of its discussion of homosexuality, suicide and sex. All in all, there is a lot going on in this film, and while it is all very deep and powerful, there’s little sense of pacing and being able to produce an overall coherent narrative: part of that is intentional, because it is very much an exploration of the messy thoughts and feelings of people, but the part of it which ties everything into this battle between the two angels never manages to achieve it’s goal I think.

The film starts off focusing on Gwen Meredith, and her chance meeting with famed musician Albrecht von Drachenfels, whom she wishes to play for. She wishes to explore the depths of feeling and expression in her music, but Gideon, her…friend? husband? I honestly couldn’t work it out; his indifference to getting emotionally involved with anything forms a stark contrast with the people around him. We see his discussions with a number of people baring their souls while he remains cold and unmoving, and it works as a setup that allows us to explore the themes the film sets out. The plot of the two angels battling it out is the most interesting aspect, but it’s typically dealt with so abstractly it’s quite difficult to follow. There’s a plot concerning Albrecht and his Mother, and how this relates to the two angels trying to either wake up their Mother or let her sleep, but again it’s left mostly open to interpretation. On a somewhat interesting note, the angel of light is played by Sting in his first big (?) acting role: luckily, his awkward portrayal works pretty well since he’s playing an angel that doesn’t really know how to interact with humans.

Overall, Artemis 81 is a very full-bodied experience that requires your full concentration to grasp both the overall story and the exploration of the issues it raises. The uneven pacing doesn’t help with respect to getting to grips with the content of the film either. The dialogue is extremely unnatural and metaphysical, leaving every conversation feeling like an exercise in philosophical discourse. Despite all of this opacity though, Artemis 81 does have the courage to push some boundaries, and takes the subjects it addresses seriously, and if you have the concentration to watch it uninterrupted for its three hour runtime, then it’s an interesting film of it’s time.