"Tetsuo: The Iron Man" is probably one of the most disturbing and also one of the most relevant geek movies I've ever encountered. The movie deals with the idea of technology taking away our humanity, and how it happens both by intention and by accident.
It was directed by Shinya Tsukamoto and was released in the US in 1992. It runs 67 minutes.
As a general disclaimer, this move is fairly anti-technology, but I love technology. It serves as both a wonderful sci-fi movie, and as a disturbing and painful warning sign that makes me often pause to think twice about where the technology that I live with and work with is really taking me.
The second part of the disclaimer is that this node is in some sense a spoiler because I do to some extent tell the story of the movie through my eyes and with my interpretation. There is so much detail and symbolism in this movie that I make no pretense of understanding what it's all about, and I'd love to see more writeups with different points of view. Also, since many people can't make it through this movie due to the creepiness and gore factor, it may be beneficial to people who want to know what happens in the end but can't stomach it in full visual detail. My memory is not perfect, and I completely encourage anybody who is even slightly inclined to go watch the movie before reading any further.
The film is in black and white, the dialog is in Japanese, but the movie is available subtitled in English. The plot starts out with this guy who is slashing open the flesh of his thigh in a noticably grimy industrial setting to implant a metal rod, and then he bandages up the leg. Time passes and he takes off the bandage and sees maggots crawling on his leg, and he runs frantic with fright (and probably fever) and ends up running out in front of a car and gets run over.
To me this represents humans pushing new technologies on themselves in a not terribly well thought out manner, and suffering consequences he didn't fully consider (the maggots and panic, not the car).
The focus of the movie at this point switches to a new character (Tetsuo) who is shaving in the morning and preparing to go to work when he finds a small piece of metal (looks like a bolt or a piece of wire) growing out of his face, and he is more than a little upset and treats it like a pimple, popping it (out comes what looks like oil), and putting a band-aid over it.
To me this represents the human reaction to look the other way and avoid thinking about scary or unknown things in our environment, and a general state of denial about the risks we are subjecting ourselves to with technology.
On the way to work he has what I'm fairly sure is a daydream/nightmare sequence in the subway station, where he is being chased by this woman with pieces of metal and wire and other mechanical and electrical stuff growing out of her hand and arm in a seemingly chaotic and precarious manner. She moves in a lurching but alarmingly steady and non-human pace. He runs down the into the innards of the station, and eventually into a bathroom where she follows him. For a moment he thinks he has lost her, but is still reeling from the whole situation, and then bits of oil and detritus start dripping down on him from above the stall which is where she is. He continues to run away, and eventually beats her to "death". After he snaps out of it, he is back where he started in the subway, and (i'm not sure if this belongs to the dream sequence or not), on his way out he sees this wriggling piece of what looks like that woman's cyborg arm.
I'm not quite sure how to interpret this, it's clear that it represents a realization that he's got a tiger by the tail, but I feel that there is some deeper cultural meaning that I may be completely missing not being from Japan. I am sure that this is where his denial is shattered at least on some internal level, but he is not admitting it to himself on a conscious level quite yet.
As time progresses he becomes more mechanical, and it gets harder for him to keep control of himself, and you can see that he's struggling on some level to keep his humanity, as is expressed in his interactions with his girlfriend.
There are two developing sub-plots which bear mentioning. First, another "character" is introduced, which I believe to be a metaphor for his soul, inner voice, humanity, or whatever you want to call it. This character is represented by a man basicly crammed into a small space and surrounded by technological detritus, wires, gears, etc... Think of how the pilot of a tank is crammed in there, and add the whole contents of all your computer junk bins and connector drawers. There is a television in that space, which is exageratedly grainy and flickery. Another thing worth mentioning is that when there is conflict between Tetsuo the person and Tetsuo the monster/cyborg the soul/whatever character is agitated and beaten in this cramped environment.
Through that television set a progressing series of flashbacks are presented that explain more of the story with the implant guy and the car accident. It turns out that Tetsuo was driving the car that hit him, and his girlfriend was riding with him. The collect the implant man, and put him in the car and go out into the woods where they leave him for dead, and proceed to have sex.
As this becomes more clear through the flashbacks viewed by his soul (or substitute your favorite word for this sub-self), he begins to feel that this transition to machine is in a form a punishment. As he is changing he is losing control of himself, and he is ashamed, and very afraid. He runs away from his girlfriend and tries to hide himself (in their apartment) because of his condition, but it is taking control of him. She eventually coaxes him out, and attempts to make love to him, but where his dick would be is a spinning drill, and she becomes frigtened (Rightfully so!) and runs away, and he (now clearly under the control of the machine) chases her. After a bit the drill stops, and she comes to sit with him, and when it starts again she is splattered all over the walls (really gross, and with a truly disturbing psychological effect).
To me this symbolizes both the first time he is conscious of the battle he is having for his humanity, and at the same time, it is the moment when he looses, because he has just killed a person he loved under control of the machine and has no way to justify or even grapple with what is happening. The message translates fairly well from an indiviual to a social level.
The next main development is the reintroduction of the implant man, who has been developing into a machine as well, in a fairly paralell course, but in isolation and bitterness. This is further reenforced by the fact that the machine he is becoming is all rusty, because of the rust on the metal bar he put in his thigh. He has a goal to kill and/or assimilate Tetsuo, so he seeks him out. Tetsuo is at home when the implant guy (man I feel like an idiot, but his name just completely escapes me) showes up and sort of morphs into various forms, and spreads through the plumbing and wires and all metal things (a property of the rust) to seek him out wherever he goes.
Tetsuo fights the implant guy (both of them have now become huge heaps of scrap and wires and flesh) after a long sequence of running away with the jets that are growing out of his feet. The rust guy (previously the implant guy) tries to convince him to merge with him so they can turn the world to rust, which he ends up doing. They become this huge monster of metal that goes roving around the city.
This is, I feel, the point where he has given up his humanity to become this cruel and tortured machine. Very hard to digest as a technologist.
That's my take on this, I'm interrsted in feedback, and will probably revise this node as more data come my way.