Ergo Proxy Volume 1 : Awakening - impressions and speculation

Well, here we go again, another intreiguing series to see if we can pick it apart. This series seems a little more straightforward about it's intentional historical references with character names being fairly blatant, well perhaps so to a Western audience for whom a lot of the references are commonly known.

The first thing to observe, and in some ways the most interesting clue to the purpose of the series, is the opening poem :-

Caro mi è il sonno, e più l'esser di sasso,
Mentre che il danno e la vergogna dura:
Non veder, non sentir, m' è gran ventura;
Però non mi destar: deh, parla basso

Which translated into english becomes :-

Welcome is sleep, more welcome the sleep of stone.
Whilst crime and shame continue in the land;
My happy fortune, not to see or hear;
Waken me not - in mercy, whisper low.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

It seems to indicate a person wishing to remain oblivious to the corrupt world around them, preferring instead to be like stone. No accident then that the four 'advisors' of Donov Mayer are statues. It also seems to strongly indicate they are struggling furiously to ignore the realities of the world around them. In some ways this could also apply to Vincent too, as we see over the course of the first four episodes he is trying quite hard to ignore the iniquities of how Romdeau works - until that world forces him to pay attention to it.

However speaking of the statues in Regent Mayer's chamber the wikipedia entry on the series notes that they are based on Michelangelo's Night and Day statues placed above Giuliano di Piero de' Medici's sarcophagus in Medici Chapel, Florence. In the show, the female figure (Night) represents the voice of Lacan and the male figure (Day) the voice of Husserl. The statues on the left are based on Michelangelo's Twilight and Dawn statues placed above the sarcophagus of Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici in Medici Chapel. In the show, the female figure (Dawn) represents the voice of Derrida and the male figure (Twilight) the voice of Berkeley. All four names are also famous philosophers - Lacan being a proponent of structuralism, Derrida of deconstrution, Husserl was a phenomenologist and Berkeley a subjective idealist. Whether these AutoReivs will be informed in their worldview by the philosophies of their namesakes or whether this is primarily just flavour remains to be seen.

The other big reference in the series is of course the Cogito virus. Cogito means, literally, "I think" and this is indeed exactly what it seems to engender in the AutoReiv it infects. Rather than the controlled programming of their Turing application (itself another reference to British mathematician Alan Turing who created the concept of the Turing Test for Artificial Intelligence) the Cogito virus seems to engender free will along with the urge to get out of Romdeau and experience the world outside the city. I half wonder if this isn't a sly commentary on the premise of the Turing test, which is a blind test where a human talks to both an AI and another human but then can't distinguish between the two as to which is the AI, as being not indicative a fully self actuated intellect. After all the AutoReiv's have a Turing application that presumably passes the Turing Test yet until they are infected with the Cogito virus they don't have any will of their own. Is something that can converse with you like a human but has no desires or goals of its own truely an intelligence? Or is it simply the facsimile of intelligence? This series seems to be leaning subtlely towards the later.

The other interesting thing to note is the AutoReivs in Regent Mayer's service have the form of Michelangelo's statutes and by extension a direct link to the poem shown at the start of the series. Which is all about hiding away from or at least trying to ignore the rest of the world. Cogito 'awakens' these sleeping machines and makes them unable to stay ignorant of what is going on around them. It makes for a nice tie into the title of the first episode, perhaps the real awakening is not so much that of the Proxy but more that of the AutoReivs in Romdeau.

Speaking of people awakening, this brings us to Vincent Law. Vincent is also a poster child for the message of the poem, as I have already noted. What makes Vincent interesting is he clearly isn't who he claims to be. Indeed my money is that he is a Proxy and there are several clues that lead me to this. First is the whole business with his eye colour which because he has his eyes closed for the first few episodes, fitting with his theme of being asleep, we didn't get to see. Turns out he has pale green eyes but the file that Re-l reads indicates he is blue eyed - obviously he isn't who he claims to be. Next is his ability to survive what should be a down right deadly fall from the city access port. No human can survive that but the research notes in Daedelus' office seem to indicate that Proxies are downright hardy being almost impossible to kill.

Finally and the most blatant clue is the whole business with the messages in his Alphabet cereal. The second one occuring in his dream sequence that labels him a 'Misfit' is easy enough to explain as his subconscious alerting him to his inability to fit in in Romdeau. I think it also clues us in to his inability to stay entirely human too and is the first clue to his Proxy nature. But that could all just be a dream, right? Which is where the first time the cereal shows up and spells out 'Awakening' is such an issue. As presented to us the viewers this is occuring definitively in the real world as Dorothy sees him react by spilling the milk. So logically his subconscious must be influencing his cereal and is trying to tell him something by manipulating the cereal - presumably by telekinesis or something similar. But what is the only creature we have seen in the show that display telekinetic ability? Yup, the proxy escaping from the lab which shatters the observation window without touching it.

So it seems pretty clear Vincent is a Proxy. But what is that?

We know from Daedelus' research that they have so called 'Amrita' cells - cells constantly revitalising themselves and as a result downright hardy making a Proxy quite tough. Obviously not unkillable because we see the body of one in Episode Two but tough nonetheless. The Amrita is a Hindu reference, something Daedelus' document cites itself (being able to pause is such a handy tool in this series), to the nectar of the gods which they drank to revitalise themselves after becoming mortal. This fits nicely with what we have seen, they can shrug off a considerable amount of damage but they are indeed mortal. This only tells us what they can do though, not what they are.

Now a Proxy is an agent or substitute authorized to act for another person. So who, or perhaps what, is a proxy acting on the behalf of? Collective unconscious of the citizenry perhaps? Is perhaps the actual point of Romdeau to serve as a birthing habitat for a Proxy? There are a few clues that seem to indicate this might be the case with the primary being that the bulk of the cities populace seem to be cloned. The biggest hint to this is way the Creeds' child arrives, the mother is never pregnant and instead having applied for a child is simply given one - which admitedly had a short life getting steamrollered by a Proxy in episode two. Further supporting this is the dismissive attitude the Regent's AutoReivs have about population loses inside Romdeau. As they say dealing with that is easy they just need to up the production rate.

The final piece is in Re-l's name. I can't shake the feeling that this a corruption of the word real, it certainly is said in a similar fashion. This would make it a verbal pun of something being not quite real and consequenty a clone. It fits with the Japanese love of puns. It also might go some way towards explaining the odd behavior of the first Proxy we see when it meets Re-l in her home. Particularly it cries, is that because it knows the original person Re-l was cloned from? Is it crying because up close it recognises Re-l as the copy she is?

I don't quite know what else to make of that scene, we simply don't know enough to form anything other than initial thoughts. But it certainly looks to be an interesting time figuring this out as the series progresses.

Philip R. Banks
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