Sea Change: James Cameron’s The Abyss as McLuhanian Apocalypse



The Tempest2

James Cameron’s films, Hollywood blockbusters though they are, may also be read in terms of a Canadian sensibility that is prone to problematizing mankind’s relation to technology and communications media, as epitomized by Marshall McLuhan (see Babe 2000; Kroker 1984). The Terminator films are thus based on the idea of the nascent Internet as a nervous system becoming self-aware as the subject of technology and disposing of its human parasites. These dystopian visions have their utopian counterpart in The Abyss, the first major motion picture to use CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) for “morphing” effects. With the benefit of hindsight, the story and imagery into which the appearance of this new technology was woven in this film beg to be interpreted as metaphors for the shift in consciousness attending the transition from the rigidity of analog technology to the fluidity of digital technology, a watershed that happens to hinge on the year of the film’s release: 1989, during the meltdown of Cold War blocks on the eve of the emergence of the Internet’s borderless global cyberspace.

McLuhan saw the creative artist as an “early warning system,” grasping and imaginatively portraying such shifts in the collective sensorium even ahead of their full unfolding in technology and culture. If we take seriously McLuhan’s assumptions, Cameron’s The Abyss can thus appear in retrospect as a mythic allegory of mutations then still around the corner. It uses Christian motifs to give narrative expression to the world-historical transformations of 1989 as kairos, as theological discourse refers to a moment of utopian opportunity for the revelation of the Kingdom of God within history —or beyond it as Apocalypse. For the end of the Cold War did, for a moment, hold the promise of a humanity freed from ideological and national divisions, to enjoy the peace dividends of unhindered free trade within a global village unified by new technologies.

Read the rest at Second Nature Journal:

Trailer for The Abyss (1989):

2 Responses to “Sea Change: James Cameron’s The Abyss as McLuhanian Apocalypse”

  1. 1 John Bessai

    Tiny URL isn’t working!

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Yes I know. Sorry. I wish WordPress would pause for half an hour before distributing new postings by email. That would allow time to check that all links are working as they should. The corerected new tinyurl for the rest of the essay is . It has been changed on the blog posting itself. My apologies…………AlexK

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