We all live in Marshall McLuhan's wake. Fascinated by the role technology played in transforming our lives, one of the twentieth century's most famous intellectuals realized, with stunning accuracy, the impact the digital age would have on our social, spiritual, economic and ideological selves. Grounded in McLuhan's last scholarly work, The Laws of Media, the film translates these laws into an illuminating and revealing text, haunted by archival footage and the voice of McLuhan himself. Blending all forms of media including animation and special effects, McLuhan's Wake is a visually dazzling and poetic film, with narration by renowned performance artist Laurie Anderson, and commentary by scholars Eric McLuhan, Neil Postman, Lewis Lapham and journalist Patrick Watson.
Taking Poe's "Descent Into the Maelstrom" as its central metaphor, this documentary about theoretician Marshall McCluhan covers basic biographical ground, but goes further to poetically illustrate McCluhan's concepts about relationships between humans and technology. Strained poeticism interferes with the focus on explanation, but fortunately there is enough footage of McCluhan speaking on talk shows and in the classroom to negate most damage done by cheesy segments of a sailor struggling through a hurricane, for example, or a suitcase floating through the ocean as if from a bad, early 1990s indie rock music video. Narrated by Laurie Anderson among others, McCluhan's Wake
asserts that the philosopher's ideas have so infiltrated current mainstream ideas that we are nearly as unaware of his influence as we are oblivious to advertising's manipulative effects. Historically placing McCluhan as a Cambridge grad who by 1962 had become a kind of celebrity deemed "oracle of the electric age," McCluhan's Wake
investigates his Laws of Media, or four questions McCluhan applied to any new media in order to reveal its future. The film's experimental segments reiterate McCluhan's fear that in his rebellion against media, he hypocritically exploited television media. Though lengthy digressions bog this film down, it is worth watching for its wealth of information on this thinker who felt that the only way to evade the technological maelstrom was to analyze it.--Trinie Dalton