For this blog, I want to start out by saying The Iron Giant is a truly unappreciated masterpiece (it had to be said). For those who have not viewed this work of art, the film is about a young boy (Hogarth Hughes) who befriends a literal giant robot who crash-landed near Rockwell, Maine (Hogarth’s hometown) during the Cold War. The giant learns how to communicate with Hogarth and that he should not be a weapon (which he turns into if afraid or confused), but instead a friend and hero. Throughout the film Kent Mansley, (a paranoid trigger happy bureaucrat) attempts to find the Iron Giant and destroy him. Hogarth is helped by the local junkyard owner/undiscovered artist Dean McCoppin to hide and protect the Giant from the U.S. military.
Let’s get into some definitions for a moment. Framing is “selecting some aspects of a perceived reality and making them more salient (making information more noticeable, meaningful, or memorable to audiences) in a communicating text” (in this case The Iron Giant) (Steele, 2016). Framing has four functions; “promotes a problem definition (what’s wrong), casual interpretation (who did it), evaluation (how you should feel), and treatment reaction (how you should react)” (Steele, 2016). You may be asking, how does this pertain to The Iron Giant and for that matter, why should I care? Let’s do a breakdown of the film using the four functions of framing and you will learn the why and how.
The most prominent problem statement that is brought to light within the film is fear turning into hate and violence. When Hogarth first meets the giant for the first time, he is afraid, but after a little thought, Hogarth saves him from being electrocuted when the he tries to eat electrified metal at a power plant. Hogarth learns that the giant is just hungry and that he is harmless (when in his right mind). Dean too is afraid of the giant until Hogarth shows him that the giant just needs his help and kindness.
Mansley, on the other hand, does not react with kindness when learning about a giant weapon filled robot. Instead, he calls in the U.S. military with their guns, missiles, and nuclear warhead authorization, to destroy Hogarth’s beloved new friend. Mansley represents the who in the film. He represents the many people who use their fear of a thing or idea (in this case the fear of Russia during the Cold War) and channel it into hate (much like some of the politicians we see today).
The film is telling its audience how it should feel through Hogarth teaching the giant about love, friendship, and compassion. When the giant is afraid (spoiler alert) when the military is shooting at him and he believes Hogarth has died, he turns into a weapon and starts to shoot at people out of blind rage and fear.
Only when Hogarth (who lives by the way) finds the giant and stands before his bazooka, does the giant remember that he can choose who he wants to be even when the world is against you.
“It’s bad to kill.
And you don’t have to be a gun.
You are what you choose to be.
Choose.” (The Iron Giant)
(Do you feel the tears yet)
The giant chooses to stop fighting and to face the consequences without violence even if he is afraid. The film is telling us that love should conquer hate in the face of destructive fear. Everything is about to turn out alright until Mansley, who most definitely did not learn the lesson of love over hate, gives the order for a nuclear war missile to hit the giant. The only problem, the missile follows the giant’s current coordinates, which is right in the center of Rockwell, Maine …
The film tells us to react like the giant reacts. He uses love in the face of fear not only to protect his friends Hogarth and Dean but, also to protect those that fought against him in the face of their own fears (the military and unfortunately, Mansley).
He leaves us flying into the unknown, but he knows one thing, the giant left choosing love over hate. Saving his friends at the cost of his own life. The film wants us to react by following in the giant’s giant footsteps. The giant leaves us with his last words; “superman”, which symbolizes the path the giant has chosen.
Below is a video of the ending scene if you need a good cry session.
Steele, C. K., Dr. “News and Media Frames.” CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 01 March. 2016. Lecture.