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Video clip synopsis – Starting as a simple apparatus to test sin and guilt, the law has become one of our most convoluted contraptions.
Year of production - 2002
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - Law, politics, rights and responsibilities, social justice, see all tags


The Law Machine

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About the Video Clip


The Law Machine is an episode of the series Human Contraptions (10 × 5 mins) produced in 2002.

Academy Award winning animator Bruce Petty takes a satirical look at the “contraptions” that shape our lives. Education, sex, finance, globalism, art, media, medicine, law, government and even the brain are transformed by Petty into evolving machines. Beginning with a simple concept, he takes us on an anarchic journey through history as each apparatus builds to its complex contemporary form. In the wry, ironic style that is his hallmark, Petty reveals these to be contraptions of a very human kind – imperfect, sometimes unpredictable and always subject to change. A witty, provocative and entertaining series, narrated by Andrew Denton.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


By viewing this video clip, students have the opportunity to examine how Australia’s political and legal systems have changed over time in Australia.

Students investigate and evaluate:

  • the ways in which legal institutions and processes uphold people’s rights in a democracy
  • the effectiveness of Australia’s legal system

For further information please consult Queensland Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Framework’s SOSE Essential Learnings and Standards

Background Information


Bruce Petty says that ”caricature is a device by which we hope to make complex ideas (at least) accessible, (occasionally) witty and (sometimes) informative”.

His professional life has always been about finding those gaps and niches and trying to fill them in. He explains the challenge in creating the Human Contraptions series in this way: “I wanted Human Contraptions to be a cheerful reminder that as our cars, videos and toasters get smarter and cheaper, the institutions we really need are getting more expensive and unreliable, and are starting to rattle. I hope viewers recognise some of our more bizarre organisational devices and enjoy the general irreverence.

The main aim was to take an impressionistic, shorthand, comic look at over-worked, serious subjects. The series is based on general suspicions people have about the institutions we live in. These bodies are old or biased, often politically disfigured and under-funded – they are familiar targets. Representing them as machines at least suggests they are man-made, they wear out and can be fixed even as they do determine how we live.

The series offered a chance to check the workings of these “contraptions”. Institutions such as the arts carry our “trust” – we are expected to believe in them. We are persuaded that they are self-correcting and that the corrections are properly and democratically monitored.”

Many people are now beginning to suspect that this is not so.

The satirical, witty narration suggests double-meanings while sound effects and music are also important ironic components.

The Law Machine
It may have started as a simple apparatus to test sin and guilt, but over time, the legal system has become one of our most convoluted contraptions, with a noticeable lean towards the financially gifted and a baffling array of attachments. Loopholes, out-of-court settlements, reasonable doubt, company law … as long as you’ve got a wig it’s possible to bypass justice altogether. Bruce Petty shows us the inner workings of this machine, where lawyers speak a different language and money speaks louder still.

Classroom Activities

  1. What impressions does the film give on the way the law has developed over time? What views are given of the complexity and power of the legal machine in our society? What do you think will happen to the legal machine in the future?
  2. The narrator uses legal language to document the development of the legal system. Identify examples of this legal language used for the following:
    1. Types of law
    2. Legal personnel
    3. How the law works
    4. Outcomes or resolution
  3. After viewing the film, develop a timeline that shows milestones in the development of the Law Machine.
  4. What comment does the narrator make about the fairness of the Law Machine? What arguments does the narrator use to support his view? Do you agree with this viewpoint?
  5. What do you think Bruce Petty means when he describes “Representing them as machines at least suggests they are man-made, they wear out and can be fixed even as they do determine how we live”.

Further Resources


A Guide to Government and Law in Australia provides an overview of the development the Australian legal system

Online Discovering Democracy units related to Rules and Laws

Teaching and Learning activity Why do we need laws?

Reading between the lines – Developing skills to analyse political cartoons in Studies of Society and Environment Issue 1/2008,_ published by Ryebuck Media distributed to all secondary school libraries.