Why do we respond so strongly to dystopian futures? Is it because we’re all born with a deep fear of the unknown and we have to know how it’s going to turn out? Or are audiences “tricked” into watching political and social statements under the guise of entertainment?
Probably both, I think? We’re all a little obsessed with the future (it’s in our nature) but so many people are repelled by what they see as being ‘preached at’ even if they fundamentally agree with the message, that they avoid “straight” calls to action. Art circumvents “head in the sand” avoidance and draws in the audience by entertaining them as it delivers a message.
I’ve picked twenty-five cinematic dystopias (I could have picked a hundred)…
Many of these films are portraying modernist societies through a postmodern eye. These cinematic worlds are in thrall to the development of science and technology, to mass production and a single truth. Filmmakers use these hyperbolic representations of modernism to underline why they rejected it in the postmodern shift.
In many ways these films are a reminder of the oft quoted line that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. They may portray a future, but much of the detail of oppression, repression and fear is taken from our past.
Reading George Orwell’s quote that “nothing ever stands still. We must add to our heritage or lose it, we must grow greater or grow less, we must go forward or backward” (Orwell, 1941) I’m reminded of totalitarianism and the way that it attempts to fix society in one static position; to say ‘this works, don’t change anything’.
But this is never, ever possible, even under the most brutal authoritarian rule. Change will always finds a way through the cracks. Trying to stop culture moving forward only makes society degenerate. Dystopian art uses reminders of our past to stop us sliding complacently into the future.
Boyle, D., (2002) 28 Days Later, DNA Films
Cameron, J., (1984) The Terminator, Pacific Western
Carpenter, J., (1981) Escape from New York, Goldcrest Films
Carpenter, J., (1988) They Live, Alive Films
Cuarón, A., (2006) Children of Men, Strike Entertainment
Gilliam, T., (1985) Brazil, Embassy International Pictures
Gilliam, T., (1995) Twelve Monkeys, Atlas Entertainment
Haskin, B., (1953) The War of the Worlds, Paramount Pictures
Kubrick, S., (1971) A Clockwork Orange, Polaris Productions
Lang, F., (1927) Metropolis, Kino Lorber
McTeigue, J., (2006) V for Vendetta, Virtual Studios
Morel, P., (2004) Banlieue 13, EuropaCor
Niccol, A., (1997) Gattaca, Jersey Films
Orwell, G., (1941) The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, London: Secker & Warburg
Proyas, A., (1998) Dark City, Mystery Clock Cinema
Proyas, A., (2004) I, Robot, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Schaffner, F.J., (1968) Planet of the Apes, APJAC Productions
Scott, R., (1982) Blade Runner, The Ladd Company
Spielberg, S., (2001) A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Amblin Entertainment
Spielberg, S., (2002) Minority Report, Amblin Entertainment
Verhoeven, P., (1987) Robocop, Orion Pictures
Verhoeven, P., (1990) Total Recall, Carolco Pictures
Verhoeven, P., (1997) Starship Troopers, TriStar Pictures
Wachowski, L. & Wachowski, L., (1999) The Matrix, Village Roadshow Pictures
Whedon, J., (2005) Serenity, Universal Pictures
Wimmer, K., (2002) Equilibrium, Dimension Films