Aaah, dystopian science fiction. One of my favourite subgenres – if it’s done properly. Novels and films set in dystopian futures stand as warnings, as extrapolations of modern trends and projected far into the future. It’s social commentary as setting. George Orwell’s 1984 was (and still is) an attack on fascism and a predictor of the surveillance state, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a brutal take-down of the pleasure society and the class system. Fahrenheit 451, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale – all on my bookshelf, by the way. I’m a big fan of this genre. The fact that these novels stay with us shows how much there is to fear, and the box office takings of modern films like Elysium and District 9 show how easily one man’s utopia is another’s dystopia. Now, onto my completely subjective list of dystopian films that I quite like, in no particular order:
1) Demolition Man (1993)
Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone are in this film. Need I say more about why it made the list? It’s an early 90’s movie, which means it carries a lot of the hallmarks of 80’s action films. This is a good thing.
In Demolition Man, Pizza Hut has won the Fast Food Wars, crime has been all-but eliminated and Sandra Bullock plays a character named Lenina Huxley, which is a direct reference to Brave New World.
Smoking is not good for you. Anything not good for you is bad. Hence, illegal. Alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat… bad language, chocolate, uneducational toys and spicy food. Abortion is illegal, but so is pregnancy if you don’t have a license.
2) Brazil (1985)
A bureaucratic, consumerist, nightmare world, directed by Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame. This film is like 1984, except with a slapstick edge. This film is clever, ridiculous and hilarious, as well as being terrifying. It’s about a man, looking for the woman of his dreams, all inside this terrible world. It’s surreal, and glorious.
“Give my best to Alison and the twins.”
“Triplets? My how time flies…”
3) Wall-E (2008)
It’s a love story. About robots,who can’t talk. Set (partially) on an environmentally ravaged Earth, this movie shows a different kind of utopia. Earth has been abandoned, after humanity has gone on a buying binge. Rubbish has taken over the surface of the planet, and robots like Wall-E are sent to clean up the mess. Humans have evacuated, and instead grow disgustingly obese on huge space ships. A satire on the wasteful habits of the first world, and on the growing waistlines of humans.
Voice in commercial: Too much garbage in your face? There’s plenty of space out in space! BnL StarLiners leaving each day. We’ll clean up the mess while you’re away.
4) Idiocracy (2006)
Another comedy, although the premise is just as terrifying and believable as any of the others on this list. The world is getting dumber. Stupid people have more children than smart people, and as intelligence is no longer selected for in evolutionary terms, more stupid people survive, to make even more stupid people. This is the world of Idiocracy. A world where the film Ass (that’s all it is) has won eight Oscars, where Starbucks offers Erotic Lattes, and where the President is a world wrestling champion.
The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections.
5) A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Once again we come to fifth place on the list and there are a dozen contenders. Some great films that I left out include The Road (which I thought was probably more post-apocalyptic than dystopian), Dredd (which I, as a massive 2000 AD fan, thought was brilliant, although a little too reliant on that super-slow-motion effect), Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, 12 Monkeys (<— actually a link to a pretty cool four-pack), Dark City (oh my god. DARK CITY.) The list goes on.
I put A Scanner Darkly on the list instead because it’s a film that apparently not many people have seen. It’s based on a short novel by Philip K Dick (see: Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau) and has this amazing animation style, one that reflects the drug abuse that the main characters indulge in – everything looks slightly off kilter, yet is still obviously reality. It’s got Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jnr, Woody Harrelson and Wynona Ryder in it.
It’s freaking amazing, and is well worth the hour or so of your time.
This is a world getting progressively worse. Can we not agree on that?
[turns to waitress] What’s on the dessert menu?
What’s on your list? Let me in on some sweet dystopian films and we can argue (or agree) about them in the comments!