Apparently, the Apocolypse came sometime before 2006 [Ed: Yes, of course. It was the day John Kerry lost to George Bush. Zing.]. I know this because in the first few months of 2007, I watched three of the most amazing post-apocalypse films I’ve ever seen and they were all from the past year1.
V for Vendetta
The Wachowski brother’s V for Vendetta
The Wachowski brothers haven’t really done much since the first Matrix film, and I’m including the latter 2/3rds of the trilogy in ‘not much’ (and, yes, they were above average sci-fi films but not of the same caliber as the first). However, last year’s V For Vendetta was a stunning political thriller. Science fiction in name only, just as most all great sci-fi is, this film warns about how the difference between a state gripped with fear for its security and a fascist state is really only one of time. The film’s boldness goes well beyond just harsh critiques of modern-day political rhetoric (though the storyline was written in the 80’s). The treatment of the two lead characters: a hero who’s face we are never shown and a lovely heroine who has her head shaved are not common Hollywood treatments (think: shirtless muscle-men and flawless beauties, despite rather harsh circumstances that wouldn’t warrant either).
Science fiction is the home of the dystopia storyline and like the best of them2, this world is terrifying mainly because of it’s similarities to our own rather than its differences. Also, V is a beautiful film and doesn’t beat the audience over the head with either special effects or political statement. However, both are a strong presence in the film. It left me with the both feelings of despair and hope. Despair that people in my country just might be afraid enough to let this sort of thing happen but hope that most of us are smart enough to see through such theater. Also, hope because the story takes place in Britain and Americans aren’t so polite about being bullied from the get-go.
Mike Judge’s Idiocracy
Mike Judge’s love-it-or-hate-it story doesn’t have atomic bomb wielding terrorists destroying the world we know. Rather, people destroy it by taking a path toward stupidity. We de-evolve into a race of idiots. It’s an apocalypse 500 years in the making.
I personally loved this film, despite the fact that I had an overwhelming sense of depression after watching it. While I laughed at much of the straight-faced humor presented, it was more like the laugh of a person caught in a hopeless situation, giving up on any hope of changing the future and reduced to laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Modern tragic comedy, although I thought that was supposed to have a happy ending (the film does, unless you live in modern times…).
The design of the film wasn’t one of beauty. However, that was essentially the point. Beauty is gone and is replaced not with the gray despair of most dystopias. No, this is much more like the dystopia of Brave New World, where only a few people realize that they have much to unhappy about. Here, in Idiocracy, we have something far worse: advertising. The materialistic tendencies of much of today’s popular culture have collided with mass advertising such that if you can see it, it’s fair game for branding. Further degradation of society comes in virtually ever aspect of life: entertainment, health care, politics, education, the legal system, food, and even speech. We’ve all been in an atmosphere things like initiative, intelligence, and caring were shunned. It was called High School. Imagine a world in which everyone behaves just like the back row of your high school algebra class.
Terrifying. Also, genius political and social satire.
Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men
Here’s a film that would have made perfect sense and been almost as enjoyable without any sound, in my opinion. While the story was gripping (based loosely on the novel written by P.D. James), it is Cuaron’s visual style that tells so much story. Long, incredibly long, impossibly long shots span minutes of the story creating a sense of drama that is unreal. The sense of being in the story is almost overwhelming at times3. I can’t even quite describe it as documentary style. It’s more like being right in the scenes and not being able to close your eyes to blink for even a moment. It is intense and amazing to watch.
The film is steeped with allegory, particularly Christian stories and themes. The film opened on Christmas Day last year and can easily be described as a modern day tale of Joseph and Mary. However, most people don’t celebrate Christmas with dystopian tales of the possible end of humanity; resulting in the film bombing at the box office. However, the film has gained a great deal of critical acclaim and the DVD release might as well have been its debut, so don’t feel bad if you missed it. It’s also just as well, as you might want to watch it a couple of times just to catch all those amazing long-shot scenes and much of the imagery, both present and implied.
Science fiction is the home of the dystopian story. Through a fabled look at the future, we can make political and social commentary on the present and the past. The disarming nature of science fiction allows us to do so in a way that is non-threatening but also allows us to explore the “what if” scenario without abandon. This is why I love science fiction so much and why the dystopian storyline is my favorite in the that genre. When done right, the ‘magic black box device’ or ‘singular event that changed man’ becomes just a prop to allow the writers, directors, and actors to explore the human condition in a way we can’t do in the here and now. It may seem ironic that the genre that is the home of distant worlds in other galaxies and alien life forms is the one that allows us to most closely examine our home and what it means to be human; that looking off into the future gives us the perfect mirror for today. However, in the great stories in science fiction, that is exactly the point.
Laser blasters, light sabers, slimy bug eyed monsters, and giant robots are just really cool icing on the cake.
- We don’t get out to the cinema much these days, so we just wait until everything comes out on DVD and rent it via Netflix. I could write endlessly on why this is better than going to the movies, but that will have to be another post. [↩]
- 1984 is probably the most famous of this genre and incidentally, the hero of that tale was portrayed by John Hurt in a film adaptation. Hurt is re-cast as the totalitarian in V, moving from little man to giant head via video screen. [↩]
- Unless you are Angela, who has slept through some pretty great films and this was no different. [↩]