2006: Year of the Post-Apocolypse

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.

  1. 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. []
  2. 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. []
  3. Unless you are Angela, who has slept through some pret­ty great films and this was no dif­fer­ent. []