I am currently reading the classic, 1984, by George Orwell and it got me thinking about other dystopian works. I recently recalled watching Total Recall (the original with Arnold), no pun intended, and couldn’t help but thinking just how recently a lot of dystopian works have been released, both literary and cinematic. In addition, it got me thinking about my favorite dystopian films and it is important to set the parameter as to what is considered a dystopian film. I consider a dystopian work as one that shows a society set in the future marked by a controlling, oppressive power that results in poverty, pollution, violence, or corruption.
Demolition Man , starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes, was made in 1993 and centers around the Los Angeles area in the year 2032. Apparently after a massive earthquake in 2010, the city of Los Angeles and San Diego merged together to form San Angeles. San Angeles is a place where it seems as though all crime has been eliminated due to very strict laws outlawing basically anything that could be considered immoral or dangerous. The plot centers around a police officer, John Spartan (Stallone), and criminal, Phoenix (Snipes), who fight during the 1990’s. After an incident that kills several civilians, they both get cryogenically frozen and are later thawed in 2032 after their sentence ends. These two then must cope with the “utopian” future where any sort of vice is outlawed and everybody lives lives that seem to be eerily happy and content. However, it is later revealed that they are restricted of many things and this new future has created an underground society that lives much like life before all of the advancements. Spartan helps the San Angeles Police Department to catch Phoenix as the police department alone do not know how to deal with a criminal from the past, a seemingly alien world in comparison to their present. This movie beautifully shows the effects of what seems to be a utopia can actually be quite the opposite. The restrictions and laws passed in order to try and make the world a safer place end up putting the civilians in a place of ignorance, where they only know one way of life. I recommend this movie for fans of action movies.
Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, is set in the Washington DC area in the year 2052 and is directed by Steven Spielberg. The society is full of technological advancements and in fact the police department is able to detect crimes before they even happen, known as PreCrime. Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, is the Captain of this unit and he then becomes the victim of this very system one day. The Department of Justice tries to outlaw this PreCrime unit from going nationwide and then it is predicted that John will murder someone in 3 days. John tries to hide the case and flees because he believes that it is a set up from the Department of Justice. The PreCrime system is fueled by three psychics and it is explained that they all see different versions of the future but the one that is published for PreCrime is the version that is agreed on by two of the three. The “Minority Report” is the version of the future only seen by one of the psychics and these are usually ignored and thrown away. John kidnaps Agatha, one psychic that is more prone to seeing the Minority Report, and tries to hid from the massive manhunt trying to arrest him for a murder he hasn’t even committed yet. The rest of the movie follows this plot line and explores the idea of free will and determinism. This movie shows the flaws of a society that is too controlling and tries to streamline everything through technological advancements while exploring existential concepts. The idea of a future of being accused of something that is in the future is scary because then it implies that there is no free will in the world. This is an excellent movie and is highly recommended for sci-fi thriller movie fans.
Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger tells the story of a Douglas Quaid, a construction worker from Earth, in the year 2084. The movie starts off with him waking from a dream he has where he is exploring Mars with a mysterious women that keeps appearing in all of his dreams. He tells his wife that he wants to go and visit Mars, because at this point in the future Mars has been colonized. Due to riots from rebels and inhabitants, his wife says that going to Mars on a vacation would be too dangerous. Discouraged, Quaid goes to work and on his way learns of a company that can implant memories into your mind and it would feel as though you actually did whatever they implanted. He decides to sign up for a trip to Mars as a secret agent but before the procedure can be done he starts to violently react and storms out of the laboratory. He goes home and is then attacked and almost killed by his “wife” who turns out to be working for the governor Cohaagen. He is then suddenly confused as to why everybody is trying to arrest and kill him. However, he finds a video of himself directed toward himself where he is called Hauser. Hauser tells Quaid to go to Mars and find the rebel leader Kuato. The rest of the movie continuess Quaid’s journey to Mars to find Kuato while he struggles realizing whether he is in a dream or not. The dystopia in this film could be both Earth and the colonized parts of Mars. On Earth, the politicians are corrupt and seem to control every aspect of the peoples’ lives through surveillance and connections. On Mars, the groups that are wealthy or that have political connections live fabulously and don’t have to worry about the things that the lower classes do. The lower classes live in areas that aren’t completely blocked from the radiation due to malfunctional shields and they resort to more illegal economic activities for income. Out of this anger and frustration for their living situation, some people formed rebel groups to take down the higher class that s solely concerned with mining operations.
Dystopia’s remind us about the corruption that could arise from the depths of humanity and the consequences of such actions. They can also be used to compare our current society with that portrayed in the works and just how eerily close we can get to the dystopia through only a few small steps. When I watched I, Robot for the first time, this image that Sonny the Robot drew is what stood out to me the most. Now, whenever I hear dystopia this is the image that pops up immediately in my mind. I think it is because it consists of a large quantity of humanoid figures looking to a singular figure in the distance below a bridge out of hope. They hope for a better future and are desperate, but nobody knows where that figure or bridge will take them. Unfortunately, this desperation and longing for hope is what drives people to societies that often oppress them or take advantage of them.