It’s my pleasure once again to welcome Beth Kelly to write about movies. Last time she delved into Westerns; today’s topic is significantly less rustic.
Today's Movies Reflect a Modern Day Dystopia
In the last century, film has emerged as a dominant form of mass-produced art. Alongside this, humanity’s exponential technological growth has enabled the realization of science-fiction, not only as a future possibility but in some instances, as a reality. This development is equally applicable to an age-old concept closely tied with science-fiction: the dystopia. The advancement of the dystopia from the distant future to the tangible present is demonstrated in these four major films of the last century:
One of the first movies to depict fear of machines is in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where the working class slaves away in the city’s underbelly to support the aristocratic lifestyle of a slim minority. As an early work of dystopian film, the movie establishes a long precedence for the theme of the futuristic city as a source of awesome power, at the cost of nightmarish living conditions. Metropolis is a classic that set the standard for robot films today that depict technophobia in an age where technology is everywhere. Of course, in the modern day, our technology has completely advanced since the 1920’s, protecting us with home security and giving us jobs that are impossible to complete without computers. However, this isn’t to say that we are completely comfortable with technology, as evidenced in modern day films that portray our technophobia such as Chappie and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The Trial (1962)
Orson Welles’ The Trial centers on Josef K., a man accused of an unknown crime. His eventual execution is just as bewildering as the rest of the film. The audience is left without an explanation, only the implication that a regime has the capability to wake a man one morning and have him killed, all without letting slip the least bit of information as to why. Welles takes a descent into madness that’s bureaucratic in the film’s execution, with an all-pervasive sense of dread that taints the protagonist's surroundings, infecting the audience with his (justified) paranoia.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is dystopian by implication, rather than being so explicit as the films above. The artificial intelligence used on the Jupiter mission, Hal, is humanity’s pinnacle of technological creativity. He ultimately determines that the humans on this mission must die in order for him to complete the mission. The fact that humanity is objectively seen by the AI they created as disposable, even obstructive, does not bode well for the off-screen humans back on Earth. As a whole, the film thematically establishes the forward progression of human evolution, mysteriously linked to the appearance of the black monolith seen in each of the movie’s four acts. However, with great power comes casualties. The cost of this progress is highlighted by Hal’s betrayal and again by the last lingering shot of the film, where the film’s protagonist has been transformed into a gazing star-child, left on a higher plane of existence but now bereft of humanity.
The Omega Man (1971)
Directed by Boris Sagal, The Omega Man finds the (seemingly) last man in the world, Robert Neville surviving in the ruins of Los Angeles, fighting off mutants caused by biological plague. Neville spends a lot of time on screen alone, making for long stretches of unbroken silence, one man contemplating his solitude, lending a reflective mood to the empty, dystopian world. As the source of cure to the plague, Neville is comparable to a biblical savior and because he is the enemy of the infected cult, the Family, the movie presents some Christian undertones.
Even after clarifying the dystopian themes of these films, are they still relevant today? After all, they are old. Could this line of thinking be out of date? Not at all. Recent cinema is full of examples that still point to a public fascination with imminent dystopia: from The Road to The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game to The Matrix, and everything in between, the dystopia is very much alive in film. The cinematic dystopia remains an intriguing subject, as it projects humanity’s hopes and fears for the future.