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Posts Tagged ‘Gattaca’

Catching up on an old episode of The Matineecast got me thinking about movies set in dystopian futures. Ryan referred to dystopias that are not that far in the future, and via the movie Pleasantville (1998) he and his guest Sasha James Talked about how a nostalgic view of America in the 1950’s could be a dystopia for people from the present day. My first thought was that we could now be living in what would be the dystopian future that people in the 50’s feared. With dwindling natural recourses, and rising costs, losses of civil liberties and an over reliance on technology coupled with the threat of war and terrorism, we are probably closer to dystopia than utopia. With this in mind I have avoided movies set in an unrecognisable world to concentrate on dystopias that are not that different to the real world.

Movies like Gattaca (1997), V for Vendetta (2005) and In Time (2011) exist in a society that has adopted practices that oppress the masses and it is through rebellion that people are able to find a better life. There are other films like1984 (1984), Brazil (1985) and Code 46 (2003) that revel in their desperation and futility by pulling rug from under the hero, and the audience with it. Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and Children of Men (2006) find a happy balance where the despair is tempered by a glimmer of hope. The brilliance of Fahrenheit 451 the way we see a character comes to distrust what he has been taught to believe in and chooses to fight the system from within. We see a similar idea explored in the interesting if a little overrated Equilibrium (2002), set in a society where emotions are outlawed it also explores what it is to be human. Both these ideas are explored in the underrated and misunderstood RoboCop (1987). In there own way the characters in Rollerball (1975) and Death Race 2000 (1975). This is very different from District 13 (2004) and A Clockwork Orange (1971) whose protagonists are and remain outsiders. An interesting case is The Handmaid’s Tale (1990) whose main protagonists desire is only to escape the system but her desires bring her into the sphere of those who are trying to change things.

When you mention Mad Max many people think of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, in some ways the best film in the trilogy, but the original low budget Mad Max is actually equally as good in its own way. Set in a near future world were society is crumbling and law & order has begun to break down people will do what it takes to keep moving to stay on the road. It was relevant in its day but it has found new relevance in recent years. If we think about the glue that holds society together, it is not fear of prosecution, but a moral belief of right and wrong, if you take that bond away the world as we know it will crumble. We see the early days of this in Mad Max, and the subtlety with which this idea is displayed within a violent revenge thriller is why it is possibly the best dystopian movie. This breakdown of society is in the background of neo-noir Trouble in Mind (1985) and retro-future comic book inspired Streets of Fire (1984) but lacks the despair of Mad Max. The other movie that perfectly depicts society at a tipping point is Strange Days (1995). Made in the mid 90’s with LA’s troubles fresh in the memory and set just five years in the future, now more than a decade in the past, some would argue the world is a worse place now than what was depicted. Given the reality TV obsession of the last dozen years and current distrust of media and governments, The Running Man (1987) now seems strangely prophetic. Battle Royale covers some of the same ground but is all the more shocking in the way it casts children against society.

It is human nature to try and change and shape society, but some movies have taken this to an extreme. By travelling back in time from a dystopian future to change the present and reshape the future, their present. This is handled in different ways in different movies, the hero of Twelve Monkeys (1995) is haunted by memories of his own death and with it his failure to save the future. Millennium (1989) takes a different point of view as the characters from the future battle to hide the existence in the present through fear that it will change and potentially destroy the future with the effects of the paradox of time travel. While Millennium is afraid of the effects of paradox, The Terminator (1984) exists within a paradox. It is only within an effort to kill the hero who can save the world that he is conceived. The one thing all these movies have in common is the way they only give us glimpses of the dystopian future, a future created in the present.

One thing that is clear, there are as many differences as there are similarities within the genre, but the movies that are the best and that age the best are the ones that have a deeper relevance. This can be an overt plot, a subtle subtext or just a theme that anchors the story in reality.

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Please not this is not a review and does contain plot spoilers.

Set in a slick stylised alternate reality/near future with a retro-future look where people are genetically engineered. Andrew Niccol’s In Time sounds a lot like the directors 1999 modern classic Gattaca. A line in the review in Empire “has none of Gattaca’s subtlety” got me thinking about how it will age. The reason, now regarded as a modern classic Gattaca was less revered on its release, a look back at the same magazine reveals a less than positive review with two out of five stars (one less than In Time) and a verdict including the line “Gattaca is far easier to look at than actually watch”. In Time is also well photographed and beautifully styled with a similar look albeit on a vaster (read more expensive) canvas.

For those not familiar, In Time is set in a world where thanks to the aforementioned genetic engineering everyone stops aging at 25, at this time a clock on their arm starts ticking down until they die at 26 unless they can earn more time. Replacing money, time is also a currency and the system is designed to keep the rich, rich and virtually immortal and the poor, poor and destined to die young.

Despite the fact films tend to spend years in preproduction In Time feels particularly relevant. The high concept is a perfect analogy for the mess the world economy has become, this is where the movie could date. However beyond this idea there is also a strong existential subtext that is kept surprisingly close the surface. Expressed by Amanda Seyfried’s character Sylvia Weis, given the opportunity to live indefinitely the value of life is raised to a level that prevents people from truly living. The flipside to this is the underclass who spend their lives a day from potential death and therefore forced to live each day like their last.

The catalyst that makes the story possible is Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) who travels across the “time zones” that separate the rich from the poor. Wills journey is made possible by a gift of time from a suicidal man who at over a hundred years old has lost his desire for life but more importantly it is motivated by the death of his mother who “times out” thanks to the increased cost of living. The two elements and their ultimate collision gives the movie and extra dimension that the similar themed Logan’s Run (1976) lacked.

So how will it age? I actually think quite well, with an attractive young cast giving strong performances in a film that has a good balance between lightweight Sci-Fi fun and deeper and deeper social comments the movie has more to offer than you would expect.

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