It seems that the cautionary tales of futuristic totalitarian regimes and the end of the world are particularly popular with film-makers these days, with movies like V for Vendetta, The Road, I am Legend and Never Let Me Go that came out in recent years. Such stories of oppression and degradation of human society are also called dystopias, literally “anti-utopias”. I was always particularly attracted to dystopias for their social commentary and the warnings to the human society. I also include here some of my favorite post-apocalyptic movies because the line between “dystopia” and “post-apocalyptic” is often very blurry.
1984 remains the ultimate dystopia for me. Though, as much as I love both George Orwell’s book and the movie that was made in 1984, I still have to work up the nerve each time I re-watch this movie. I think the movie succeeded in conveying the feeling of absolute hopelessness you experience when finishing the book, and faithfully re-created Orwell’s dystopian world.
In the story, the world was divided into three super states, Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia, after global atomic wars. Set in Oceania where Big Brother oversees everything, the movie follows Winston Smith who works in one of the government departments where he “corrects” the information in newspapers according to what the government wants. In this world of thought police even falling in love is a crime and it is exactly what Winston does.
V FOR VENDETTA
I’ve been a fan of Wachowski brothers work for a very long time so I couldn’t miss V for Vendetta in theaters when it first came out in 2006. It still remains high on my list of favorite movies. The impressive cast includes Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving and John Hurt among others.
Based on a comic book by Alan Moore, the movie is set in Great Britain that has become to resemble a fascist state with a total control of media, curfews and all the other attributes of a totalitarian regime. The story revolves around Evey (Natalie Portman) who works at a news company. One night she is saved from the secret police by a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask, who later turns out to be V, a freedom fighter (Hugo Weaving). Evey eventually becomes his ally. There is plenty of action to enjoy and enough to contemplate about. The most unsettling thing about this movie is that it is quite easy to imagine a similar totalitarian scenario playing out in real life.
Equilibrium is one of the movies that I re-watch regularly and it never gets old. It tackles a very interesting subject of human emotions and the main question I see posed in the movie is: if we don’t have emotions, are we human at all? Equilibrium also has some of the best action sequences involving guns I’ve ever seen in movies.
In the strict regime of the future all human emotions are suppressed in order to eliminate wars. This means that books, art and music are forbidden, and keeping them is punishable by death. The society runs on a drug that inhibits human emotions. The movie follows Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale) who works for government and punishes those who break the law. However, things turn interesting when Preston skips one of his doses of the drug.
CHILDREN OF MEN
Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men hit me with its realism more than with anything else. Some of the camera work resembles that of a documentary which adds to the effect. The characters are very real and the great soundtrack adds nicely to the picture.
In the year of 2027 the youngest (18 years old) person is killed. The humankind faces extinction as women are no longer able to get pregnant, and no children were born for the past 18 years. Set in dystopian London, the story follows a surprising discovery of a pregnant woman and her journey to safety with Clive Owen’s character protecting her from this highly unstable and dangerous world.
I’ve only recently become acquainted with Soylent Green and it left a very lasting impression. Some of the questions brought up in the movie had me thinking long after I watched it, not to mention the disturbing reveal at the end.
Set in futuristic overpopulated and starving New York City, the movie focuses on Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston). Soylent Green is a highly desirable food substitute. One of the members of Soylent Corporation board of directors is murdered and Thorn’s investigation leads him to a disturbing secret about the main ingredient of Soylent Green, a secret which puts Thorn’s life in danger.
The thing that always intrigued me about Gattaca is that even though it’s supposed to take place in the near future, the feel of it resembles 1950s more than anything. I now call it a “retro future”. This movie is also an interesting take on genetic discrimination, which the main character has to face.
In the future of Gattaca, parents can plan the genetic make-up of their children and avoid any flaws that natural conception might produce. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is conceived without such technology and has a high probability of developing a heart defect. His genetic make-up doesn’t allow him to train to go to space – what he always dreamt about. However, Vincent decides to take the identity of Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), whose genetic characteristics are perfect, in order to try and achieve his goal.
One of the first things I look for in a movie is mood, which is why I absolutely had to include Code 46 in my list. I found out about this movie completely by accident and I was not disappointed. It has a very distinct melancholic and bittersweet feel about it, not to mention two great leads – Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton.
This love story is set in a world where the large cities are only accessible through checkpoints to people with special travel permits issued by the totalitarian government. Those that are not so lucky live in the deserts outside these cities in what resembles shanty towns. William Geld (Tim Robbins) is a government investigator who is sent to Shanghai to investigate the case of forging of these travel permits at a company that issues them, where he meets Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton). “Code 46” is one of the codes by which this society runs and prohibits “genetically incestuous reproduction” since many genetic technologies like cloning have become common practice.
The Road is a movie that lies completely on the shoulders of only two actors. To simply say that Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee live up to the task would be an understatement. The on-screen relationship they create between a father and a son who try to survive in a dying world is truly special and the chemistry is undeniable. I really enjoyed what the film-makers came up with visually, creating a dark, gloomy, and realistic post-apocalyptic world.
Based on Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road follows a man and his son as they walk through America, devastated by unnamed catastrophe. Their destination is south where they hope to find milder temperatures since the world around them is cold and grows colder every day. Their main struggle is finding food, yet there is a much darker threat of bands of people who turned cannibalistic from hunger.
I AM LEGEND
I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about watching I am Legend because it looked just like any other potential blockbuster. When I started watching though, I found myself engrossed in the story from the first minutes. I wasn’t familiar with Richard Matheson’s book before the movie, so that saved me from comparing the two all the time and enjoying the movie even more. I did read the book afterward and appreciated both as two separate pieces, because they are too different. I was especially struck by the absolute emptiness of the scenery, especially of such a crowded place as New York City always is.
The story begins three years into the future and follows Robert Neville (Will Smith), a scientist, who is the only survivor (it seems) of a break-out of a man-made virus that killed off some of the human population and turned the rest into blood-thirsty creatures of the night. Neville is trying to find a vaccine for the virus by experimenting with his own blood, since he is immune. This is the other aspect of the movie I really enjoyed: the scientific parts of it looked a lot more plausible than in many other movies involving science.
I simply couldn’t resist including Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. The atmosphere and a great cast, including Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, kept my attention till the end. Besides, the themes of time-travel, and past and future overlapping were always fascinating to me.
The movie follows a convicted criminal James Cole (Bruce Willis) who is sent from the post-apocalyptic future into the year of 1996 in order to collect information about the origin of a deadly virus that was released that year and wiped out most of the human population. The organization that is thought responsible for this is called Army of the Twelve Monkeys. Surviving people are forced to live underground. However, Cole is mistakenly sent into the year 1990 where he is locked up in a mental institution.
I know there are so many more movies of this sub-genre that I didn’t include here but I will definitely discuss more of them in the future. Hopefully, you found something new for yourself on this list.