Following the lead of literary purveyors of doom, many filmmakers have not viewed the future as the best of all possible worlds. Their bleak vision is one of a morally bankrupt humanity devoid of individuality -- a pessimism that runs counter... [more]
Following the lead of literary purveyors of doom, many filmmakers have not viewed the future as the best of all possible worlds. Their bleak vision is one of a morally bankrupt humanity devoid of individuality -- a pessimism that runs counter to the formulaic hopefulness displayed in the majority of studio films.
In projects as early as Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis,' Dystopian films portray technology as having a dehumanizing effect on society. While the escalating industrialization of the early twentieth century -- with its widespread use of assembly lines and manufacturing machinery -- is the sign of modern progress, and for many a cause for optimism, some writers and artists feel threatened by what they see as the mechanization of culture.
The Dystopian movement emerged as a facet of the burgeoning growth of Science Fiction, which attempts to extrapolate human development along its current trajectory of modernization. And the results of those projections are not always good. In many Dystopian novels -- and in their subsequent film adaptions -- man is often at the mercy of technology, rather than in control of it. Michael Radford's '1984' (from the novel by George Orwell) and Francois Truffaut's 'Fahrenheit 451' (from the novel by Ray Bradbury) serve as cautionary tales of a world dominated by fascism and human decay. These films not only reflect the latent fear and paranoia that has gripped the West during the twentieth century, they also speak to greater and more universal fears: the future as the great unknown, and the fundamentally violent nature of mankind. The making of Dystopian film continues unabated in contemporary times.
The landmark Dystopian piece of the late twentieth century is Ridley Scott's brilliant 'Blade Runner,' which imagines a world past environmental catastrophe, a fractured and chaotic society in which the only sentient beings that display any redeeming "human" qualities are robots manufactured as a slave race. In Scott's vision (inspired by P.K. Dick's futuristic fiction), people have already lost their humanity and destroyed the living parts of the world. As a result, any sense of value becomes obsolete; death no longer has any real meaning. With the advent of the Internet, Dystopian filmmakers have been influenced by Cyberpunk literature, which often portrays the world as overrun by malevolent computers.
Cyberpunk reflects society's growing paranoia that, while cyberspace allows mass communication and the democratization of information, it can also rob people of their privacy, dignity, and humanity. In the "Terminator" film series, bands of underground renegade humans battle to free themselves from the control of intelligent cyborgs. In 'The Matrix" life is depicted as a virtual-reality construct, in which computers are designed to use humans as an energy source. The film did so well that it has spawned two sequels, which further flesh out the concept of 'humans as batteries for our evil robot insect overlords.' As American society continues to feel millennial tension, the place of Dystopian films in the popular imagination seems secured. Despite these works' inherent pessimism, they are usually intended not as prognostication, but rather as a warning. In many of these films, the resulting message is one of hope -- hope that humans, once aware of the road to be traveled, may yet triumph over the pitfalls that potentially marr the species' future.