The Futuristic Dystopia

Everything is perfect in the future.  Everyone is happy, everything works.  The authorities have everything all figured out.  Nothing can possibly go wrong.

Or can it?

Half-brother to the End Of The World movie, the Futuristic Dystopia movie tends to follow certain perameters.

It’s hard to be a leader in a Futuristic Dystopia.  There are always Rebels who suddenly see the society for what it is.  Once these malcontents have had their realization, they must either fight or flee, or both.

Things aren’t so good for the rebels, of course.  Everyone’s after them, and chases tend to ensue.  Often they must have their heads put in uncomfortable apparatuses.

As one can see from the above examples, the Nixon era was a good time for Futuristic Dystopias (Brazil and the unpictured Blade Runner dating from the close-cousin Reagan era).  Sensors indicate that the genre is due for a revival (Minority Report being a good example of this).

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35 Responses to “The Futuristic Dystopia”
  1. rfd says:

    To my mind, Brazil takes the cake, although the movie version of 1984 is excellent as well.

    Have you read a book by Anthony Burgess called The Wanting Seed?

    • Todd says:

      Ah yes, 1984, how could I forget the grand-dad of them all? With the original uncomfortable head apparatus.

      • rfd says:

        Oh, and not to be a total livejournal nazi, but you have a broken image and your html is messing up my friends page. Wah! But I’ll live.

      • dougo says:

        Wouldn’t the grand-dad of them all be Metropolis?

        • Todd says:

          True enough, or for that matter, the silent version of Wizard of Oz.

          • dougo says:

            Oz is a dystopia?! Or do you mean Kansas?

            • Todd says:

              In the book, the Emerald City is a dystopia. The population is required to wear green-tinted glasses to make them believe the city is made out of emeralds. The Wizard, let’s not forget, is not a real Wizard, but a fraud. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

              “Bring me the broom of the Wicked Witch” might as well be “Bring me the turban of Osama bin Laden.” The Wizard knows he’s sending the girl on a suicide mission, and the witch has no plans to destroy the Wizard or his city. She’s a convenient scapegoat for the Wizard to control his subjects.

  2. kornleaf says:

    HA HA
    roller ball!

    hm… there are so many amazing ones to choose from.
    I must say that Brazil is an amazing example of the logical progression of a beurocratic government, like britian.

    You could mention Akira or any Japanese Animation of a post apocolyptic militaristic-corporatist system that gets extended to it’s logical, experimenting on kids, conclusion.

    could we include Gataca? or Total Recall? or City of Lost Children?

  3. kornleaf says:

    oh and I agree, the time seems right for new dystopic dreams put on film.

  4. greyaenigma says:

    To Serve The People

    I quite liked V for Vendetta.

    Silent Running isn’t quite the classic dystopia, but it does have a guy rebelling against higher-ups he disagrees with.

    Oh course, Brazil is wonderful.

    The Matrix fits this mold surprisingly well, except the leaders aren’t quote who we first thought. The Stargate SG-1 episode 2010 also deals with a future utopia where the leaders had some… less than humanitarian goals.

  5. catwalk says:

    i don’t know if serenity would count as dystopic… it seems more a return to the frontier days. still, there is an ominous government bent on bringing “civilization” to the wilds of space, and there are “rebels” (defeated as they already have been).

  6. dougo says:

    Too many to choose from. Other than Brazil, THX-1138 is probably my favorite. The challenge is to come up with Clinton-era dystopias other than The Matrix. All I can think of is Waterworld (1995), but is that dystopian or post-apocalyptic? Same goes for The Postman (1997), but the IMDb summary says post-apocalyptic so I guess not.

    • gazblow says:

      THX-1138 is probably my favorite

      I went to an NYU alumni event where the drama students were performing that theatrical icon of the 60s HAIR! However, some genius director decided to conceptualize it in a THX-1138 type design-scheme/dystopian future.

      Needless to say, it made no sense.

  7. toku666 says:

    Give it up for Zardoz.

    Sean Connery in tiny pants. COME ON!

  8. yetra says:

    Hm, not sure if it would totally count, as you might enjoy checking out Immortel ( A very interesting futuristic viewpoint, amazing animation style, great eye candy. But definitely not a future world where anyone has any pretense that it is utopia.

  9. ghostgecko says:

    Back to the Future 2. Although in many ways a bad movie, you’ve got to admire the inexplicable importance of one love triangle on the lives of untold thousands of people 60 years later.

    How about A Handmaid’s Tale? I mention it because the problem with utopias and dystopias are that they’re a matter of perspective. Obviously someone is getting a good deal in a dystopia, otherwise it wouldn’t exist. Sure, it blows to be a fertile woman in that movie/book, but it’s terrific if you’re a guy.

    Most dystopias are structured like a baboon troop. The leaders, theoretically having the best of everything, have to be ever alert to hold on to their position. The unlucky bastards at the bottom of the totem pole are the potential rebels, and also stressed. The ones who really make out good are the middle management asskissers. They suck up to the leader, support him but don’t challenge him, so they can enjoy the crumbs that fall from his table and have the lowest levels of stress. Of course, this only lasts until a regime change, and then it’s these very asskissers who have it the hardest (Enron, Nazis, etc, the pattern holds). But while the living is good, it’s very good, and it’s enough of a tradeoff to be worthwhile.

  10. noskilz says:

    What about Metropolis?

    How about Fritz Lang’s Metropolis?

    Although I have to admit my favorite parts are Rotwang and the Maria-bot as well as the overall look of the thing.

  11. toliverchap says:

    It’s all about Zardoz.

  12. craigjclark says:

    Well, just about any film I could name has already been brought up — Brazil (my favorite film of all time), Sleeper, Metropolis, Zardoz — but I think I have one ringer for you:

    Escape from New York. Of course, that film is set in the distant future of 1997, but I still think it has the requisite elements: a duplicitous government, a leader in a bind, a rebel movement (although this was stressed more in the sequel, Escape from L.A.) and one hell of a chase (in a way, the entire film is one, long chase).

    • Todd says:

      I think Escape From New York is a completely valid entry in this genre — the only wrinkle being that we never see what the “normal” society is like.

      Myself, I miss the old days of 1997, when New York was a filthy prison-island filled with rapists and murderers and the World Trade Center was still standing.

  13. For years I did research for a book I wanted to write, The Last Days of Man on Earth: The Science Fiction Film 1968-1977

    It just seemed to be a cinema of “little or no hope,” somewhat within boundaries set by 2001 and Star Wars — there were precursors, of course (Seconds was the one I always thought of) and stragglers (Blade Runner), but it was an interesting time for SF film. Plenty of dystopias, though probably as many “post-apocalyptic” setting as well.

    Lots of interesting attempts at “thoughtful” SF. Most of the films aren’t very good, but they’re trying. Might have eventually gone somewhere if Star Wars hadn’t come along.

    I think it’s also the first time in film history that a successful series of movies was released, each one of which had a depressing, “feel-bad” ending: the five Planet of the Apes films, which have elements of both post-apocalypse and dystopia. The “downbeat series” idea somewhat continued into the genre that took over the “no hope” line as SF gave it up: horror.

    Not yet mentioned (not all from 1968-1977): Robert Fuest’s The Last Days of Man on Earth, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (more post-apocalyptic, I guess), and Godard’s Alphaville.

  14. Do The Running Man and Total Recall count?

    Hell, Network almost counts, now that I think of it.

    And that new Clive Owen movie that’s coming out–about a world in women can’t have babies anymore–that looks to be walk the line between the apocalypse/dystopia genre, and on the heels of Minority Report and The Island seems indicative of a Bush-era wave of future paranoia films. I remember when George W. got elected–the only solace I could take was the realization that the art seems to get better under crappy presidents. Only that hasn’t happened yet, and much worse things than we could imagine have.

    • Side note: do you think the remakes of Rollerball and Planet of the Apes and the in-production remakes of Logan’s Run and Westworld are responses to the current political climate, albeit less creative ones than those of the 70’s (since they’re remakes)? I mean, it’s not like people are remaking Breakfast at Tiffany’s or The Party or Love Story here.

      • Todd says:

        I think that’s exactly right — Hollywood is responding to the current climate, but they’re also being run by marketers and corporate heads, so they will make “revolutionary” movies that are actually (or also) safe remakes of old well-loved classics.

        Funny, you’re the second one to mention Westworld; funny because Crichton went on to become such a right-wing reactionary.

    • Todd says:

      Hell, Network almost counts, now that I think of it.

      Except Network has, in the 30 years since its release, gone from being a satire to being a documentary.

      I should probably see The Island.