I was reading a book about the future, published in 1998, and it was quite simply the funniest thing I’ve read in weeks. Among other things, it predicted by the year 2005 we’d have flip-phones that connected to the internet, cars that drove without assistance and robots dusting crops autonomously. By 2013 (or thereabouts), humans would be making regular trips to the moon and anybody who’d smoked in the previous fifty years would be forced to have bionic lungs implanted. By 2025 we’d all be holograms living in a digital universe free of fear, death and illness, generated by an enormous mind-brain living inside a gigantic robot donkey that forged its way through the stars. Or something.
Futurists and fortune-tellers are at an immediate and significant disadvantage because, like quantum physics, the future is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine. One of my favourite semi-dirty NSFW webcomics, Oglaf has a strap line that goes, “compare porn now to porn fifty years ago, then extrapolate that fifty years from now. That shit’s nasty.” That’s sort of what I mean. The future is going to be one hell of a weird place.
That doesn’t stop film-makers imagining the future, and the best versions of mankind’s destiny are always dystopian. Dystopias are the most stylish of future worlds, consisting of awesome uniforms and bad-ass architecture. Who wants to live in a perfect world when you can live in an imperfect one? Here are some awesomely stylish dystopias in film.
(Author’s note : I was thinking, actually, that if you described our world to people in the fifties they’d think ot was some kind of hellish dystopia. “Imagine, right, everybody’s connected to everybody by invisible phone lines but nobody hangs out, sexual deviants walk the streets with impunity, nobody listens to big band music anymore, nobody wears a hat and racial minorities can vote and it’s goddamn awesome“.)
Equilibrium is one of those movies that when you mention it to people they look blankly at you. Some people don’t even realise this was a film because it’s so totally derivative of other dystopian fictions like Fahrenheit 451, Metropolis, Alphaville, and Brave New World that it can be difficult to separate it from more well-known films. This is a mistake, because though there is a lot of derivation, Equilibrium takes only the very best bits of these films and combines them into a film that’s slick and interesting. There’s a lot of black-and-white-and-red, as per the future Nazi feel of the film, with a hard metal and concrete chic, and the absolute best fight scenes since The Matrix. If people remember Equilibrium at all, it’s because of the gun-martial-arts stuff that goes on. Christian Bale and Sean Bean wear what look like chef tunics and dispense justice in the future state Libria where feeling is ruthlessly suppressed with drugs and the destruction of culture.
To summarize : Nazi feel, concrete, samurai swords and guns, Christian Bale, Sean Bean and Emily Watson : there is very little reason to not see Equilibrium.
For some reason we like the idea that the future is going to be underwear models wearing Hugo Boss suits (I’m not objecting) so from a stylistic point of view Gattaca might seem a little pedestrian. Given that the basic premise is of a future world where people of perfect genetic stock are lauded, while the DNA-impaired are suppressed, the thematic elements tend towards uniformity and homogenity. Gattaca is actually weirdly beautiful, with most of the action centred around the titular city in which preparations are constantly underway for missions to Saturn’s moon Titan. In this sterile, strangely elegant world, Ethan Hawke doesn’t belong – as a genetically inferior person, he is more or less always a fugitive. While Gattaca is a scary vision of the sort of enforced perfection that we seem to be angling towards with our current don’t-drink-don’t-smoke-eat-your-vegetables mentality, it has to be said that never has the future looked so much like an Emporio Armani advert.
Combo Breaker. It couldn’t be argued that there’s anything sexy about Brazil. Like most things that Terry Gilliam (he of Monty Python) is involved in, there’s very little of Brazil that isn’t disturbing and bizarre, but the world it paints is so abstractly horrible, so Goya-esque, that it transcends ugliness and becomes strangely alluring. Everything is more or less constantly a mess, with people fighting for room among the mysterious pipes and wires that festoon everything while secret police cut through the ceiling, liquidate the wrong person, and present a bill to his widow. Brazil paints such a horrible picture of the world, yet it’s one that fits with the horrible people that inhabit it.
AEON Flux (2005)
Supposedly I’ve seen AEON Flux – I once had a very impassioned (drunken) conversation with a Sociology major about this very film – but if you hooked me up to a polygraph I would swear blind I hadn’t and the needle wouldn’t waver. You could say that the only movie that is a waste of your time is one that fails to make an impression on you, and in that case I’d like to nominate It’s A Wonderful Life, The Godfather and AEON Flux for this category. I didn’t even know that Charlize Theron was in this movie until I googled it. I’m not even sure who Charlize Theron is.
Actually, I do remember something about watching this film. I remember looking it up on wikipedia and being unsurprised it was based on a cartoon that aired on MTV (doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know?) and noticing that Charlize Theron, who I’d only previously heard of because she appeared in 2003’s Monster and thus was previously known to me as THIS WOMAN. Charlize Theron is penis-confusy.
I was going to say something about AEON Flux but it’s not worth it. This film was forgettable. I can’t even say for certain it was set in a dystopia, I just wanted to use the picture.
Alphaville is that one film that manages to confound futurists and look futuristic despite the fact it’s filmed entirely in stuff that already existed. It looks like it’s set in a future dystopian state even though it was filmed in 1960s Paris. It draws you in even though very little happens in the first hour. As I mentioned, Alphaville is the progenitor of the “emotion is bad” trope used in Equilibrium, as well as informing the old-but-new feel of Gattaca, the neo-noir feel of Blade Runner and the oppressive bureaucracy of Brazil. Alphaville, like Metropolis, is just one of those films you have to see because it created so many tropes and idioms of the movie-making industry that it’s like sitting on the knee of a kindly grandfather.