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Category Archives: Films and TV Shows
NPR Story About a Film About Stalinist Russia in 1952
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner
Are humans the only beings who can learn emotion, and is this the fundamental idea that comes to define and separate us from other beings? Director Ridley Scott explores these and other ethical issues in his 1982 film Blade Runner, a masterpiece of American science fiction. Based on novelist Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner has been immortalized as one of the greatest works of late twentieth century cinematography thanks to its standard-setting cyberpunk set design, eclectic soundtrack, and thought provoking questions about the extent of human rights.
The year is 2017, and, as we would expect, the streets of Los Angeles are crowded with masses of people. However, in this era, rickety, crude spacecrafts, tremendous, towering black obelisk buildings, and animated billboards hundreds of stories tall add to the already chaotic setting. The city is under a constant state of torrential downpour and fog, with a seemingly endless amount of dirty neon signs peering through the gloomy musk. Muted colors, constant smokiness, and a score of synthesizers and futuristic sound effects all inspire the film’s finely executed gritty urban dystopia setting.
In the film’s universe, science has developed to the point where the creation of “Replicants,” genetically engineered beings who can be designed to be mentally and physically equivalent or superior to humans, is possible, and they are widely produced in the aim of slave labor by the Tyrell Corporation. They are given no rights under law, and are banned from existence on Earth. The title of the film refers to a sect of the police force who hunts down escaped Replicants and destroys them. Rick Deckard, himself a Blade Runner, is tasked with finding a group of advanced models of Replicants who are hiding themselves somewhere in Los Angeles in an effort to find a way to extend their genetically coded four year lifespans. As he searches for and finally confronts the renegades, he finds that the minds of these Replicants have tremendously developed beyond their initial design, and must consider the grey area between an intelligence that’s natural and one that’s artificial.
Replicants are created by humans with the sole purpose of servitude. One of the female Replicants is described as being a “… basic pleasure model…” and the others, thanks to their above-human strength, are used for hard labor. They are more than simple robots; they are designed to look, act, and think like we do, or often at a superior level than us. Thus, the central question posed by the film: what separates us from these beings we have created in our image? When the Replicants begin to behave in ways that were not originally intended and their behavior even further resembles that of humans, is it correct to strip them of the same rights we give ourselves, ban their presence from the Earth, and give orders to shoot them on sight?
The film’s commentary on the extent of human rights is similar to some of the themes raised in Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel Brave New World, albeit in a different context. In this world, a person’s place in society is decided at birth, and they are chemically manipulated to their benefit or detriment as appropriate to their class. It is said and accepted that everybody shares equal rights, but we as readers know this is not true because some people’s basic abilities to think and reason for themselves are forcefully taken away from them. In both Brave New World and Blade Runner, members of society are born to varying levels of physical and mental prowess. The practice is widely accepted by the people of both societies without issue. However, as viewers looking in on the worlds depicted by Huxley and Scott from our time, their works raise several questions of equality in human rights and ponder the possibility of an intellectual being that is described by the mighty Tyrell Corporation as “more human than human.”
Opening introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbWNZkoQHuE
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Ghost in the Shell is an animated film directed by Mamoru Oshii. The movie is set in the future where technology is so advanced that people and technology are merged to become more efficient beings. An example is a doctor whose fingers elongate and pieces of metal can be seen underneath. Many humans have computers as a replacement for a brain which leaves them open to being hacked. The garbage collector was hacked in such a way that false memories of a fake wife and child was programmed in his brain. Even the picture he tried to show to his partner of his wife was just a picture of him. There are also secret police who track down and stop hackers. The protagonist, Makoto Kusanagi, is part of Section 9 and this episode causes her to question her identity. With the birth of advanced technology, individuality is lost. There is a scene where there is a lady inside a building that looks just like Kusanagi, while Kusanagi herself is standing on the street level. This shows that the protagonist could have been modeled after the lady and she is not original at all. She even questions her own existence.
“…there’s a remarkable number of things needed to make an individual what they are. A face to distinguish…A voice you aren’t aware of…The hand you see…memories of childhood…All of that goes into making me what I am…Perhaps…I’m a replicant made with a cyborg body and computer brain. Or maybe there never was a real “me” to begin with.”
She wonders if her brain is programmed to think that she is contains a “ghost”, what sets a part a human and a robot (similar to a soul). Even though her brain may be created to think this way, she does not blindly follow the influences of her environment but questions them.
Kusanagi knows that if she wants to leave the life she has now she has the choice to do so but in return she would have to give up all of her memories and live as an empty shell. This is similar to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where everyone is programmed to think they are happy and are practically brainwashed to say certain phrases. Most of the people of London are just empty shells that the government fills with what suits their needs.
Science and Technology is a prevalent theme in Ghost in the Shell. Since technology has become so advanced, the lines between artificial intelligence and humans are starting to blur so comes the question: what can be considered being human?
The Matrix (1999): Beware of Existential Crisis.
The Matrix, while presenting the story of a rescue from a dystopian society, is every computer geek’s dream come true. Directed by the Wachowski brothers and released in 1999, it details the double life of seemingly average Thomas Anderson. Anderson is a mediocre office worker in a cubicle by day and a genius computer hacker known as Neo by night.
One night, as Neo is asleep by his computer, he is wakened by messages on his screen from somebody who seems to know who he is and directs him to a meeting. Neo follows the instructions and is confronted by another famous hacker named Trinity, who claims that she knows he has been looking into the matrix and he is now in great danger. Despite this warning, Neo is very shocked that the infamous Trinity, hacker of the IRS database, is a woman.
The scene cuts to Neo waking up late in his bed the next morning and rushing to work. However, this is no ordinary day: mysterious agents in dark glasses swarm the workplace after Neo is contacted by a dangerous and wanted computer hacker named Morpheus. Following this contact leads a sequence of events in which Neo is transferred from the hands of the agents to that of Morpheus’ black-leather-clad gang. Among this group, references are made to him being “The One.”
When Neo meets Morpheus face to face, the truth about the matrix is revealed to him. The matrix is the world we live in: where we breathe, live, and work daily. However, all this life is in fact nothing but a carefully constructed virtual reality. Human bodies are actually dominated by technological forces and lie asleep in pods in their dystopian structure, providing energy to the ruling artificial intelligence. This occurred as a result of a war between machines and humans. Supposedly Neo is The One to save humanity from this miserable existence.
At this point, Neo is confronted with a crucial choice upon which the future of mankind depends. He can consume a red pill and become further involved with Morpheus’ gang of male and female super-humans in leather to save the human race; or, he can take a blue pill that will make him forget everything he has learned and continue to live his ordinary, ignorant life.
Our protagonist of course chooses the red pill, and sets off on his destiny to save the world. He is trained in the martial arts via computer chips, and battles the agents who represent the controlling world and operators of the matrix program. He learns to bend the virtual world of the matrix to his will, knowing that the governing laws of physics are actually meaningless. This mental strength and his physical strength as The One help him to defeat the machines in a final battle full of slowmo gunshot scenes. The movie ends with a promised next step to reveal to humanity that the world they live in is nothing but a construction.
Technology and Ethics
The theme of technology has a prominent role to play in The Matrix, and it is not the most positive one. The downfall of humanity came about from man’s complete dominance on it. As Morpheus tells Neo, “You are a slave.” Indeed, many modern humans have been enslaved to revolutionary technologies (How many times did you check your smart phone while reading this internet blog post?). Historically, the dependency developed to such an extreme that it produced the Y2K scare of the turn of the century that was certainly in full hype during the production of The Matrix. The loss of computer systems meant the falling apart of many necessary things we rely on computers for, including big business.
This extreme expression of technology to ultimately control society is also represented in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where technologies such as feelies and soma render the masses utterly dependent. However, the directors show, through both Neo’s mental and physical powers in the matrix and productive technologies such as the computer chips that teach concepts in mere seconds, how technology can be harnessed by humans and mastered rather than the other way around.
Ethics certainly has a role to play in the technological world, particularly the heated debate over the power of artificial intelligence, which has formidably taken over the world in this movie.
The actions of all the characters are ethically questionable, as Neo and all of his friends are wanted computer hackers (note that this practice is illegal in iLand Getaway!)
Religion also has its threads in The Matrix. Neo is a Christ-like figure in many ways. He is the Messiah of Morpheus’s crew, hailed by oracle prophecies as “The One” in the same way that Jesus was referred to in the Old Testament and foretold by John the Baptist. Continuing on the path of Jesus’ life, one of the group members, Cypher, betrays Neo’s location to the agents in exchange for nice dinners and a promise that he will forget all about The Matrix and live ignorantly. This inside agent is reminiscent of Judas, who betrays Jesus to the Pharisees in exchange for a monetary favor. Neo even operates with Morpheus from Zion, the last human civilization to exist and not coincidentally the name of the mountain from which Christ will reign during his second coming in the Bible.
Perhaps the most clear reference to Neo as a Christ-like figure is his death and resurrection to a new body in the final fight with head agent Smith. Though he is shot and his heart stops beating, in an act that defies logic, he comes back to life in a restored body that is even more physically and mentally capable than before. Neo completes his Christ-like journey by ascending into the sky at the movie’s end, as Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection.
Compare and Contrast
The Matrix reminded me of the concept of The Giver and the cave scene from Plato’s Republic, especially regarding how the reality the population experiences is not all that is really there. In The Giver, the true world of emotions and color is stomped under the surface via daily injections and rules, leaving community members to experience a weaker version of the real world. The cave scene detailed by Plato paints a similar picture, as members of the cave blindly sit and watch the shadows flicker on the wall. They are ignorant to the goings on of the real world; this constructed reality is the definition of their existence, until one cave dweller ventures outside and sees the beauty of the real world. Similarly, the Matrix is “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” The only contrast here is that the real world is not a beautiful one in any sense, but rather a nightmare that some such as Cypher would risk everything to forget about and go back to blissful ignorance. However, a parallel can be drawn between Neo and countless utopian protagonists such as Jonas from The Giver, who cannot turn back to their old way of living once they have tasted the truth.
Famous Red Pill/Blue Pill scene
The scene of Neo’s death and resurrection, referred to as The Passion of Neo
World War Z
World War Z is a post-apocalyptic dystopian movie about the outburst of rabies-like infection which turns healthy people into “zombies”. The movie starts off with Gerry and his happy family, living their normal life. Suddenly, the mood of the movie turns immediately from peace to chaos— cars started crashing, people swarming in every direction, and the police trying to get the situation under control.
Gerry and his family fled from the city, and tried to survive while he awaits for help. Turns out, Gerry used to be a UN investigator. He is being called back to help out with the UN’s research on this outburst. The UN Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni, tries his best to get Gerry and his family into the U.S. Navy base where they could be safe.
When at the U.S. Navy base, Gerry was coerced into joining the investigation team to find a cure for the disease. The rest of the movie showcases Gerry’s multiple missions in various countries, each time trying to survive zombie attacks. Ultimately, Gerry succeeds in finding a temporal cure.
I find that this movie focused a lot on zombie-human wars, providing minimal attention on themes. Nonetheless, there were a few themes.
The first one is government.
After Gerry and his family arrives the U.S Navy base, Thierry asks Gerry to join in the investigation. When Gerry refuses to go because of his family, Thierry says that him and his family would then have to be relocated at a refugee camp in mainland. This is because the U.S. Navy has a policy that any “unessential” group of people will be expelled from the ship and transferred to the mainland refugee camp. Gerry knows that the mainland refugee camp is not safe at all, and being at sea is his family’s safest bet for survival. Having convinced, Gerry agrees to Thierry’s offer.
I find that human’s individual rights is not a priority anymore under this dystopian setting. Gerry was basically threatened/forced to follow the the UN’s orders. And in the movie, Gerry was told “If you don’t go, there’s a lot of people waiting in line to take your spot”. It goes to show that in a dystopia setting, the individual is not seen as an individual anymore; the individual serves the community, and the government.
In fact, from this example, I find the theme of ethics come into play too. In the movie, When Gerry was thought to be dead, Gerry’s wife and 2 girls were escorted out of the navy ship and to the refugee camps almost immediately. While it sounds logical to do so, I argue that it is not entirely rational and definitely unethical. First off, they were not 100% sure that Gerry was dead, and secondly, if the family were already on the ship, why not just let them be there? At least for a couple of weeks while they could confirm that Gerry was actually dead. I thought the government was wasting more manpower, and posed more threat to themselves by having to deliver each and every “unessential” persons immediately to the dangerous mainland refugee camp every time an “essential” member was dead.
I find that the movie also displayed themes of science/technology vs. nature.
In the end, Gerry found a solution to the disease. He realized that the zombies only attacked healthy human beings, and when facing sick and old people, they ignore them and just walks away. So, Gerry decided to try a radical solution of injecting oneself with another deadly but curable disease. There was a quote in the movie that summarized how Gerry found out the solution, “Mother nature is like a serial killer, like every serial killer, she wants to get caught… she likes disguising her weaknesses as strengths.” The fact that Gerry was able to come up with this solution,shows that medical technology was advanced enough to overcome flaws of nature.
The Omega Man (1971)
Between China & Russia engaging in germ warfare and a plague killing millions in the US (as far as we know), Dr. Robert Neville has become the last man on earth. In a flashback, we learn that Neville gave himself one of the trial vaccines after his pilot dies while they are flying.
Dr. Robert Neville believes he is living alone in the city. By day, he finds entertainment in tracking “The Family” and watching reruns of the movie, Woodstock. By night, he is holed up in his apartment, cooking dinner and speaking to a statue.
“The Family”: When people succumbed to the plague, not all of them died. There were some that became albinos. The albinos ended up being the ones who burned many of the bodies and tried to go back to simpler living. They see humanity’s downfall as science. Due to their albino skin and cultish behavior, they started to kill anyone who was not like them (even people who did not contract the disease and survived the plague).
Matthias: You are discarded. You are the refuse of the past.
Neville: You are full of crap!
After walking around the city’s department store, Neville thinks he sees a woman. As he goes on a chase to find this person, he gets caught by “The Family” when they drop a huge wine shelf on him. Neville is brought in front of Mathias, leader of “The Family” and former news anchor. Mathias determines that Dr. Neville is guilty of murder and must be burned at the stake.
Neville gets rescued by a group of people still surviving, including the woman Lisa that he spotted earlier in the department store. Soon, Neville learns that there are a group of people who have still not contracted the virus. Just one of them, Lisa’s younger brother Richie, is slowly turning into an Albino.
Luckily, Neville realizes that he can use his blood to cure Richie. When Richie is cured, he questions if Neville would now pass along the vaccine to “The Family” so that they could also be cured. Instantly, Neville refuses and Richie takes on the mission to go convince “The Family” to work with Neville and receive the treatment. “The Family” thinks Neville sent Richie as a spy and they kill him.
In the meantime, Lisa went shopping for the day and unexpectedly succumbs to the Albino disease. She lets “The Family” into Neville’s home and they stab him. When Neville tries to escape, he (stupidly) brings Lisa with him. Mathias throws a spear and hits Neville in the chest – Neville is slowly dying but ends up living long enough to give some of his blood to the remaining humans. They drive off and it leaves the viewers wondering what will happen.
This movie was based off of the 1954 book, I am Legend. However, the movie does differ from the book although some of the premises are the same. I actually found the movie to be quite telling of the time period. This was a point in history that we discussed in class as being a time when people didn’t know if they were going to die. There was the cuban missiles crisis, the arms race with Russia, Vietnam… I guess it seemed as if the world falling apart was not such a far fetched reality.
This movie is often also credited with being one of the first to have an interracial kissing scene. Neville is played by the actor, Charlton Heston who is white and Lisa is played by the actress, Rosalind Cash who is black. They do have a love scene in the movie.
Comparing The Omega Man to Ecotopia:
Both The Omega Man and Ecotopia were made/published in the 70s. I see a link between the two in that society evolves in a distinct way due to the current realities. The Omega Man is an apocalyptic dystopia that has been created because of biological warfare and human greed. Ecotopia is created after some of the states choose to secede when they are sick of how horrible the US had become. Obviously Ecotopia is a voluntary response to their reality as opposed to The Omega Man which is the opposite.
I am Legend
I am Legend (2007) is a film based on a novel with the same name by Richard Matheson written in the mid 20th century. The film is set in 2012, three years after a genetically re-engineered version of the measles virus, created as cure for cancer, mutates into a strain that infects humans and some animals. Flashbacks in the film reveal that in this time, over 90% of the world’s population had died, 9% had become infected but not died, and now prey on the survivors. Less than 1% of the population is immune to the virus, and many of those who are immune either committed suicide due to isolation or were killed by the infected. The film follows US Army virologist, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville who remains in New York City to attempt to discover a cure for the vaccine. Robert is the last man in New York City, and he believes, in the world. The infected humans are shown to be hurt by the sunlight, and thus are nocturnal.
Each day, Robert experiments on rats infected with the virus to find a cure, and goes throughout the city searching for food and supplies. Every afternoon he waits at the South Street Seaport and makes radio broadcasts calling for all survivors to meet him there. Robert’s only companion is his dog Sam, who he is forced to strangle after she too becomes infected with the virus while defending him against an infected “dark-seeker.” Robert’s wife and daughter were ostensibly killed in a helicopter crash in 2009 during a military evacuation. Robert has resorted to setting up mannequins in a video store, watching recordings of old news, in addition to his relationship with Sam for companionship. Following Sam’s death, Robert goes on a killing spree at night out of anger. This is when Anna and a child named Ethan come to rescue him. When they return to his home, Robert realizes he has discovered a cure created by a vaccine using his own blood. Robert ultimately sacrifices himself for the sake of humanity after the infected follow them back to his home in Washington Square and gives Anna the vial of the blood from the infected human he was in the process of curing to take to a safe town in Vermont. The film ends with Anna and Ethan arriving in Vermont safely and Anna handing over the vial with the cure.
This post-apocalyptic dystopia relates primarily to the theme of science and the relationships of humans. I am Legend seems to present the idea that we must be cautious with scientific advances so that in the process of attempting to cure an illness, we do not create one that ends society. For instance, one fear by some scientists is that in the process of over-medicating or creating different vaccines, is that some viruses evolve to resist the treatment. This film highlights a more extreme version of this fear. I am Legend also shows the importance of human contact and interaction in society. As the last man in the city, Robert Neville begins to speak to mannequins, even flirting with one at one point, when he loses his dog (his only companion), Neville cracks.
This clip shows Neville’s mental breakdown following Sam’s death and his need for human interaction:
He goes on a nearly suicidal mission in retaliation. In order to maintain a sense of interaction and normalcy, Robert also watches old news broadcasts daily as well. Together, these highlight the importance of interaction on the individual.
In contrast to being the only person left in the world, Lord of the Flies by William Golding sets his novel with a group of boys left stranded on an island. While I am Legend highlights the importance of human interaction, Golding displays the cruelty of human nature. Golding uses the conflicts between the boys on the island and the danger that ensues in order to show the loss of innocence that results from scarce resources. Also a post-apocalyptic work, Lord of the Flies shows how competition and fear can lead even a group of preadolescent boys to steal, kill, and torture one another. While I am Legend emphasizes the need for an individual to engage with society, Golding emphasizes the dark state of human nature when a small group struggles to survive.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa is a young princess in the Valley of the Wind. She’s the heroin of the story, where she actively does her best in saving the valley of the wind, and nature in general, from an aggressive kingdom named Tolmekia.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where industrialization has poisoned the soils of the earth to the point where jungles and its creatures (predominantly insects) have mutated. Everyone in this world knows that jungles are poisonous, and actively tries to avoid being in the jungle, and also they FEAR the jungle, especially its largest creatures known as the Ohm (creature with multiple red eyes in the picture)
Biggest Theme: Ecology
Since the environment has become toxic, everyone in the world fears it. Everyone wears a mask that prevents him or her from inhaling toxic air emitted from the jungle. However, this is not the case with Nausicaa and The Valley of the Wind.
Nausicaa is unafraid of the jungle. On the contrary, she is compassionate and caring for the jungle and its creatures. She admires the beauty of the jungle, and regularly visits it. Having these values in her, and being so respected for her compassion and intellect, the citizens of The Valley of the Wind learns from Nausicaa’s values. That is why the people of the valley learn to live in peace with nature.
The Valley of the Wind, naturally having constant flow of wind, is free from the toxic air. But I don’t think that this solely attributes to the valley’s geographical position; it also attributes to the people’s relationship with the jungle and its creatures. In the movie, when the Tolmekians sparked a war with all parties including the Ohms, the Valley of the Wind experiences no wind for the first time.
Later on, when Nausicaa comes back to the valley to save her people, she again uses her kindness to calm the Ohms down. Although she was greatly wounded from the war, the Ohms, having healing powers, chose to heal Nausicaa because of her kindness. Ultimately, the wind returned to the valley.
I feel that Miyazaki, the writer and director of this movie, is trying to convey that we not only have to be kind to human beings, but also nature and all of its beings too. It takes one person to affect an entire village of people, so if we adopted this behavior, we could affect even more people, and soon it will also improve our environment.
Other Notable Themes:
Science and Technology
The entire setting of the movie is based upon human’s irresponsible use of technology. This technological abuse has corroded the soils and mutated nature. I also think that the reason to why technology has destroyed the earth is due to human’s need for instant gratification. This is emphasized in the movie when the Tolmekians tried to revive the same disastrous technology that destroyed the earth – The Great Warrior. However, the attempt for reviving The Great Warrior has backfired during the war, and the Great Warrior died almost instantly upon being summoned.
Relationship between the Sexes.
While romance between male and female characters can be spotted, it is not actively displayed through the movie. The movie, however, showcase women in power and , ultimately, women who save the day. While it does have male characters in it, they are almost all supporting characters to the female leaders. For example, when the Tolmekians caught Nausicaa, she did manage to get free through the help of a male friend named Asbel. However, after that, Nausicaa proceeds to save an entire village of people through her flying skills, her intellect about nature, her compassion for the creatures, and her self-developed technique in taming the creatures.
I really enjoyed this animation, and I would recommend everyone to watch the movie!
Star Trek “The Apple” and “The Way to Eden”
Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek has always showed an idealistic future that didn’t run away from the tough questions. In the season 2 episode “The Apple,” Captain Kirk and company beam down onto a planet that seems like a paradise… until it starts killing off his crewmen. It turns out that the planet is peopled by a primitive tribe under the leadership of an intelligent machine called Vaal. Vaal is a benevolent dictator that provides fruit of the tribe to eat, ensures that the people will never age or get sick, but in return, the primitive people are like children. They don’t even know what sex or love is as Vaal has prohibited closeness and touching between men and women.
Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy engage in a debate very similar to the one at the end of Brave New World: is it better to be happy or free? Spock argues that the people are happy and well cared for by Vaal, and they should not interfere. McCoy argues that the people aren’t living, they’re merely existing, as they have no freedom, and they should recue them from mindless obedience to Vaal.
In the end, Vaal, rightly deciding that Kirk’s landing party is a threat to him, orders the people to kill them. Kirk stops the attack with only one crewman dead and in return, kills Vaal by draining its power supply, thereby freeing the people and setting them on the path of social evolution.
In addition to the parallels between “The Apple” and Brave New World, the primitive people of Vaal are very similar to the Eloi in The Time Machine. Both groups are primitive and child-like because they are under the care of someone or something else. In The Time Machine, the Morlocks have malevolent intentions and the Time Traveler is unable to rescue the Eloi, while “The Apple” has a decidedly happier ending.
Briefly, the Star Trek episode “The Way to Eden” has a bunch of hippies rebelling against authority. They hijack the Enterprise ad redirect it to a mythical planet called Eden where they plan to create their own primitive society away from the Federation’s technology.
Their idea of man’s nature is benevolent; man doesn’t need the intense rigid structure that characterizes the society in Brave New World. They just need, to, like, be free and get back to their roots, man. In this case, they would probably like to live simply, like the Eloi or the tribe in “The Apple” – as long as there aren’t Morlocks or Vaal
ruling over them.
Divergent (2014); Faction Before Blood
“I don’t want to be just one thing. I can’t be. I want to be brave, and I want to be selfless, intelligent and honest and kind.” –Four
Divergent (2014), directed by Neil Burger, takes place in a futuristic post-war Chicago, where a totalitarian society is separated into five factions, or groups where people share a primary characteristic. Erudite are the ones who value knowledge and logic; Amity farm the land and are always happy and harmonious; Candor are truthful and value honesty; Dauntless are the brave and fearless protectors, and police, of the city; and Abnegation, or Stiffs, are selfless, simple public servants who are trusted to run the government.
Beatrice Prior was born into Abnegation, along with her brother Caleb. They both undergo the obligatory aptitude test, which determines which faction they are best suited for. Although teens usually receive the result of the faction they are born into about ninety-five percent of the time, Beatrice’s results are inconclusive. Knowing she has a hint of Dauntless inside of her, she makes the bold move to choose Dauntless as her new faction during the Choosing Ceremony.
Training starts immediately and she must learn to be both physically and mentally fit to earn her stay within Dauntless. Now known as Tris, she steadily climbs the performance chart with her determination and dexterity. Meanwhile, she must protect her secret of being Divergent, or someone with multiple attributes of several factions. Divergents can think independently and creatively, and the government cannot control their thinking. Therefore, they are considered dangerous threats and are aggressively hunted down by Erudite, who are trying to gain control as the ruling faction.
Once society turns chaotic with the Erudite takeover, it’s up to Tris and others (who realize the system is flawed) to stop them.
Society reminds people of the terrible war of the past, in which the rest of the world was destroyed. The founders built a wall around the city to keep its people safe and divided everyone into five factions to sustain peace: Erudite (intellect), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Dauntless (brave), and Abnegation (selfless). This system was put into practice to prevent future conflicts. If anyone is Divergent, or conveys traits from all five factions, he/she is unable to be conformed or controlled by the ruling party—and therefore, are considered a threat to the “peaceful” system. Another group that does not belong to the five factions is Factionless—people who do not belong to any faction. Both Divergent and Factionless pose complications for this society’s effort at utopia.
Since Abnegation is selfless, they are entrusted with the power to rule and govern society. Erudite aggressively work behind the scenes to gain control of society and eliminate Abnegation, because they believe that intellects deserve the power to rule. This brings up the question: should a society be ruled by smart people, or selfless people?
Jeanine, the fascist leader of the Erudites, believes that intellect deserves to hold power. She believes that human nature is a sign of weakness. It is natural for people to “keep secrets, lie, steal” and she wants to eradicate this enemy to peace. She praises the faction system because the sense of conformity “removes the threat of anyone exercising their independent will.” In order to carry out her personal scheme, she has Dauntless injected with a controlling serum—they become mindless soldiers and exhibit no self-control. With chemistry, she is able to wipe out their history, emotions, and thoughts. She uses this army to round up and eliminate the Abnegation faction, whom she believes is a threat to the faction system.
There are strong parallels in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. This dystopian society is surrounded by a Green Wall, which separates its people from outside nature. It is set in the future after a great, painful war that has destroyed the rest of the world.
Similar to the idea of a serum used to control Dauntless, in D-503’s last journal entry, he shares his encounter with the “Great Operation”—a procedure that is mandated for all citizens in order to prevent acts of rebellion. This operation aims to remove imagination and emotions from its people, and turn them into mindless and controllable soldiers. This idea of a soldier—someone who carries out given orders—emphasizes the absence of individuality and freedom.
In Divergent, each teenager is given an aptitude test which, based on one’s personality, indicates a suitable faction. Each individual, however, has the free will to choose his/her permanent faction, regardless of the results. Yet, if any teenagers choose a faction that differs from their parents, they are unable to see/visit their parents.
By allowing individuals to choose their factions, these young individuals either succeed in earning their place by upholding or developing the main characteristic of their unit, or fail to belong and consequently become Factionless. Since some do succeed, people from different factions intermingle and produce children who may carry a mixture of traits from their parents. Over time, it is reasonable to assume that someone could be born with all the strengths of the five factions—therefore, this system actually encourages the inevitable creation of Divergents. While in Abnegation, Tris had an insatiable craving to be Dauntless, and her instinctive bravery is explainable by the fact that her mother used to be Dauntless herself. Maybe Tris has ancestors down her family line from every faction.
In Plato’s Republic, he discusses how people are composed by gold (commanders), silver (auxiliary), brass and iron (craftsmen)—predetermined by God himself. The species are generally preserved in their children, as they will most likely share a composition to that of their parents. However, “a golden parent will sometimes have a silver son, or a silver parent a golden son.” Plato continues to state that parents should observe the natural elements in their offspring, because nature may call for a “transposition of ranks”. He also mentions that no one should be disappointed if their offspring show elements of a lower “class” because it is part of the natural order. In Divergent, the teenagers’ right to determine their place in society themselves is not really a celebrated freedom. Before the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice encounters Jeanine, who tells her, “I’m sure your parents will support whatever choice you make.” Beatrice responds, “I thought it wasn’t supposed to be a choice. The test should tell us what to do.” “You’re still free to choose.” “But you don’t really want that.” Once Beatrice makes the decision to join a different faction, she sees the look of disappointment on her parents’ faces—the same look they expressed when they found out Caleb had also joined a new faction.
Although she has a Dauntless element inside of her, this society does not commemorate change that is not controllable by the ruling faction. In an effort to maintain some strict order within the system, there are rules. Once a decision has been made, the teenagers cannot change their mind about their faction and return to their old faction. In fact, if they fail inside their chosen faction, they must join the undesirable Factionless. Also, they must assume the “faction before blood” mantra. When Tris goes to see her brother at Erudite, he brushes her off and puts his devotion to his faction before his family. This in-group sense of identity keeps the five factions manipulatable. [See clip below]
Just as Divergent ends with the “revolution” still not yet won by Divergents (and allies), We ends with the future state of One State uncertain. Although parts of the Green Wall have been destroyed and there seems to be an increase in social rebellion, the survival of this society is still questioned. Divergent, however, does seem more hopeful in bringing about the near-future destruction of the totalitarian city-state—mainly because of a likeable, capable female lead who seems to be natural catalyst for change.
Andrew Niccol’s “Gattaca”
Gattaca, a 1997 film starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman, tells a thrilling tale set in the “not too distant future” as the opening scene chillingly states. The narrative follows a young man named Vincent Freeman, who lives in a world where one’s genetic makeup determines their entire life.
Vincent’s parents conceived him naturally in a world where eugenics reigns as the norm and parents can use technology to construct their own babies, picking the traits before birth that they desire most from gender to eye and hair color because “we have enough imperfection already.” Without such bioengineering to his advantage, Vincent is born and nurses instantly check the specific statistics that will determine his entire life. The expectations are not very promising: he has extremely high chances of attention deficit disorder, near-sightedness, and most importantly heart failure that forecasts his expected life span to be a startlingly young age of 32. Vincent grows up with messy hair and goofy glasses next to his brother Anton, who was genetically engineered and perfect, unlike him.
Genetic engineering and precise statistics of life expectancy are central to the Gattaca world because they determine one’s education, social class, and career. Those who are not reproductively structured for perfection like Vincent are “invalids” and cannot have high-ranking positions due to a short life expectancy and the problems caused by disease. As Vincent puts it:
My real résumé was in my cells… Of course, it’s illegal to discriminate, ‘genoism’ it’s called. But no one takes the law seriously. If you refuse to disclose, they can always take a sample from a door handle or a handshake, even the saliva on your application form… an illegal peek at your future in the company.
Unfortunately, Vincent is a bright boy and his dream is to go to space—he leaves home and gets a cleaning job at the space station Gattaca in order to be as close as possible to the flights. He realizes that he can no longer merely stand just watching the spaceships take off one by one without being a passenger, so he decides to resort to illegal measures. Vincent illicitly seeks out a man on the DNA black market to help him take on the identity of a young man named Jerome Morrow, a valid with perfect genetic makeup who was paralyzed from the waist down in an unrecorded accident out of the country. Jerome’s future is down the drain as a result of this accident, and he therefore shares a room with Vincent in which he donates the dreamy invalid his urine, blood, and even skin samples in return for money.
After he fixes up his appearance to look more like Jerome, Vincent finally applies to be on the team for a space mission. He instantly gets a position with an interview consisting of only a blood sample rather than any questions on ability. When he meets coworker Irene, we find that even the relationship between the sexes is genetically based: Irene presents him with a strand of hair to be genetically evaluated to see whether she would be a worthy partner.
Every morning Vincent must scrub himself raw in a shower to get rid of the loose skin that may fall off and reveal his identity in this extremely controlled world, and apply a skin sample filled with blood to his fingertip to be pricked as his entrance into work. Controversy ensues upon the murder of the space mission director near which Vincent’s eyelash is found, and Vincent must fight for his dreams, lying to authorities and living as a “borrowed ladder.”
In this world, the class system of elites versus lower workers on the bottom reminds me of The Time Machine’s divided workers, strictly separated based on how they were born rather than their skill level. There were certainly also historical parallels to be made in this movie. One such comparison is that between DNA discrimination in Gattaca and racial discrimination in the real world, especially when it comes to advancement and job opportunities. Vincent says “I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.” The eugenics of the world of Gattaca, or the control over birthing a “perfect” population was also eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Eugenics is a prominent feature in Gattaca, and it is no coincidence that the real Jerome requests to be called “Eugene” when he gives over his identity to Vincent. The parallels run into the eugenics class system of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This genetically engineered form of mass reproduction reminiscent of cloning is called Bokanovsky’s Process, and is used to mass produce the Gammas, Epsilon and Deltas who perform working class servant jobs. This idea even has strands that go as far back as the metals myth employed by Plato in The Republic: the “noble lie” told to citizens that everybody is born equally, some just have gold in their veins while others have iron and therefore perform skill-based roles rather than leadership. Everybody must therefore be content in their class and career because it is embedded in one’s very being, quickly shutting down many incentives for revolt or effort to change the way things are.
The coldness of the movie’s colorless setting also reminded me of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We.” Every surface area is engineered to be as flawless as the DNA of its elite, clean and sterile. It seems as if this world is a dystopia for the invalids, and a utopia for the valids. However, with a little rebellion and enough determination, Vincent makes it into space and concludes:
For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.
Cool fun facts about the movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119177/trivia
The most interesting fact I found from this is that the name Gattaca came from an arrangement of the four beginning letters of the nitrogen bases of DNA (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine).
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is the film rendition of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel. The film is set in the futuristic America, governed by the religious right. Past pollution has left only 1% of women fertile and capable of bearing children. Determined to continue the human race, the government has designated the task of childbearing to Handmaids, women who are still capable of bearing children. In this society, bearing children if you are able is a duty to society, not a choice. The film follows Kate, a woman who witnesses the murder of her husband and kidnapping of her daughter as they try to flee to Canada. Kate, a fertile woman, is forced to train as and become a Handmaid. The role of a Handmaid is to bear the children of the man to whom she is assigned. In the case of Kate, she is assigned to a Commander and his wife. While in the Commander’s home, Kate begins an affair with his chauffeur, Nick. Eventually, Kate becomes pregnant with Nick’s child. Ultimately, Kate kills the Commander and with Nick’s help, flees in order to escape her job as a Handmaid and her crime, as well as attempt to find her daughter.
Four of our course themes are extremely prevalent in the film, the themes of: human rights, the family and reproduction, ethics, and religion. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the individual is subordinate to society and is used as a means. The women who are fertile are kidnapped and educated (brainwashed), in their role as a Handmaid. Their task is seen as a duty to the nation morally; the failure to conform to their set of beliefs is met with severe punishment or death. Their freedom is entirely stripped in order to serve society. The role of the family and reproduction is also represented. Kate’s family, for example, is split apart in order to use her body as a Handmaid. Because fertility is rare, even in the men, few families are able to reproduce or have the opportunity. Few families are assigned a handmaid as well. Reproduction and fornication out of wedlock are punishable by public hanging which all partake in. You can see it here:
Ethics and religion also play strong roles in The Handmaid’s Tale. America in the film is run by the extreme religious right. The population is expected to repeat religious phrases such as “bless it be,” and protest against the sins of the past including fornication and abortions. One example in the film is when a girl being educated as a Handmaid is told to tell her story to the rest of the women about how “bad it was back then.” In high school she was raped by multiple classmates and became pregnant as a result. Her mother forced her to abort the child. The educators and women around her began aggressively shouting that it was her fault for being a slut, for leading them on, and ultimately committing the worst crime: abortion. The role of ethics and religion became a force of brainwashing unification in society in order to keep each member in line. The film is also a contrast to the society in Herland. In Herland, while women have freedom in decisions and most are capable of bearing children, only those deemed “fit” for bearing children are allowed to. It is seen as a privilege to give birth, rather than a choice. In The Handmaid’s Tale however, childbearing is seen as a dutiful obligation, rather than a choice. In a sense then, the two are similar by taking exact opposite views.
V is For Vendetta
The movie V is for Vendetta was released in movie theaters on March 17, 2006. Directed by James McTeigue and produced by Joel Silver, Lana (formerly Lawrence) Wachowski , and Andy Wachowski, the film is based on a comic book of the same name by David Lloyd and Alan Moore, although both asked not to be credited. The movie takes place in the future and is set in the United Kingdom which is the last surviving country as the rest of the world is in turmoil including what in the movie is called the former US, the United States.
Immediately you can tell that the society is a dystopian one where the government, known as the “party”, is a fascist one that rules under strict orders and curfews for the citizens. There are not only these rules that the society must follow, there is also the British Television Network that is run by the government and is used to instill fear and to outright lie in order to control the citizens. Citizens who disobey the orders of the government risk being arrested by the Fingermen (a separate government run police), and sent to concentration camps.
Another way the “party” controls the society is by using listening devices to spy on people’s conversations and figure out if they are actually believing the lies that they are being told. This fear and the cruel nature of the “party” keep the citizens in order. There are loudspeakers on every corner of the town, that frequently remind citizens of their curfew and the other laws that are imposed on them as a country.
When the movie comes on we can hear a voiceover of the main character Evey- played by Natalie Portman saying:
“Remember, remember, the fifth of
November, the gunpowder treason and
Plot. I know of no reason why the
Gunpowder treason should ever be
She continues to speak in the background while we are shown the story of Guy Fawkes, a man who threatened to blow up the House of Parliament in 1605 but failed. Instead he was caught and killed.
Evey continues to speak:
“He was caught in the cellars with enough gunpowder to level most of London.”
“Sometimes I wonder where we would be if he hadn’t failed. I wonder if it would have mattered. I suppose the answer is in the rhyme. More than the man, what we must remember is the plot itself. For in the plot we find more than just a man, we find the idea of that man, the spirit of that man, and that is what we must never forget. This, then, is the story of that idea, of that spirit that began with an anarchist’s plot four hundred years ago.”
At this point the scene changes and she continues to speak in the background now speaking of her childhood and when things in the world changed. She speaks of how the society in the United Kingdom got to where it is “They offered such a simple deal; give up control and we will restore order.”…
After we are given the full background we meet Evey,( Natalie Portman) who is in her house watching the British Network Television station (where she also works), and getting prepared to go outside. We learn from the broadcaster “FATE” the date is November 4th in the year 2019 and it seems Evey is getting ready for an important date perhaps. Simultaneously, who we later find out to be V, is in his house getting prepared for what also seems to be an important date and is also watching the British Network Television while he gets ready.
Evey then leaves her house and while going to her destination is targeted by the Fingermen for being outside after her curfew. She gets into a fight with them and they are just about to rape her when “V” played by the actor Hugo Weaving, comes into the scene and kills the Fingermen. At this point he asks her to join him as he is a performer and wants her to hear his music. :
Fast forward and the next day V is able to break into the British News Network where Evey works and he broadcasts a message to the society over the emergency channels:
His goal throughout the movie is to kill off as many corrupt political officials and leaders to not only seek out his own revenge but in order to help rile up the citizens in London. He keeps Evey locked up in his home as he fears they may try to capture her in order to find him. She is later captured and sent to a concentration camp where she is tortured in order to hopefully obtain information about V. She becomes a different person during this time and not only transforms physically but also emotionally and mentally.
V’s pursuit is simple he hopes to succeed where Guy Hawkes failed. The film follows the events that take place over the year and is filled with suspense as Evey is catapulted into the events of V’s journey and is desperately trying to understand if this man who saved her when they first met is actually a friend or enemy. She struggles with who he is and who she is, while we see V is always determined and strong.
We are lead through the story of a corrupted government and the potential overturning of that government. It all depends on V and if he can go through with his plans. The dystopian society is based on many of the themes we have discussed in the course. Fear and Government are the main ones that come through as the citizens are in fear of the government and are ruled by that fear.
The notion of the great lie also is evident as the government has lied about many of the events that have taken place in history and events currently taken place in their lives. They lie not only about their country but other countries as well. Devising chaos and turmoil is another way that they try to convince citizens of their need for the “Party”. The end of the movie brings all of these themes together and we learn the final fate of Evey, V, the “Party”, and the dystopian society they live in.
The Hunger Games
The movie “The Hunger Games” is based on the book of the same name written by Suzanne Collins. “The Hunger Games” is set in a dystopian society called Panem. Panem which is divided into the Capitol, where the rich people in government live, and 12 Districts where the citizens live in abject poverty. Many years before the movie is set, there was a civil war in which the then-13 Districts, rebelled against the Capitol. The Capitol won the war, in the process, District 13 was completely destroyed.
Every year, to remind the citizens of what happened the last time they rebelled, each district has to give up 2 tributes: one teenage boy and one teenage girl, to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. These are broadcast live throughout Panem.
The movie itself, follows the two tributes from District 12, Katniss Everdeen, and Peeta Mellark. The plot of the movie, centers around them getting picked/volunteering for the games, getting ready for the games, fighting, and ultimately, in a rebellious act, threatening to commit suicide simultaneously when they are the last two tributes still alive, in order to become the first couple to win the Hunger Games.
This movie has dystopian themes of governance and human rights. In this society, there is a totalitarian government headed by one man, President Snow similar to the government in the novel We, where the head of the government known as the Benefactor, is supposedly elected but the outcome is assured. In both the “Hunger Games” and We, the individual is only important to the functioning of the society. In We, there are no ‘people’ as such, only the citizens have numbers instead of names, while in “Hunger Games” the society isn’t a collective, there is still that theme of individual sacrifice for the greater good of the society when it comes to the tributes.
Every year, 24 teenagers are selected knowing that only 23 will come out alive, and this is cheered and emphasis is placed on the tributes’ bravery and sacrifice, knowing that they have no choice in the matter, once they’re chosen, they must fight, for the good of Panem.
This movie is also similar to the novel The Time Machine when it comes to the class system. In The Time Machine the society is divided between the aristocratic Eloi and the proletariat Morlocks in a world where the Morlocks are in control and the Eloi are herded as sheep. In “The Hunger Games” the aristocrats and other wealthy people in the Capitol want for nothing and are in control of the society, while the proletariat citizens of the districts are treated like sheep led to the slaughter.
The members of the capitol are tone-deaf. They cheer on the tributes and place bets on their favorites to win. They don’t seem to realize that these are real human lives being lost: picked up from poverty to kill their fellow citizens, for the entertainment of those whose children will never be picked.
The film Fahrenheit 451, directed by François Truffaut and distributed by Universal Pictures is an adaption of the dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury published in 1953. The film depicts the life in the world of a dystopian society that is ruled primarily by the Firemen- who exists to ensure that there are no books in the society. Those caught with books are sent to jail. Any books that are found in searches or during raids are publicly destroyed and burned by the Firemen in order to show the rest of the society what will happen if they are caught. The Firemen rely heavily on random searches and the citizens to report if someone is known to be in possession of the forbidden fruit in this society- books!
We learn early on and throughout the film from the main character Montag and the Fire Captain- Captain, that books are the source of unhappiness for people and leave them longing for things that are impossible to achieve in their own lives. The society instead relies on the news and other television programs which are broadcasted in their homes over wall screens (modern day flat screen televisions mounted on the wall). The newspapers are not news at all but instead are comic strips filled with pictures but no words.
Throughout the film we learn more about the cause of the destruction of any and all books primarily from the things that the Captain says in conversation with the main character Montag. We learn the following about the harsh nature of books and the societies view on them:
- They make people unhappy about their own lives
- They make people want their lives to be something they cannot be
- There is nothing good in books and we can expect to gain nothing from them
- He criticizes the philosophers and the fact that the work of philosophers is all contradictory
- The Captain criticizes biographies and autobiographies- saying the authors only want to satisfy their own vanity- they are looking to stand out from the crowd
- Reading is a form of separating people and a way of creating inequality
The main character slowly begins to have second thoughts about the society he is living in and does the unthinkable- he reads a book! After this he is faced with many internal challenges and comes to realize he is very unhappy with his own life and his wife Linda, who is very much immersed in the dystopian culture of the society. As he continues to read he no longer relates to the world he lives in. He also no longer fears the tactics of that are used by the Firemen and the Captain who are the source of government in this society. The way that they are able to control the other citizens with fear of the knowledge in books, Montag instead is able to embrace the unknown and yearns for another way of life. Once he found knowledge in the words of the books he read he was able to break away from the fear.
In the end Montag is found out by his co-workers and is forced to escape the society he lives in. He ventures out to another town far from his own home. He heads to the town of the book people. In the new society he arrives in, which can also be seen as a dystopia, each member has committed to memory one book which they can recite from memory. This is a way to preserve the books in the world without risks of being caught or risk of the books being taken away from them. Instead they learn and memorize each book and burn the books as to not be caught. The irony is that in one society they are afraid and scared of the books and the power/knowledge within them on the other hand you have this separate alternate society where the members are slaves to books and do nothing but spend time trying to preserve them.
http://ffilms.org/fahrenheit-451-1966/ (Link to full film)
“Brazil” by Terry Gilliam
It is unclear when the term “bureaucracy” first began moving from its definition of a well-organized governance system of competent individuals to take on the negative connotations for which it is mostly used for today, but the clumsiness of the over-reaching ministry depicted in the 1985 film Brazil certainly does not bring the term any redemption. Throughout director Terry Gilliam’s socio-political satire, his authoritarian party mistakenly captures innocent citizens, sloppily covers up any erroneous incident, and constantly sends its employees running around to seek out individuals to sign stacks of paperwork that will inevitably be returned for lack of the proper amount of official stamps.
One such government employee is our own protagonist, Sam Lowry. A wiry, balding, day dreaming type, Sam’s work consists of collecting and organizing the paperwork which his ministry seems hopelessly reliant on. When he falls in love with one of the several citizens his government falsely accuses of being a terrorist, he joins a group of dissenters who are the only sane characters Gilliam presents to us. The crux of the film centers around Sam using what little power he has to protect his lover and advance the fight against the ministry while keeping his rebellious actions hidden from his rulers. As the plot progresses, we see our protagonist develop from a nervous and dissatisfied do-gooder to a spontaneous and motivated activist.
The ruling body remains unnamed throughout the film, but displays power through ambiguous and rather ridiculously named branches, such as the crude but somehow separately distinct ministries of “Information Retrieval” and “Information Distribution.” The party has become adept at pulling a hood over the eyes of its citizens, masking all of its vast inefficiencies by blaming them on missing paperwork or the actions of an undefined sect of extremists curtly dismissed as terrorists. Such elaborate ruses are what prevent society from noticing they seem to be governed by a haphazardly organized group of unelected imbeciles. The design of Gilliam’s governing authority is likely in some level influenced by the Orwellian totalitarian regime. Although there is a conspicuous lack of telescreens or any form of “thought police”, the technologies of Brazil are equally as ambitious yet extremely unreliable. There are paperwork processing machines that commit errors ultimately costing human lives, computer terminals that flicker and malfunction when displaying citizen information, and even breakfast machines that spill coffee over burnt toast. Throughout the film we observe the action amidst muted, grey set designs that are overwhelmingly bleak and instill a feeling of hopelessness and submittal. Gilliam is cleverly ironic when he names the overcrowded, run-down apartment building in which Sam makes his residence the “Shangri-La Towers.”
Another criticism Gilliam sneaks into several scenes throughout his film is that of society’s obsession of image and the way they present themselves. Sam’s own mother and her group of friends are the victims of grossly superfluous plastic surgery. One of these women is forced to wear bandages over most of her face after a botched procedure, and as her state worsens she tells Sam in a pleasant tone that it’s “just a minor complication, the doctor told me I’ll be beautiful soon,” until one of the last scenes of the film is the woman’s funeral. However, Sam’s mother’s surgery is such a success that she refuses to speak to her own son in order to preserve her youthful appearance. Background advertisements are ubiquitous throughout the film, often for ridiculously useless products that fit such an absurd society, such as fashionable air duct vents. A notable scene is when Sam is driving down a highway whose walls are completely made up of various billboards; the camera then zooms out to show that these multi-colored walls hide a barren, smoky wasteland through which the roads intersect.
Slogans hung about ministry buildings declaring “The Truth Shall Set You Free” or “Suspicion Breeds Confidence” offer a perspective into the insecurities that lie behind Gilliam’s paranoid governing powers. The political criticisms of Brazil offer the viewer a satirical look into a lackluster bureaucracy that’s scrambling to maintain their shaky control over a blissfully unaware populace.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984).
Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past
Based on the book 1984 by George Orwell, this film offers the viewer a glimpse into the life of Winston Smith as a member of this futuristic dystopia, Oceania. As a member of the outer party, Winston holds a government job rewriting history at the Ministry of Truth. Although the viewer is unsure how Winston got to this place in Oceania, it becomes apparent quickly that he thinks beyond what most other members of the superstate are capable of. Winston becomes close with Julia, another outer party member who also thinks for herself. They end up renting a room in the Proles’ neighborhood from a man who actually is part of the thought police. Winston and Julia get caught because a picture frame in the room had a camera behind it – in the scene, the frame falls down and we see Big Brother’s face and hear a voice commanding them to stop what they’re doing. Both go through torture and return back to their lives after they are deemed fixed by O’Brien, an inner party member.
Oceania is broken into three social classes with “Big Brother” as the omnipresent, revered ruler. The Inner Party is the ruling class that has the most freedom to do as they please and they seem to be the real eyes of Big Brother. The Outer Party is held under the most rigid ruling. They are supposed to be constantly patriotic and obsessed with Big Brother. They are ALWAYS watched by the television in their room, they are subject to daily worshiping of Big Brother and daily hate of Goldstein, a former party member who wrote a book exposing the realities of the state. The Inner Party may be using Goldstein as a possible scape goat that is used by the party to unite them against a common enemy. The Proles are the biggest group and are seen as the work force that takes care of the all the meaningless labor. The Inner Party keeps the proles busy by allowing them to engage in behaviors that are forbidden to the outer party – although the outer party is so brainwashed, it seems that Winston and Julia are the only ones who truly realize this.
There is never a time that the viewer sees Big Brother in person and it makes me wonder if he even really exists OR if he is a symbol created by the highest, ruling class – the Inner Party.
Winston Smith: Does Big Brother even exist?
O’Brien: Of course he exists.
Winston Smith: No, I mean… does he exist like you or me?
O’Brien: You do not exist.
Historical context: When Orwell wrote this book in 1949, he most likely envision this to be the world in 1984 in the Soviet Union. Many elements of Big Brother are compared to Stalin and the USSR. The enemy of the state, Goldstein and his book, are compared to Trotsky and his book denouncing Stalin and the USSR. The thought police and vaporizing (erasing oceania traitors from history) are similar to the death sentence of any one in the USSR who went against the party and how they were literally erased from history.
Compare/Contrast: After reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, I am reminded of various aspects of the movie, 1984. In class on October 23, Professor Muzzio said that Orwell has said he was inspired by this book and that is why there are similarities. For instance, Big Brother in 1984 & The Benefactor in We are omnipresent rulers. People in both societies are also closely watched (mostly the outer party in 1984) – In 1984, they have big brother on all of their televisions that cannot be shut off and there are cameras hidden everywhere. There are also thought police constantly paying attention to their every move. In We, citizens live in glass apartment buildings so that they can be watched by the secret policy and the guardians unless there is a sex appointment. Both Winston and D-503 have important jobs within their societies – Winston works for the Ministry of Truth and actually has to rewrite history. D-503 is the head engineer that is working on the Integral space ship. Both characters do fall in love which leads them to break the rules of their society (which regulates sex in different ways). Both also keep journals that they are writing for unknown readers. I see 1984 as more of a hopeless society especially through Winston’s eyes. To D-503, it seems that One State is a cohesive group and although he questions it at points, he ultimately stays loyal to his society when he betrays his lover to the Benefactor.
Five elements essential to creating the perfect dystopian society, like Oceania.
Get rid of anything enjoyable for the people you want to control: Get rid of it all! Delicious food and real coffee, books, real friendships, leisurely sex, orgasms… get rid of it all. While the Inner Party can most likely enjoy these things, the Outer Party (Winston’s group) is completely deprived of them. A group of people cannot be controlled if they are not a little deprived, a little dumb and a little empty inside.
Thought Police & Thought Crimes: As an outer party member, you should be acting and thinking in a certain way. What you believe is always wrong if it goes against what Big Brother says. For example, Winston has to rewrite part of Oceania’s history after they change allies in their war, which may or may not be completely real as well. After a rewrite of history, it must be accepted that this is truth and truth is only what Big Brother tells us is truth.
Be in a constant state of war: War is meant to be continuous and victory is not possible. According to Goldstein’s book (which Winston secretly has hidden within the pages of the Newspeak dictionary), war is meant to keep a state’s people are the brink of starvation – It is meant to keep the structure of society in tact.
Get rid of the ability for people to use words: By the time the viewer enters into the world of Oceania, the state is already on its 10th edition of the Newspeak dictionary. Each edition becomes smaller as the state tries to control language in an effort to control the people.
Syme: Beautiful thing, the destruction of words.
Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect?
Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here
Syme: , not from here
Create a common enemy that is blamed for EVERYTHING: Goldstein – the hated traitor that once was a member of the inner party before he committed possible thought crime or rebelled against Big Brother. Throughout the film, there are public apologies displayed on the television screen… the last one being Winston’s… and they all admit to reading Goldstein’s teachings and betraying the state like he did.
Metropolis is set in futuristic utopian-like society where the residents are living carefree lives. They have skyscrapers and fun leisure activities and have no worries. They know little about the ones who work to keep their city this way. The Master of Metropolis is a man named Joh Frederson. One day his son, Freder, catches a glimpse of a beautiful woman and discovers the underground world of the working class. He is quick to turn against his father and wants to help the working class. Joh Frederson ruled Metropolis as a dictator where everything he said was absolute. If he wanted another building to be constructed the workers would have to work overtime to complete this task. While the working class worked underground all day, Freder and other wealthy individuals enjoyed themselves at the “Club of the Sons”. It seems that if you were born into the “right” family you could have a carefree life. The working class was unhappy with their situation and that nothing was being done to improve it. The whole Metropolis is like a large body. The Master of Metropolis is the mind, he requests projects to be done, and the workers are the hands, they do all the work. A common ground was needed and it was said that the mediator between the mind and the hands is the heart. They looked up to a woman named Maria because she predicted that one day a mediator would come to settle their differences. It could be said that Maria is an embodiment of religion because she instilled beliefs in their mind of this mediator. The working class would listen to every word she said. This was the reason that Joh Frederson created a robot in her likeness to try to “control” his workers. You would think that the future workers would have more robots doing their jobs for them. What I found was interesting was that on the surface Metropolis looks like a utopian society, but underneath lies a dystopian society. This reminds me of Lost Horizon by James Hilton geographically because Shangri-La is is hidden utopia within a mountain and usually mountains are quite an elevation off the ground. Once the citizens descend the mountain they realize they will sooner die. Shangri-La is ruled by the High Lama but he does not command his population. Most of the citizens do not even get to see the High Lama. Other than that if you lived within the utopian section all your life, you would not know that there was anything else.
“The Village” (2004): Fear…and Love! But Mostly Fear.
The Village (2004), M. Night Shyamalan
Brief Summary (without spoilers!):
The Village (2004) is about Covington—a small, self-sufficient village in the woods that lives in isolation from the outside world. Consistent with the late 1800s, the village people wear traditional garbs, perform agricultural and domestic tasks, and live free of technology and modern medicine. Covington is run by a handful of men and women Elders, each of whom have a painful, secretive past in connection to the outside “towns”.
When an incident leaves one of the villagers fighting for his life, his lover asks the Elders for consent to enter the impermissible woods to reach the outside towns for much needed medicines. The lover and heroine is a blind girl named Ivy, daughter to the head Elder, Mr. Walker. He ultimately reveals truths about the village, the creatures in the woods, and the secrets of the Elders to her. With this information, Ivy journeys, alone, beyond the safety of her village into the woods and (hopefully) reaches the outside world in time to save her lover’s life.
Watch the entire film on YouTube, here.
At first glance, communal intimacy and youthful innocence portrays the village in a utopian light. There are frequent long-table dinners, barn wedding celebrations, and hide-and-seek games within the flowery fields. However, this society lives in vigilant fear of the haunting creatures lurking beyond their borders—which are attracted to the color red and are only referred to as “those we do not speak of”.
A discussion over a slain animal, in what appears to be an elementary classroom setting, shows the village children believing “those we don’t speak of killed it”… “they’re meat eaters”… “they have large claws,” (6:45). The Elder speaking to them stresses “We do not go into their woods, and they do not come into our valley. It is a truce.” This tells the younger generation that they must never leave the mental and physical safety net of the village; they must abide by the rules.
As with most children, some of the village boys have a daring appetite for rebellion or adventure. In one scene, a village boy has been dared to stand on a tree stump at the edge of the borders, with his back to the woods (14:40). His friends watch from a safer distance, seeing how long he can last before getting scared. Eventually, his fear gets the best of him and he runs away from the edge. They are all encouraged, by fear, to obey. Always.
Because of fear, the people lack courage. Only Ivy experiences such bravery, which is fueled by her deep love for her fiancé, Lucius. She has the courage to venture into unknown territories even though she is blind. She has the will to continue her journey even after her two assisters have abandoned ship. She also has the determination to face and defeat a creature that attacks her in the woods. In all of these instances, love conquers fear.
Unknowing to the village people, fear is the Elders’ method of controlling/governing them— they use fear to protect their village. It is all mainly to prevent the villagers from physically venturing out beyond their borders, and to squash any curiosity or interests of the outside world. No one ever leaves, and no one (an outsider) ever enters Covington.
A great clip on the villagers’ fear of “those we don’t speak of”:
There are other rules and regulations the village people also follow. People must be granted authorization to venture out; people need the blessing for a marriage; all accidents/incidents must be reported to the Elders. The men and women Elders make decisions altogether, always as one. The Elders even take turns being the chairman for meetings (although, Mr. Walker is the definite head Elder). They are seen as trustworthy, all-knowing, and right/true to their people, mainly because of wisdom gained from interaction with the “outside towns” before settling here.
What the Elders eventually realize, however, is that “heartache is a part of life” (1:14:00). Even though they had each tried to leave their painful pasts behind (dealing with a violent or unexpected death of a loved one) in the outside world, they still continued to experience the pain of losing loved ones inside the village (to disease and accidents). This reminds me of the people who scarcely age, in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. The High Lama, or Perrault, himself has been living for over 300 years. Other people within Shangri-La, like Lo-Tsen, have been able to retain beauty and youth over many years—they are all about preservation, and relish in their carefree bliss. However, in Covington, the Elders work to erase knowledge about the outside world—and its population is not really expanding.
In Lost Horizon, Shangri-La is able to sustain its population by bringing outsiders into its valley; yet, it is so well hidden from the outside world, that Conway struggles to ever find his way back to paradise. Covington, on the other hand, prides itself on staying completely isolated from the outside world. Ivy later learns that the village exists somewhere deep inside a wildlife preservation, well-funded by her family’s estate to keep people out and planes out from sight. The Elders never look to invite outsiders to join the village, and its population grows only through existing lineages.
In terms of economy, money does not play a role in this society. Ivy’s father enlightens her that “money can be a wicked thing. It can turn men’s hearts black. Good men’s hearts.” (1:00:03). The village does not have a need for money since they are communal and they do not need to interact with other towns to exchange goods and services. The Valley of the Blue Moon, in Lost Horizon, seems to agree with this notion that money is not the most important center in one’s life. Henry Barnard, or Charlmers Bryant, is a financier who stole millions in USD and disappeared from America. He finds comfort in the valley and wants to stay—offering his services to prospect gold to improve life in the lamasery. It appears that the valley is inspiring Barnard to turn his greed for money around, and instead, to give him a newfound purpose of being a contributing member of society.
Even though fear is the Elders’ main weapon to govern Covington, they use deception and secrecy as supporting tools. When Mr. Walker brings Ivy to an old, locked shed, he allows her to touch what hangs inside—there are three creatures with “boar-like masks inside their robes, and clawed hands. They are costumes.” (1:07:40). He then proceeds to explain to a very surprised and stunned Ivy that “everything is farce”:
Ivy: The screams? From the woods?
Walker: We created those sounds.
Ivy: The Ceremony of Meat?
Walker: We remove it ourselves. An Elder is always assigned.
Ivy: The drills… they are farce, too?
Walker: We did not want anyone to go to the towns, Ivy.
We soon learn that each of the Elders have a painful secret—while living in the outside world, they had to deal with a horribly cruel death of a loved one. In fact, they all met each other at a counseling center! Walker shared an idea with the Elders one day (in the 20th century), leading to a mutual agreement to start a new life (one that mimicked the times of the late 19th century). With this new society, each Elder kept these secrets from their children and their children’s children, allowing for an innocently naïve society to flourish. Surprisingly, in the end, the Elders collectively decide to keep the society going, using the tragic death of one of their own to instill more fear in the village people.