One of my favourite genres of film is the post-apocalyptic dystopia. I probably like them for all the wrong reasons. I'm pretty sure that they resonate with an empty, hollow ring in the large, cold, dark, stony space in my soul where the words, "It doesn't effing matter" are carved into the bedrock in letters the depth of a spear.
The bleaker the better.
being an all-round media
genius, I think I've figured out why most of these films fail to really
scare us. They all start with the audience on the outside looking in. We
are introduced to these horrible scenarios of statism gone mad, as
though we are watching from the moral vantage point of people living in a
society that isn't, yet, quite that bad. We get the moral pleasure of
shaking our heads and tut-tutting at the wickedness of (other) men. We
watch the film thinking, "I'd be on the good guy's side. I'd be in the
resistance and I'd blow things up real good."
I've noticed that the thing we most fear, some of us anyway, our worst
nightmares, are always the ones in which we ourselves are the bad guys.
When are movie makers going to involve the audience in the crimes of the
characters? When are we going to be shown a truly morally ambiguous
dystopia whose allure is greatly attractive to us? One that we half wish
we could go and live. When are we going to be challenged by filmmakers
confronting us with our own temptation to rule and crush the spirit of
I want to see a dystopian film that shows a
green and pleasant land, a society in which everyone more or less gets
what they want and the price of freedom seems cheap. One in which I
would be tempted to collaborate. (Oh, right. More like the one we
already live in... but I digress.)
The other night, I
was re-watching a good one. Equilibrium starred the magnificent
Christian Bale at his icy, reptilian best, but sadly missed any kind of
public attention. I admit that the critics were mostly right when they
accused it of being derivative. Certainly all the now-standard dystopian
tropes were present: monumental oppressively stalinist/nazi, brutalist
architecture (it was filmed in Berlin), the monotone grey clothes, the
hopeless zombie-like stomping of the inexpressive masses, etcetera. And
watching it with an eye open for inconsistencies, I also admit that I
went through it thinking of ways I would have made the grey inhuman
society of Libria more in keeping with its own rules.
after all, do they need all this scary, oppressive brutalist
architecture if they have already suppressed all human emotion? Wouldn't
the effect be more or less lost on the helpless slaves of Libria? If
there were really a way of completely suppressing emotions without
compromising cognition, the people would anyway be immune to the
psychological effects, the kind of visual tricks so beloved of Nazi and
Of course, I realise that the
current audience of us Emos are the ones the director is trying to
oppress with all this set dressing, but what if the director and
screenwriters had trusted their material more? I think the writers would
have made a better and much scarier film if they had presented us with
the no-emotion pill as something genuinely desirable, if they had shown
us a real almost-utopia where everyone is happy not to be happy.
I was watching it, I was thinking, "Contentment, freedom from my most
punishing, exhausting and wasteful emotions, the ability to not be fazed by tragedy and loss, death and abandonment. Really, it sounds
pretty good. Where do I sign up?"
If they had been
thinking, they could have made the leaders' rhetoric pretty convincing,
showing a world where everyone is productive, where science and human
achievement are no longer hampered by bitterness, fear, political
maneuvering, greed or selfishness. And all for the low, low price of
your individual initiative, something we hardly ever use or think about
There certainly wouldn't be any need for this
(admittedly pretty cool and scary) elite police force going around
shooting the Emo kids and burning the Mona Lisa. No one would be Emo,
and no one would care one way or another about the Mona Lisa. Frankly, I
might almost be tempted to give up the Mona Lisa for a world without
Emo. Don't you think it would be a really scary movie that played on
that temptation, the one that makes me want to play along?
it be possible to write a film that invites the audience to join the
Dark Side? To seduce them into agreeing that the real solution to all
mankind's problems is to be found in this one little pill, and really,
the last thing anyone really wants is the freedom to be miserable. Just
eliminate free will and initiative, and all will be well.
Isn't that what we all want anyway?