Thursday, 22 March 2012

Dystopian Visions: The Future is Bleak

I love a disturbing vision of the future.  In honour of The Hunger Games and it's tributes, districts, peacekeepers and televised battles to the death, here's my top 10 depressing movie dystopias.

But before I start, there are some films that are possibly disputed dystopian visions that need a mention here.  The documentary Collapse features Michael Ruppert dishing out his version of what he sees as the future of the human race and it is disturbing and terrifying and I have not been able to forget it.

The Truman Show, A Clockwork Orange, Nineteen Eighty Four, The Running Man, Battle Royale and Series 7: The Contenders must also get a mention here.  Some of these are clearly big influences on The Hunger Games.

But on to the main event.  Here's my top 10:

10. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)

Viggo Mortensen and son trudge the road to nowhere in a grey, depressing future full of cannibal survivors of environmental devastation.  Relentlessly grim and mournful, it's a bleak, miserable, whimpering end to the human race.  And even the planet itself is dying in this post-apocalyptic misery-fest!

9. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)

Not sure if this is actually an alternative present but it feels like a not too distant future as aliens have got themselves shipwrecked in the townships of South Africa and humans go about treating them in much the same way we've been treating each other for the last god knows how many years.

8. 12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1996)

Disease has wiped out 99% of the population of the planet and the remainder live underground and send convict Bruce Willis back in time to find out what caused the epidemic.  Trippy, twisty, terribly clever tale of time travel that may not spend much time in it's terrible future but still has a big enough impact to make this list.

7. Planet of the Apes (Franklin J.Schaffner, 1968)

SPOILER!  One of the best twists of all time.  The planet of the apes is Earth!  We've been overrun by talking apes and now we are slaves on our own planet.  Of course this only becomes clear in the final moments of the film, but what a knockout ending and brilliant vision of the future.

6. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Earth has become a (strangely beautiful) bin planet.  The corporations have taken the fat, lazy human race into spaceships and left the Earth to little rubbish robots like our hero Wall-E.  I'm not sure what's more frightening; the endless mountains of trash that cover the Earth or the depressing vision of what the human race becomes when they no longer have to get out of their seats anymore.

5. Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds, 1995)

Mad Max on water.  Beginning with the flooding of the Earth by the melting of the polar caps, Waterworld takes us into a future where the human race live on floating atolls, terrorised by The Smokers with their oil tanker and jet ski's and mad leader Dennis Hopper.  The sight of cities below the sea as revealed by the mutated hero (Kevin Costner with gills!) and the quest to find mythical dy land make this an exciting but worrying vision of the future.

4. Demolition Man (Marco Brambilla, 1993) 

You can't swear, you can't eat red meat, you can't have sex and you have to use three seashells to wipe your ass.  This is about the most joyless dystopia there is.  Ok so everyone seems fine, there's no murder etc etc but this is a vision of a nanny state gone mad.  So fortunately a killer from the past escapes which then requires a cop from the past to take him down.  Denis Leary leads the underground revolutionaries and Stallone swears and fights his way to a showdown with Wesley Snipes' loony.

3. The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999)

Humans have been imprisoned by machines.  We're used as batteries and plugged into a grid that allows us to think we're living in the real world but actually it's a simulation created by the machines.  The real world however is even worse.  Those who have escaped the Matrix have to live in Zion, an underground hell of terrible raves and the constant threat of destuction from giant mechanical squids.  Ignorance is bliss.  Plug me back in.

2. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)

Only briefly glimpsed until Terminator: Salvation, this franchise created a similar vision to The Matrix.  Technology has become our downfall with machines taking over and waging war on the human race.  The resistance is led by John Connor but only if he can survive time travelling attacks on his mother in the 80s and then his teenage self in the 90s.  Fortunately for every terminator the machines send back in time, the John Connor of the future has a saviour of his own to send back to save his former self.

1.  Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)

The best dystopias are recognisable from the present.  And they don't come any more recognisable than this.  In the not too distant future, the human race has become sterile.  Displaced immigrants are locked up and treated worse than animals in refugee camps by the sea.  Bombings are regular occurences as terrorist organisations spring up.  The human race is hopeless, obsessed with the youngest man on the planet who is killed in the first scenes of the film.  Patriotism is encouraged by the powers that be, but the people are downtrodden, miserable and ready to give up.  Only when Clive Owen hooks up with a miraculously pregnant young woman is there any sign of hope in this bleak vision of future England.

Now it's your turn!  What are your favourite movie dystopias?  Did anyone else like Michael Bay's The Island?  Would The Hunger Games make your list?