While Bill & Ted will eventually save us all with their most excellent music (and the underlying philosophical decree that we should ‘Be Excellent to Each Other’) there’s a long road ahead with many disasters, diseases and dystopian frontiers to cross. Here are a few of the recent examples of our world gone horribly wrong. Enjoy!
Children of Men
This is bleak vision of a doomed human race coming to its end as the population loses the ability to have children. Immediately PD James’ stark vision of the near future has a unique and terrifying quality. The very first scene has Clive Owen’s character walking through a busy London thoroughfare with its sullen atmosphere only broken by the building-high projected peppy adverts for Government-approved suicide kits. A bomb goes off in a coffee shop. Given what comes later this is actually a fairly light opening.
Key to the film is the decaying world with very few futuristic additions. The old school building fallen into disrepair and the military enforced ghettos are striking projections of a world drained of colour and soon to be drained of life. The novel’s power comes from the very sudden and seemingly irreversible denial of the reproduction we take for granted and the imagined world which follows on from this is well realised on the page as well as the screen. Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film seems to have been forgotten, relegated to a semi-regular slot on ITV4 on week-day evenings but there is more to the film that its prominent and technically masterful, ‘continuous’ takes.
Alternative Alternative Future: Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has a similar feel, with its dominant theocracy subjugating those women who are still able to breed (the eponymous Handmaids) and is perhaps the more terrifying vision of the future as some new order has been established (and established so easily it seems) while there is no such stability for in Children of Men, and possibly no future at all.
This William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson novel is perhaps better known as the 1976 film adaptation starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter. The novel takes the premise of a society whose population is a drain on the natural resources and solves this problem by having everyone visiting what a Sleepshop at the age of 21 to be put to death. In the film version the age is upped to 30 and the ominous Sleepshops become the bizarre ritual of the Carrousel in which the corpses-to-be enter a round arena and are sucked up by a giant vacuum cleaner.
Escaping the inevitable is a popular theme of speculative fiction and what is perhaps more worrying is not the arranged nature of death but the acceptance of it. The film’s rendition of the ritual is as a public spectacle with the celebration of death not as a part of life, which is something I think a lot of people can understand, but as a powerless compliance with an enforced end.
Alternative Alternative Future: In Time, which has a similar theme but takes the adage of Time is Money literally and has Justin Timberlake facing death at 26 (the first 25 years of life are a given, after that you have to earn your keep) before an insanely rich man gives him his many years and then dies. Our review of the film is here so you can see what Andrew Niccol, whose other glance forward with Gattaca was a memorable one, has made of this particular brave new world.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is one of the most brilliantly realised cinematic futures we have. The sad love song of Sam Lowry struggling to break free from the totalitarian hold of the various Ministries whose labyrinthine corridors cloister any dreams of something more to this life is heartbreaking. It’s a sweeping, witty and wonderful story and perhaps Gilliam’s masterpiece but there was a later look ahead with 1995’s Twelve Monkeys which has what’s left of the Earth’s population living underground following a deadly virus killing off a healthy (or unhealthy if you see what I mean) percentage of the population.
In order to discover the origin of the disease a convicted criminal is hurled back in time to find the answer suggested by piecemeal information from the future. The Army of the Twelve Monkeys is high on their list and the initial culture shock of a man who has lived most of his life underground being thrust into a teeming world is a potent reminder that we’re taking a lot of things, our future included, on trust. The opposition of the fearful future and the fearless past is what makes this story so compelling, that and Gilliam’s requisite dizzying flights of fancy although these are toned down (the birds in the decrepit shopping mall is one such example) and the ending, or the beginning, doesn’t so much twist the knife as shoot it out a cannon straight at the heart.
Alternative Alternative Future: Mirroring the man travelling back in time, Woody Allen’s Sleeper has his character frozen in 1973 only to awake two hundred years later into a world of giant vegetables, robots in servitude and the very latest in domestic appliances – the Orgasmatron. One of the funniest films I’ve ever seen and the only film in which a president is assassinated by steamroller.