Utopias and Dystopias Films

The classic “Blade Runner”, which raises a number of questions: What does it mean to be human?  What does it mean to be mortal?  Is it possible / desirable for a robot (“replicant”) to be “more human than human”?  And what if this should happen?

“I,Robot”: This is an informative breakdown of the dystopian themes woven throughout the movie. I, Robot addresses many dystopian themes and characteristics present throughout the movie, including: Corporate greed, racial prejudice, the placation of the population through propaganda, and the scorning of dissenting thought. Robot is one of the most thought-provoking dystopian film I have seen. It is far less jarring than Blade Runner. The rules programmed into the robot population are set up perfectly for utopian/dystopian moral dilemmas.

  • First Law: A robot must never harm a human being or, through inaction, allow any harm to come to a human.
  • Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given to them by human beings, except where such orders violate the First Law.
  • Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence unless this violates the First or Second Laws.

The film “Elysium” clearly portrays the story of a dystopia society in some way with an terrible economy structured where the principles of action bring negative consequences for the inhabitants such as: by the illness, human selection and so on.

A television programme “Person of Interest” could be said to have both utopian and dystopian elements. Whilst one small group of people are using ‘the machine’ to stop murders happening, another group are using it for other purposes, and whilst the purpose for which it was developed was stopping terrorism, there is this unstated (but very much felt) back story that makes you think that there are darker uses afoot.

“EVA” is an Spanish film in the time when humans live along with machines.A renowned cybernetic engineer, returns to Santa Irene to carry out a very specific mission for the Robotic Faculty — to create a child robot. Álex’s routine is altered in an unexpected ways by Eva his brother’s charismatic daughter. She and Álex have a special connection from the moment they meet. They set out on a journey together, which will bring them to a revelatory end. This film could be an example of a possible future life with the technological increase in our society. that increase, specially in the film, can go against us because Eva became a robot that nobody knows and creates serius problems of human control.

Philip K. Dick’s stories and novels (and the movies inspired by them, such as  “Minority Report” or “Total Recall” ) are all dystopic views of technology and the world. More recently though I would say “Oblivion” is an example of a dystopic future and the use of technology as a way to exert power and maintain social inequality / domain over a race or ethnic and social group.

There’s also a movie based on Orwell’s 1984 novel called “1984″, in which he depicts a totalitarian government who uses technology to spy and control the population. This is a very current topic, specially in the light of recent events involving government agencies spying on other countries and people. How much of our privacy is indeed private?

Any of Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” episodes, there are 6 of them. They are fantastic on this subject, looking at the dark path technology can lead us down.

“Terminator”: I loved this movie as a kid, but it definitely represents a dystopian view of technology and the future.

“The Matrix” films, and Johnny Nmemonic, which is based on a bit of back story by William Gibson?  While not precisely “enjoyable” they all speak to technologies, and the ways potentailly liberating technologies become the source of more oppression.

“Equilibrium”: the action is in Libria ,a dystopia society from future .All the materials that can cause emotions are forbidden,and those who have(emotions) are punished with no mercy. In a future where freedom is outlawed outlaws will become heroes.

“WarGames” is another interesting film about the subject.

“Transformers”: The Best Special Effects Ever.

There was a movie in the early 90′s called “Y2K” (year to kill) which potrayed a breakdown in society in the year 2000 ( which is how Y2K became the buzz word for the potential coding issues that could shut down computers at the turn of the millenium). One of the main technologies used by people in the movie was a brain recording device that could record the full sensations as well as the visual stimulii. People recorded events and then basically lived in their pasts re-experiencing their favorite events over and over. There was also a darker side where these memories where stolen or sold on the black market. People became obsessed and addicted. Very much dystopian.

Another couple not mentioned yet are “Surrogate” with Bruce Willis:  It actually made think about how accomodated we would become if we had a cyber-surrogate to do the things for us and we could just purchase any kind entertainment we want to play role games from the comfort of our own homes. Technology is good, but in this case it bring so many drawbacks on our pure human evolution and robotizes all our traits.

And “Gamer” with Gerard Butler.

Mechanistic models where the technology serves its own purpose but cannot choose it, I was reminded of the central premise of “A Clockwork Orange” and the Ludovico treatment.  If a man ceases to have the ability to choose, is he still a man?

In relation to technical autonomy, ACDC’s song ‘Who made who?’ came to mind, as did the film from which it came, ‘Maximum Overdrive’ where machines take on a life of their own.  A Stephen King classic.

The utopian aspect in “AVATAR” is a wounded human is able to go into a machine and be transformed into a Na’vi so that he can engage in another culture and envrionment. This new culture was peaceful in thier ways and relied on thier environment as life force. On the other hand, the dystopian aspect was that this wounded human once fought the Na’vi with distructive tools of technology. Waging war on a culture they could not understand. As the wounded human begins to get comfortable with the Na’vi and develops relationships, the humans seek out to destroy the Na’vi cultural and environment knowing some of thier own fellow humans were there.

“The Congress”, along the lines of the Matrix it showed technology providing a false utopia when in reality, it created bleakness and misery, but people chose to live in the false reality. It’s interesting under the theme of technology in film itself with the simple/traditional styles and narrative driven films being dumped for CGI and action. It’s a mix between animation and real life, the animation is stunning. I saw it this year at the Galway Film Fleadh (Festival).

The idea of techonology as a negative aspect that could damage society takes the back seat and we concentrate on the cool plot, special effects or actors. In the movie “Wall-e”, a cute, entertaining film for kids about the firendship of two robots. But you can’t help noticing (after this first lesson even more) that this “romantic” story is set on a world in which human lives depend 100% on technology or at least thats what humans led themsleves to believe. I believe that what the film wants to show in a “viewer friendly” kind of way is that the “abuse” of technology (or taking the Bias and the Bullshit as Daniel puts it) only handicaps us. It is distopy in the way they show us the future humankind, after killing the planet, and not able even to walk because of an extreme laziness promoted by technology, that allows them to just pass the time for the rest of their lives. But the film turns utopic too, as well as the same technology (a robot) turns into the key to go back (or restore) nature.

“Prometheus”:

“Silent Running” was made in 1972 and directed by Douglas Trumbull. “In a future where all flora is extinct on Earth, an astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth’s plant life being kept in a greenhouse on board a spacecraft.” (IMDb) I remember vividly, as I was a mere child when it was made, that Bruce Dern talked to his robot helpers like they were human–played poker with them, mourned with one when another was ‘killed’; and indeed, they assumed human qualities by the end of the movie. Dystopian yes, but with a utopian twist if there can be such a thing. Very worth watching.

The novel (later made into a film) that comes to my mind is “The Cloud Atlas”, by David Mitchell. It consists of six stories,  Each story contains a document, movie or tradition that also appears in a previous story. It shows how history repeats itself and connects people in all times and places. One of the six stories is called An Orison of Somni-451, where a genetically modified “fabricant” tells about her life as a slave. In this totalitarian society, the “purebloods” use technology to create human beings designed to serve as slaves in all the different industries and services. The “purebloods” protect themselves by inserting chips into everybody, with different levels of permission. Only the highest ranks are allowed to leave their workplace and leave a somewhat normal life.  A very interesting novel. Really thought-provoking.

“Lost in Space” or “Star Trek” both programs had a futuristic view of the future from the perspective of the mid 1960s…the transported, the phaser, the flying saucers, space travel, time travel… and they (or should I say we) could not even imagine the power of the lap top, the cell phone, the internet, apps, mp 3s, streaming, uploading, face booking…

Other futuristic movies like “Bicentennial Man” presents the three laws of robotics first introduced by Isaac Asimov in Runaround short story..

Innovation makes it convenient human life. And, man, will develop a new person looking for a more convenient technology. But on the other hand, however human, will be like too dependent on the development of technology within that themselves without your knowledge. Possibly, in the world of the future, human, might come to be used for technology that it had developed in reverse. The signs are already evident in modern society. By innovation, poverty situation in life deprived of their jobs humans has occurred.Humans need to reconsider the nature of the man himself and Significance of the innovation to stop and once.
“Videodrome”. It shows the way that television ,3-D and the progress of technology leads a way towards commodification and subjucation to the sensual Tech God… Also technology and lust is a very interesting combination because the use of the cyber world leads to different out of the ordinary kinds of pleasure .An oldie but a true cult movie…Recommend it to everyone…

“The Gods Must Be Crazy”, directed by Jamie Uys (1980). The technology in question is a discarded coca-cola bottle, which proves to be highly disruptive.

We find distopy in the way they show us the future humankind, after killing the planet, and not able even to walk because of an extreme laziness promoted by technology, that allows them to just pass the time for the rest of their lives. But the film turns utopic too, as well as the same technology (a robot) turns into the key to go back (or restore) nature.
There are the nuclear holocaust films of the early 1980s (e.g,  “Threads”and “The Day After Tomorrow”).

I have always liked “Brazil” (by Terry Gilliam); though it is mostly about a fascist, totalitarian state, there are amazingly dystopic technological machines infused throughout the film that really make the film what it is.

“The Truman Show” was a good film about reality TV gone horribly awry, and the human costs – not just to the unwitting star of the show, but to the lumpen masses who watched it year after year, slack-jawed.

“The Conversation” (with Gene Hackman) and “Blow-Up” – both focusing on protagonists who are obsessed with using technology to uncover the truth…. but the more they “zoom in” (by amplifying an eavesdropped conversation or by enlarging a section of a photograph) – the less clear everything becomes.

“MOON” (directed by David Bowie’s son, a great debut). Wargames (now I’m dating myself). Johnny Mnemonic. Inception. Gattaca. Total Recall. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Running Man (predating The Hunger Games by 20 years)…

“Fahrenheit 451”: Less directly about technology, per se, but commenting on social ‘progress,’ is a fantastic adaptation to films by the classic sci-fi writers of the 40′s-60′s.

2001: A Space Odyssey- Stanley Kubrick (1968.)

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