A list of Top 50 Dystopian Movies of All Time is making the rounds, and it’s quite good. The ranking was a bit odd, combining the scores of both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) to get an average approval rating (1 to 10, with 10 being best). As such, Metropolis, the 1927 silent classic finished at the top with an 8.6 average. Along the way, there’s lots of good films, covering decades of film making.
Many of the movies on the list are now considered sci-fi classics. Some of my personal favorites are Brazil, Children of Men, Gattaca, Minority Report, Blade Runner, Mad Max (Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome), Strange Days and War of the Worlds (1953). It was also good to see Logan’s Run, Silent Running and Soylent Green make the list — films I cut my speculative teeth on as a kid.
But reading the list also got me thinking in other directions. For instance, is there anything but dystopian sci-fi?
Maybe I should back up. Dictionary.com defines dystopia this way:
a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.
The folks at Snarkerati, in assembling their Top 50 list, add to the concept and incorporate it into the genre of cinema:
Massive dehumanization, totalitarian government, rampant disease, post-apocalyptic terrains, cyber-genetic technologies, societal chaos and widespread urban violence are some of the common themes in dystopian films which bravely examine the ominous shadow cast by future.
So, in essence, a dystopia is the antithesis of a utopia — an imperfect world.
Back to my question: Is there anything but dystopian sci-fi? I mean, “Massive dehumanization, totalitarian government, rampant disease, post-apocalyptic terrains, cyber-genetic technologies. . .” — this is the stuff of science fiction. We don’t do utopia.
Perhaps it’s just the need for drama that keeps us interjecting aliens, microbes and runaway cyborgs. Face it, utopian tales would seem awfully boring without the threat of impending apocalypse or a sinister Republican president. Nevertheless, we’re bent on showing that advanced societies and man’s drive for perfection, contains a built-in malfunction.
I’m intrigued by that premise, if it is indeed true, because it hinges on a very biblical worldview.
Utopianism, as far as I can tell, is rooted in modernity — the belief that technology and human ingenuity can build a better world. Industrialization bolstered the utopian dream, leading us to believe we could harness the better angels of our nature, conquer disease, aging, poverty, etc. But it wasn’t long before reality sunk in. Several world wars, genocides, natural disasters, governmental collapses and overthrows, and, mostly, our predisposed madness, has deflated the notion that we could right the world’s wrongs. There isn’t enough silicone on earth to keep us from sagging. Dictators rise. Country’s fall. And as long as a human walks the earth, dystopia is inevitable.
Sure, it sounds pessimistic. But it’s a fact. Manmade utopia is an oxymoron.
As uncomfortable as it is, that observation squares with Scripture. The Bible does not paint a rosy picture about the fate of mankind. Accordingly, all our peace treaties, technological advances, and therapeutic skills land us in Armageddon. Far from Shangri la, we end up in an arena, pitted against God, nature and, each other. No amount of firepower or psychobabble can stave of these approaching hoofbeats. Sounds like a great movie, huh?
The genre of dystopian films, maybe more than any other, reinforces a vital biblical theme — Man is broken. History and experience bear this out. Dystopia far more accurately reflects the human condition than does utopia. The doctrine of human depravity, whether it’s called that or not, is what fuels dystopian worlds.
So whether it’s 1984’s Thought Police, Blade Runner’s glitching replicants, or Minority Report’s precrime unit falling prey to itself, something rings true about a screwed up future. Why? Just look in the mirror. After all, even Eden had its Serpent.