A dystopia is described as an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad. In many ways this is the exact opposite reason why people go to see films in the first place. Cinema is often seen as an escape, a means of distracting us from our dreary reality and entering an alternative world where things work out the way we always wanted them to. A dystopian film challenges us to face the reality that we inhabit and examine our current state through the mirror of the moving image. They also often feature very cool soundtracks, and so on with the list!
10: I Am Legend
Will Smith is the last man on earth in I Am Legend after the rest of us have been wiped out by a man-made virus. With only his dog for company he must navigate this new desolate world alone and also figure out how to dodge mutants that are still wandering around. Watching Smith meander through the abandoned Manhattan streets is haunting and somehow strangely comforting.
9: The Hunger Games Trilogy
The Hunger Games films have brought the idea of a dystopia to a mass audience. Panem is the setting, divided into twelve poverty ridden districts with one wealthy Capitol. ‘Tributes’ are chosen from each district to partake in an annual televised fight to the death, the reward being riches and bountiful supplies for the victorious district. It is unsurprising that Suzanne Collins’ inspirations for this dystopian tale stem from Greek mythology and the proliferation in popularity of reality television programming.
8: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 remake)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers slowly reveals itself as a disturbed dystopia. Donald Sutherland as health inspector Matthew Bennell uncovers a sinister plot to replace humans with emotionless aliens or ‘pod people.’ Even though this version is from the Seventies there are still many themes that are relevant to today’s idea of dystopia and this is worth a watch for Sutherland’s terrifying closing scream alone.
7: Fight Club
Fight Club is very interesting in its examination of a dystopia as it has its main characters involved in creating the dystopia rather than revolting against it. Edward Norton is a man completely detached and unsatisfied with his life and the world around him, he suffers from insomnia, which further alienates him from reality. Norton’s character is also never named, but he forms a bond with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and together they form the dystopian Fight Club, to fight each other and thus fight back against their reality.
Her is much more tender in its dystopian tale, but still a strange disconnection and disassociation from the world is prevalent. The world of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is designed to live in complete solitude, only relying on oneself and an assortment of sophisticated operating systems to live. Theodore falls in love with one particular operating system in his computer, he struggles with having emotional feelings for something/someone that only exists in cables and circuit boards. The film asks what it means to be human in a world where humans are becoming increasingly unecessary.
5: Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go is a film that stays with me now, long after my initial viewing. In a very near future, humans are being cloned with only their best attributes replicated. They are then used for organ harvesting and after they reach a certain age they must start donating organs until their eventual and inevitable ‘expiration.’ The film is heartbreaking as the characters slowly learn they must be part of a disturbing dystopia they can never be released from.
4: The Fifth Element
Milla Jovovich is the epitome of a futurisic dystopian female, with her alien features and completely impractical outfit. In The Fifth Element she literally falls from the sky and into a chaotic world she has been genetically engineered to save. As with Never Let Me Go, we see humans are only ever really tools in a dystopian existence, feelings and emotions often get in the way of their true purpose.
3: The Matrix
I must admit I have never watched a complete Matrix movie, it is one of those things I always mean to do but never fully get round to. Nevertheless I know they are built around dystopian ideas and values. When Neo is given the option of the red pill or blue pill the most dystopian question is posed, whether to stay in the Utopia he believes is real or journey into the dystopia and discover the truth, and which one of these options is worse.
2: Blade Runner
With Blade Runner 2049 coming out this week it is important to pay homage to its dystopian roots. Set in the very far away year of 2019, the metropolis of Los Angeles is the ultimate dystopian city. All dimly lit, sharp angled and fluorescent flood, Rick Deckard is the Blade Runner who must seek out and kill six ‘replicants’ (androids disguised as ordinary people). The trouble is everyone is emotionless and robot-like in this dank and dangerous city. Rick has his work cut out for him in this 1982 classic that challenges the ideas of a technologically reliant society, a challenge which is still very relevant today.
Inception takes the foundations laid by The Matrix and pushes them far beyond the realms of any reality we could imagine. Dom Cobb must enter the minds of people while they are dreaming in order to extract or implant ideas all in the name of corporate espionage. The dream sequences created by Christopher Nolan are not only seen on screen but felt by every fibre in the body. As the dream worlds and real worlds begin to overlap and envelope one another it is extremely difficult to distinguish what is real and what we are told to believe is real. Like Blade Runner, Inception poses interesting questions on a society driven by technological advancement and capitalist gain, and how these are essentially blurring the lines between what could be real and what is truly unreal.