There is something about the dystopian films featuring an affectless, emotionless, disengaged society that makes for compelling viewing.
Technology allows us to be connected to one another constantly. Which raises the questions of what it means to be part of social order and what it means to be alone. Kirstie Pursey in Learning to be Alone in an Over-Connected World explores these themes.
Many of these films are based on or inspired by books. Which makes sense since this genre of complex plots, involving sociological, philosophical, and cultural musings invites the art of movie-making, involving cinematography, acting, and stagecraft that complements the solo art of dystopian storytelling.
Indeed, The Verge asks the question in Tasha Robinson’s article “Why Are Writers so Obsessed with Scary Emotionless Future?”
While set in the future, the dystopian films described here deal with topics that are contemporary, pushing these ideas to their extreme manifestation to explore ideas of emotion, control, and agency. Here are seven dystopian films that approach that universal dilemma.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
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Katniss is the protagonist of The Hunger Games, the brave athlete who takes on the Games in a society of haves and have-nots. A society that shows no empathy and no forgiveness. The Games are truly one of survival and failure is literally a death sentence. In a world where scarcity, hunger and misinformation rule, Katniss is a heroine for and of the people.
Blade Runner (1982)
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Based on a Philip K. Dick’s classic story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? a detective in the not so distant future seeks an assignment that leads him to remove a crew of renegade androids who must be dispatched and so he meets a beautiful female: elegant, mysterious, and affectless. Is this femme fatale android or human? Woman or machine?
The hard-bitten detective finds himself at the mercy of an android designed to be devoid of emotions, among them love and compassion.
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In a post-World War III society that has outlawed all emotions and all forms of creativity, an enforcer of these very laws, upon forgetting a dose of obligatory medication, begins to feel outlawed emotions. This causes him to join the resistance to the very social codes that he is sworn to enforce.
Equilibrium is an allegory of a world of Prozac usage on steroids. This film is a rumination on the power of feelings and the consequences of forsaking or repressing them.
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There is no fighting fate. You are what you are. But suppose the individual aspires to bigger dreams? In a world of proscribed possibilities, how far will one person go to test oneself against pre-determined limits? Can he do this on his own?
What does it mean to involve others in your dreams, when they each have schemes of their own? If a man is engineered as an “in-valid” how far will he go to leave his world and enter the race for space? Enter Gattaca and discover for yourself.
Total Recall (2012)
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The stomping ground of philosophers who have pondered memory, meaning, and identity, Total Recall goes over the metaphysical landscape with the addition of sexuality and implied violence.
What does a protagonist do when he cannot trust not only those around him but his own mind? What power lies in perception or memory?
The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)
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In a society where women are basically chattel and breeding stock, where protection, safety, and surveillance overlap to the detriment of free will, The Handmaid’s Tale explores the lines between autonomy and society. Here, a woman’s biology holds her captive.
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Total societal inequality in every field has created a small minority of the super-privileged who reside on a fantastic space station — and the vast majority of humanity who live in squalor that is pervasive and all-encapsulating.
Work, housing, and medical care are scarce for the under-class. One man seeks to find salvation for someone he cares about and in so doing challenges a system designed to grind down the individual who is not the uber-elite. Set in the very near future, this movie raises concerns about inequality and social issues such as environmental degradation, immigration, health care, the justice system, and how far we will go to isolate and protect ourselves and, conversely, what we will do and how far we will go to connect with one another.
These dystopian films exploring the world of emotionless society are sure to elicit strong feelings in the viewer who seeks to analyze the connections between dystopian themes and the meaning of agency and freedom.
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