Dystopian stories have plagued people’s worst fears from their onset. With Big Brother watching each person’s every move and people losing their freedoms, movies have shown the consequences of living a dystopia. However, films have chosen to tackle this subject matter by focusing on one or more main trait of a dystopian world: totalitarian government, violence and class divisions riddled with discrimination.
Some movies portray supreme governmental power to the point of extreme uniformity and control over individuals’ creativity and free thinking. This governmental totalitarianism, as seen in “The Giver,” “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451.” In all of these book-adaptation films, individuals’ thoughts are heavily monitored or removed. From having a Thought Police that punishes those with thoughts not approved by political leaders in “1984” to reverse firemen that burn books in “Fahrenheit 451,” to a world with utter Sameness as in “The Giver,” totalitarianism is criticized with this subset of the dystopian genre. These movies show the importance of appreciating and embracing one’s freedom of thought and knowledge. While the world is riddled with suffering, it is essential to be aware of this pain in order to appreciate the beauty we take for granted.
It is important to be active members of government, dissenting when we do not agree with how things are being run. While breaking free from the oppression of the totalitarian government is shown to be difficult and even painful, the directors responsible for bringing these works to life emphasize the importance of standing against authoritarianism. While submitting to the wills of a higher-power government might make things easier, there is a human duty to break free from monotony in order to fulfill one’s need for knowledge and deeper thinking.
Other movies choose to focus on violence in a dystopian world, either exhibited by the citizens or by those in positions of power. Some examples of an ultra-violent world are “A Clockwork Orange,” “V for Vendetta,” “The Purge” and “RoboCop.” In “A Clockwork Orange,” the young protagonist is obsessed with violence, is treated as an experiment and undergoes behavioral modification — known as the Ludovico Technique — to revert his sadistic ways. After the protagonist is horrified by sex and violence, his previous victims, including members of the police and government leaders, take advantage of his handicap and torture him as a form of revenge. In “V for Vendetta,” the masked vigilante relies on violence to bring about justice and to urge citizens to fight back against their corrupt government. While these movies also have evident ties to the previous category, their focus on violence distinguishes them from the totalitarian government theme. The use of violence in these movies shows a more primitive approach to a dystopian society to instill fear and gain control.
Another theme dystopian movies tend to focus on is the prevalence of class divisions and the segregation that stems from them. “Planet of the Apes” is great at reversing the roles between humans and animals, with the apes as the captors and humans as the captive. Humans are abused and tortured, while the apes assert their superiority. On the other hand, “Gattaca” exhibits genetic discrimination and effects of genetic modification. In a world where parents can practically build their children, the protagonist is forced to pose as someone with superior genes than him. In both of these dystopian societies, those who do not fit society’s ideals of perfection — due to differences that are out of their control — are outcast or discriminated against.
Dystopian films are needed in today’s society as a way to encourage moderation. Currently, there is a huge political divide that often leads to a lack of tolerance and respect for those with differing opinions. It is easy to get carried away with judging others, forgetting that the other person also has the right to their beliefs and ideas. However, it is when these ideas turn into intolerance and violence toward others that society is doomed to its own downfall.
Nonetheless, if dystopian movies teach us anything, it is that society needs to step away from harsh extremes and step toward acceptance, inquisitiveness and peace.