Our Dystopian Realities

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PHOTO: Rachael of Bladerunner

Humans have as much of an adoration with the destruction of ourselves as we do for the success of ourselves.

It goes beyond the fascination that people have for things such as zombie movies or post-apocalyptic worlds. To us, those can be very fascinating because they render us animals; it brings us back to a mindset of instinct and survival which of course, for most of us, is pretty much a novelty.

The actual adoration we have is for dystopias, civilizations that are not teetering on the brink of annihilation, but rather continuing to exist by any means necessary, because they are closer to what we consider reality.


Demolition Man, 1993

What’s almost ludicrously funny, in a bizarre and cosmic way, is how close some visions of dystopias have come to being our present and near future.

Some dystopias are somewhat goofy in their presentation (looking in your direction Demolition Man) while others are campy but still have frightening implications, like the Dredd movies both new and old.

Many of those are action movie bases with less concern for the slow trepidation that a solid dystopian world can elicit in us.

The book and movie Children of Men, though not a plot line we have to worry about any time soon, was one of the first shattered images of a world that levitated in reality.

Basically, the entire world has become sterile, no children have been born in over eighteen years, and society, now finding no reason to preserve itself, crumbles and clings in a sad, desperate way.

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Children Of Men, 2006

Most dystopias involve overpopulation, which is more accurate for our current time, so seeing a city continuing to function while disappearing into oblivion and hopelessness is a starker, quieter variation.

Both the movie and book seem more real and have less of an otherworldly science fiction quality. It doesn’t look or feel like a future built out of spandex and day-glo, suffering from alien infections or the thought police. This time, we just watch versions of us and cities that we can recognize fade away.

Others have much more elaborate and far-fetched plot lines but ones that we can see the seeds of in this day and age. Max Headroom builds a world where everyone is famous for fifteen minutes, one of the most prophetic elements in the show.


Max Headroom, 1984

Small flashes of celebrity flare up and die out, highlighting the existence of people with no discernible qualities to make them famous. It’s hard not to relate to that one as we see people rise in the ranks of internet fame for angry video blogs and rich offspring parading around like modern day royalty. Aside from the widespread fame, the future is ruled by TV networks that have banned off-switches on television sets and the highest priority is advertising. Surely something we’re familiar with.

Antiviral, a shocking and stomach-turning movie directed by Brandon Cronenberg, also deals with celebrity, but rather than everybody’s race to be famous, it studies our obsession with those who already are.


Antiviral, 2012

The society the movie takes place in is almost recognizable to ours, a harsher and more antiseptic one for sure, but with similar functions and locations. It’s a world that literally cannibalizes those it claims to worship as it drives a sick obsession through numbness.

For those who are of brave enough heart and strong enough stomach to make it through the directorial debut of the great David Cronenburg’s son, there’s a nauseating and profoundly candid insight into our need to involve ourselves so deeply into the lives of people that have nothing at all to do with us.

Some dystopias are distinctly different from our day-to-day lives but touch on topics that we’ve already started to have national discussions about. Equilibrium which came out in 2010, centers around a population that has rid itself of war, suffering and the atrocities we as humans come to expect from each other.

Equilibrium, 2002

Equilibrium, 2002

By eliminating all emotions, the world has become a safer and more predictable place and all citizens are required to inject themselves daily with a serum that does more than suppress feelings; it gets rid of them entirely. Those who refuse to do so are hunted down and arrested for “sense crimes” and since this is a dystopia, there’s no trial, no discussion, and a these criminals are executed in a grotesque and inhuman way.

Throughout the movie, there’s talk about how we are limiting ourselves, that the feelings we have given up may be worth the ones that drove masses to war and hatred. The rebel groups that challenge the status quo are logical and nihilistic in such a striking way that the futuristic and stylized movie has moments of intense reality.

These groups are not discussing the freedom of mankind to be a glorious new coming (nor are they led by Denis Leary so take note Demolition Man), but rather that we cannot eradicate anguish at the expense of personal freedoms.

They don’t present their revolution as one that promises a better future; simply a future where we can make our own decisions. With the growing number of prescription drugs being used and the encroachment of the government on what can absolutely be considered personal freedom, we might not be that far off from this anesthetized existence.

This particular dystopia asks plainly if we’re more afraid of our own fear and hatred that allows us to be led by powers that capitalize off them or if we’re more afraid of being cold, loveless husks. Is a world built on nothing but functionality scarier than a world built on chaos?

Bladerunner, 1982

Bladerunner, 1982

Finally, we have the timeless classic Bladerunner, the director’s cut. Of course. This movie, based on the Philip Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, offers up a version of L.A. that is smog-filled, condensed, and radioactive from nuclear fall-out.

Beyond it being a stunning piece of cinema history, Bladerunner poses questions about what we collectively decide is the basis of humanity and how we decide who is more important. Though we’re not a society that has androids existing on the same level as humans, yet, we are a society that has an unwritten hierarchy and one that has, until recently, labeled specific groups of humans as “illegals.”

In our history, we’ve seen various examples of one demographic being considered much less important than another and while these biases are born out of gender and racial differences, they share striking similarities to the criteria that the bladerunners follow, classifying conscious beings as illegal for trivial reasons.

The justification for the hunting and shutting down of androids in Deckard’s L.A. also hits close to home for us: no jobs, no room, not enough to go around. One of the first things someone who’s opposed to immigration says in the present day is that there’s not enough jobs for the citizens of the country, let alone people coming from other places. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to hunting one another in dilapidated warehouses and whispering about tears in the rain.

There’s plenty more dystopias to study. As humans, we love them. We tend to think of our society as unfair but balanced enough that the real horrors of these worlds are only threads running through our time.

In fact, it’s the opposite. If we were to mix every dystopia together, we would have our society. The reason these stories continue to be written or filmed is because we have trouble seeing from outside our vantage point.

We are used to what are really frightening and upsetting trends. We have grown up with them and we have seen them evolve so that we don’t necessarily recognize just how horrifying some of our own reality might be. Many of these futures are closer to ours than we’d care to admit.

Except for Demolition Man. We probably won’t have to worry about that one.