To paraphrase my creative writing teacher back in L.A science fiction is (always) commentary on the present. With the sci-fi thriller In Time hitting theatres recently, a supposedly dystrophic Los Angeles where time is literally money and everyone is dying to get some time on their hands or in their case, forearms (don’t ask.) I haven’t seen the film but what I’ve been able to glean from the trailers is that it wants us to believe that it is a Philip K. Dick style thriller with a dash of Bret Easton Ellis for good measure. I don’t know how well they achieved that goal but all I can see is Logan’s Run 90210. That and apparently half the cast of Alpha Dog is trying to get us to buy that they all look like they’re 25.
Be that as it may, that got me thinking about which futuristic finger-wagers would make my Top 5 list. To narrow down the expansive sci-fi universe of films, I excluded any sci-fi classics that dealt with apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic scenarios. (sorry Matrix & Terminator) I wanted society to be a functional albeit dysmorphic fun-house version of itself. Whether the message is implied or a subtle as a sledgehammer, when its done right, these films (can) offer us a peak into the crystal ball of ‘the world that could have been’ or even more disheartening, ‘the world we are headed towards.’ So now that I’ve completely crushed your hopes & dreams, let’s get on with the show.
TOTAL RECALL (1990)
The Year: 2084
The Plot: Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker in the distant future. He is happily married to a woman named Lori (Sharon Stone), but is dissatisfied with his place in life. He also has a recurring nightmare about being on Mars with a beautiful woman who is not his wife. One day he sees an advertisement on TV for Rekall, Inc., a facility that implants fake memories of ideal vacations. Doug visits Rekall Inc. and orders a special package that will implant memories of an adventure trip on Mars as a secret agent. The technicians realize that Doug’s memory had previously been erased.
The Charge: Loosely adapted from 1966 Philip K. Dick short story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, Total Recall portrayed a future where you could literally buy tailored made vacation memories from a company named Rekall, Inc. In the film, the former Governator ends up with as a mind-wiped undercover agent turned revolutionary.
The Verdict: GUILTY
In the days of The Sims, Facebook, Farmville, World of Warcraft, we already live in a world where people voluntarily spend enormous chunks of their waking life immersing themselves in synthetic lives. It’s not at all a stretch to believe that if synth-memory procedure was suddenly made available today how many people would be lined up for that procedure? My guess is lots.
THE RUNNING MAN (1987)
The Year: 2019
The Plot: In the not too distant future, the global economy has collapsed and American society has become a totalitarian police state, censoring all cultural activity. The government pacifies the populace by broadcasting a number of game shows in which convicted criminals fight for their lives, including the gladiator-style ‘The Running Man’, hosted by the ruthless Damon Killian, where “runners” attempt to evade “stalkers” and certain death for a chance to be pardoned and set free.
The Charge: Yet another ‘loosely based’ Ah-nuld helmed sci-fi action flick based on a short story, only this one was written by horror auteur Stephen King. The main message one gets from the film echoes our current state of television programming and that’s, ‘America, don’t believe everything you see.’ Much like reality TV, which while we all know is very realistic. It’s edited and reshaped before being aired and it’s only what the networks want you to see. Usually it’s far from the real truth. Yet we as a society cannot turn away.
The Verdict: GUILTY
Considering the description of the plot, it’s hard to believe that we already don’t have a show like The Running Man on the air now. Equal parts American Gladiators and To Catch a Predator, with the bloodlust cranked up to eleven. And with the way that things are going socially now with the economy, most notably the Fawkesian Occupy Wall Street movement, one has to wonder long before releasing the lions on the Kardashian clan becomes the halftime show at the Super Bowl? I’d vote we start with Kim K.
**Tune in next week for Part #2**