Misery inspires creativity, so in today’s climate it’s no wonder dystopian films are on the up. Apparently screenwriters are highly neurotic because the intensity of warning messages they’ve nestled into their plots is impressive, and yet do audiences seem to care?
When was the last time you saw a film portraying a potential dystopian reality and left the cinema thinking “That’s it, I’m changing my ways, today”? Most people don’t go see these films for a lecture, they go for the action packed adventure that’s sure to accompany the demise of civilised society. It seems many of the cautions dystopian films try to convey are just getting lost in the void.
When the news has been filled with nothing but world-wide horror, it’s remarkably easy to start to feel a bit numb to the constant blows. Another death, another missing person, another attack – it has become impossible to share an appropriate amount of empathy with all the sites of destruction because feeling that level of sorrow every second of every day can drive anyone over the edge. So a natural desensitized human state is adopted to muffle the choir of unending cries and allow us to carry on with our lives.
Keeping a slight emotional distance protects our mental state: the only problem is, with a constant flow of reasons to just emotionally check out, are we becoming a bit too distant to real issues? A parade of dystopian films charging in and demanding our attention with their various cautionary tales can, just like with news reports, leave audiences numb to their warnings.
A reduction in empathy for the many faults in the world can lead to a far more dangerous attitude of ignorance. Dystopian films not only present our fears but also project them to extremes for dramatic effect, which means that comparing our modern society to these fictional worlds may dilute any actual issues we’re facing. Sure we’re disagreeing with the decisions being passed in our own government, but hey at least we’re not under the rule of President Snow and having our innocent children fight to the death to survive!
When contrasting the worlds, we don’t seem that close to a disastrous oblivion, but if you start to look closer, we’re steering dangerously close to the edge. Look at the correlations between Orwell’s 1984 – surveillance is everywhere with the average person being caught on CCTV 70 times a day, and now even our private messages and internet searches can be seen. Despite the early predictions, we now live in a world where privacy seems to be a dying art. Was this development too subtle for us to notice, or did we just have no control over it? What other dystopian worlds are we blindly fumbling towards?
Dystopias have always stood as warnings but it seems they’re more empty warnings, and no number of them can actually entice change. Just think about the number of AI films there has been with the main premise of the plot being the evolution of independent thought leading to an extermination of human life.
The warning cannot be clearer and yet, do we carry on trying to invent robots that closely mimic human intelligence? Of course we do! The idea of creating what could effectively be a new species of life, an upgrade from humans, is fascinating. If science has an idea and exploration of it is possible, it’s going to get done. Sometimes the human race are just like children, if there’s a big red button, we’re going to press it, even if it does initiate doomsday.
So is the main purpose of dystopian films now useless? Well no, not really. Yes, with some topics of warning we’re just going to ignore the dangers and fling ourselves down that rabbit hole anyway, but sometimes a little reminder can help us prevent, or at least slow, the fall. Sometimes films can highlight issues to audiences that may not have been previously aware of them.
Films that show a world crippled by diminished resources can demonstration the importance of conservation; dramas about inhumane methods of depleting huge populations can explain the dangers of overpopulation and why we need to start solving these issues now. A little education can go a long way towards solving huge problems, and even if 99% of the audience has switched themselves off to the main message, perhaps that 1% is just enough to prevent our society evolving any further into a dystopian reality.