In utopian novels and films we are dazzled by visions of an ideal society where freedom, equality, economic prosperity, social harmony, peace, and progress prevail.
In dystopian novels and sci-fi films, just the opposite is true. We are presented with a toxic society usually characterized by:
- restrictions upon freedom;
- great inequities between the rich and the poor;
- wealth and privilege concentrated in the hands of the elite or powerful;
- social chaos;
- class warfare;
- pervasive violence;
- anger and despair among the powerless; and
- a yearning for heroes.
Dystopian stories tend to reflect the fears and the excesses of contemporary societies. Here are some other themes often covered by these movies:
- urban living as a nightmare brought about by over-population, pollution, and mechanized living;
- the excessive use of technology to control, exploit, spy upon, and humiliate ordinary people;
- health issues created by developments in genetics, fertility, age, and religious extremism.
- the acceptance of violence as built into the natural order of things;
- the catastrophic destruction of the environment and the dire effects of this on human beings;
- the trivialization and degradation brought by corporate and commercial control over people's habits and behavior;
- the persecution of individualists and freedom fighters by the ruthless and uncontrolled governments; and
- authoritarian rule with a complete disregard of human rights.
The following collection of movies include many of these situations and themes. Some depict societies under harsh government and social controls. Others are post-apocalyptic tales depicting the struggle for survival in desolate environments. And a few present imaginative "what if" scenarios. We can learn a lot from them about ourselves and where we might be headed if we are heedless of the consequences of our attitudes and actions.
12 Monkeys is a weird meditation on time and apocalyptic possibilities.
1984 is scary reminder of how easily totalitarian ideas and ideals crop up in societies and take fierce hold.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a complex, elusive, and visionary film that affirms a mysterious and beneficent interface between human beings and machines.
Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles in 2019 where the police are chasing out-of-control genetically altered humans.
A Boy and His Dog is a wild adaptation of a Harlan Ellison sci-fi story set in the wilderness after World War IV.
Brazil is a celebration of imagination as the only escape from a bleak, ridiculous, and troubled world.
Children of Men is a portrait of a future society that spotlights troubling issues of our own times, including the persecution of immigrants.
Code 46 is an intriguing sci-fi work about global warming, the gap between the rich and the poor, cloning, and genetic testing.
District 9 is a bold and creative science fiction adventure that shows the dire consequences of hating strangers and ignoring the spiritual practice of hospitality.
Divergent is a fascinating tale about a multi-talented young woman who faces many challenges as she tries to remain true to her rebellious character.
eXistenZ is a sci-fi thriller that challenges us to ponder the propensity we all have for surrendering ourselves to cheap thrills as a substitute for the boredom of reality.
The Fifth Element is set in the year 2259 as the earth is threatened by an expanding black ball hurtling through space.
Gattaca is a sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian society where perfection is genetically engineered.
The Giver is a cogent morality play about love, memory, and what is needed for a full and rich life.
The Handmaid's Tale is a film adaptation of Margaret Atwood's bestselling 1986 novel about a repressive puritanical society where because of environmental pollution most of the women are infertile.
The Hunger Games is a drama of survival that depicts the nurturing courage of a young woman and, like the classic dystopian novels, takes the warps and excesses of present-day society and projects them into the near future.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second film in this book trilogy about a teenage girl as a hero in-the-making animated by her feisty independent spirit, survival skills, selflessness, and courage.
The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay – Part 1 explores the transitional time in the life of a leader-in-the-making played beautifully by Jennifer Lawrence who battles to recover from the shock her body, mind, and spirit have undergone.
I Am Legend is a scary sci-fi story set in Manhattan in 2012 where a lone surviving scientist struggles to find a cure for the virus that has destroyed most of the human race.
In Time is a winning and thought-provoking sci-fi thriller hat taps into one of the most troubling inequities and problems of our era, the lack of time.
Lord of the Flies is a is a rousing screen version of William Golding's award-winning novel about a group of boys who descend into savagery when they are stranded on a remote tropical island.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome takes place after the apocalypse in Australia where a bank of survivors turn to a warrior with the brawn and brains to take on those in power.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a sci-fi classic that challenges us to understand ourselves and our world from the perspective of a mysterious visitor from another planet.
The Matrix is a super-duper sci-fi thriller that reveals the human imagination as a saving force in the universe.
The Matrix: Reloaded is a lively and engaging quest movie that compels us to consider the spiritual firepower of hope and its role in our lives during difficult times.
The Matrix: Revolutions is a salute to faith that is comfortable in the face of mystery, firm in its resolve to see things through, and propelled by choices that make all the difference.
The Minority Report enables us to witness the dangerous consequences of our present fear-based way of living where we are willing to sacrifice our freedoms for the pipe dream of safety and security.
Okja is a rollicking tale about animal rights, interspecies love, and corporate greed.
Pleasantville is an innovative and ethically provocative film about free spirits and those who would keep them down.
The Postman, set in the U.S. after a war and ecological disaster, focuses on an individual who by spreading hope is able to bring the people together.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a sci-fi thriller that encourages us to rethink the typical human relationship toward other animals.
A Scanner Darkly is a well-realized dystopian sci-fi drama about addiction and paranoia.
Silent Running is a morally challenging science fiction drama with a protagonist who is a genuine ecological hero.
Snowpiercer is a dystopian masterwork illustrating the moral rot of dividing the population into a winning class versus everybody else as poor scum of the earth.
The Truman Show is a film tailor-made for our era of celebrity spectacles, theme parks, and the incursion of pop culture into all aspects of our lives.
WALL.E is the tender and touching story of a lonely robot on Earth in the distant future who falls in love and becomes a spiritual teacher to all who encounter him.