There seems to be a trend that has emerged in cinema recently. Films about dystopian societies seem to be growing ever popular with movie audiences and for whatever reason that be, they don’t seem to going anywhere. It seems that dystopian society films are most interesting because of the ‘what if?’ quality they have. The concept for the films can always be summed up by a ‘what if?’ scenario. For instance the question of, “what if all crime was legal for a night?”, gives you The Purge. So, with the impending release of The Purge: Election Year, we thought it would be a good time to look at some of the most interesting recent dystopian society movies that all have us asking, ‘what if?’.
First an entry from 2009. Yes, we know that’s a long time ago now but does 2009 really seem seven years ago? In 2025, a corporation called The Union has perfected the use of bio-mechanical organs to treat the diseased organs of humans. However, unknown to the patients, if they fall behind on payments, the organs are reclaimed by repo men. Those repo men are usually Jude Law or Forest Whittaker by the way.
It’s a very interesting concept and, as you can imagine, one of our lead characters is going to have a bio-mechanical organ placed into him at some point and spur on a whole series of action sequences in an attempt to bring down the corporation. It’s an interesting concept and is almost worth watching for the opening twenty minutes or so where we get to see the idea played out. The rest of the film does blow up into mindless gore and action, but the two leads are fun to watch and it passes the time.
This one may be cheating slightly, as it’s not quite about dystopian societies but it certainly has the element of dystopia to it. In Looper, time travel has been invented in the year 2074 but immediately outlawed. It is used by criminal organisations to send those they want killed into the past where they are dealt with by “loopers” – assassins paid with silver bars strapped to the backs of their victims. Joe (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt) encounters himself when his older self (played by Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to be killed.
Looper is interesting because it sounds like the set up to a fast paced action film, but really it is much more of a character piece. The director, Rian Johnson said that it “is more about how these characters [deal] with the situation time travel has brought about”. If you can get past the slightly odd prosthetics Joseph Gordon Levitt wears to make him look more like Bruce Willis then it is a fantastic film and well worth checking out if you haven’t already.
Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 was critically aclaimed and hugely successful. Blomkamp hoped to follow up that success with Elysium, although for some baffling reason it is considered a disappointment by most. This writer would argue that you should give it another go!
Telling the story of an overpopulated, polluted Earth, Elysium tells the story of Max Da Costa (played by Matt Damon) a factory worker who is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation during a workplace accident. His only chance for survival is to somehow make it to Elysium, a gigantic space habitat located in Earth’s orbit lived on by the rich and powerful. Elysium is technologically advanced and every home has a Med-Bay, medical machines that can cure all diseases, reverse the aging process and regenerate new body parts.
Even Neil Blomkamp has revealed that he isn’t happy with the final product stating that “the satirical idea of a ring, filled with rich people, hovering above the impoverished Earth, is an awesome idea…I just didn’t make a good enough film”. It’s always an interesting thing to hear when directors aren’t happy with their own work, but in this writer’s opinion it is still a film that stands up and is well worth a second chance.
In a slight departure from some of the other films you will find on this list, we have the absurdist-dystopian-comedy-drama The Lobster. In the film, directed and co-written by Yorgos Lanthimos, singles are given forty-five days to find a romantic partner or otherwise be turned into animals. It stars Colin Farrell as a newly single man trying to find someone so he can remain human and Rachel Weisz as a woman with whom he attempts to form a relationship.
It’s a totally bizarre concept, but one that surprisingly works rather well. It won the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and received acclaim from critics. It may not be a film for everyone, and it has been described as “an acquired taste” but it is funny, thoughtful, dramatic and at times disturbing. If you fancy a bit of dystopia that has a lighter side to it then The Lobster may be the film you are looking for.
Antiviral is written and directed by Branden Cronenburg (son of David) and postulates the idea of a dystopian future where people purchase viral injections from celebrities who fall ill in the desire to have a connection with their favourite star. It’s a disturbing premise ,but one that seems to have some truth in it. There is a ridiculous obsession with celebrity culture, and the idea that some people would pay to have the same illness as their favourite celebrity doesn’t seem that far fetched.
The film won the Best Canadian First Feature Film award at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival and has been described as “smart” and “subversive”. It does feel slightly cold and the characters do lack some depth for the audience to really connect with them, but the premise is so grotesque and engaging that the film doesn’t suffer too much as a result.
The Purge/The Purge: Anarchy
Of course, we must talk about The Purge and its sequel, The Purge: Anarchy. The idea of all crime being legal for twelve hours so that citizens can ‘purge’ themselves of any criminal behaviour is a very interesting one. The ‘Purge’ results in unemployment rates plummeting to 1%, lower crime rates and a strong economy.
For a while, even audience members wouldn’t necessarily be blamed for wondering why something like this doesn’t exist in real life when there is clearly a benefit to the way society operates for the rest of the year. However, it soon turns dark. When a wounded man turns up at the home of the Sandin family pleading for his life, the teenage boy Charlie disables the security and lets him in.
What ensues is a terrifying set of events as a gang turns up to demand the Sandins give the wounded man to them. The idea of the annual Purge suddenly turns out not to be very attractive.
The sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, which most critics agreed was actually an improvement over the original, is once again set during the events of the annual Purge. This time however, an anti-Purge resistance group has been started to denounce the government who put it into action.
Once again, it is a riveting film with a concept that has the ability to prompt several stories within the story world. The Purge: Election Year is released this week, so we’ll just have to wait and see if the quality continues.