“Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”, seems to be a common theme that artists follow when building a Dystopian Universe. Some are a portrayal of what society may look like in a post-apocalyptic future, and others are a reflection of life in a world where technology has taken over. The most well known dystopian societies in film and literature are a nuanced vision of our future, which might be closer to our real fate than we think and believe. Here are a few of our favourites:
1.Hunger Games, Suzzane Collins:
Suzzane Collins has masterfully crafted a Dystopian society that may very well become a reality in the years to come.
In her book, the country of Panem is a society of contradictions. There is extreme indulgence, and then there is poverty where people are willing to risk their lives in order to provide for their family. It is in this context that we follow our protagonist Katniss who becomes a Tribute in the Hunger Games―A game where children fight to the death for survival and glory―in order to save her sister.
While it is unlikely that, in reality we will ever have an inhumane celebration of violence like the Games, but the inequality, fear, and oppression that plagues the world in Collins’ book is far easier to imagine.
2. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley:
Written before the discovery of DNA, Brave New World was an imagined society where the social hierarchy is based on intellectual prowess, and classical social conditioning keeps the citizens in control.
Brave New World is not really the type of dystopia we are used to. There is no constant surveillance and fear of oppression like in 1984, nor is it a society ravaged by environmental destruction like in Soylent Green. But underneath this perfect surface lies the truth.
In this world, there is complete lack of individuality. People of the World State are decanted, not born and are placed in society to simply fulfill the job they were engineered to do. There is complete control and the concept of free will has pretty much been eradicated. This begs the question, can such a world truly be considered a utopia in any shape or form?
3. Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott:
A monumental work in the genre, neo-noir science fiction, it is loosely based on Philip K. Dick's novel, 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep'.
A futuristic Los Angeles, which in contrast to the present has been reduced to a city of decay and decline, provides the backdrop of the story that follows protagonist Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter tasked with eliminating human-like nexus androids. Blade Runner is set in a post-apocalyptic future, following a nuclear war, and focuses on the implications of such a tragedy on humanity’s future.
It is closely linked with the themes of cyberpunk, and projects a society which is simultaneously grappling from environmental degradation and unforeseen technological development.
4. The Giver, Lois Lowry:
A utopian society free of starvation, disease, poverty, and all the problems that plague the modern society, but one that has an undercurrent of oppression and fear.
Lois Lowry’s book The Giver gives us a world which on the surface can be considered a utopia―pretty much a perfect world―but taking a closer look we find that it is just smoke and mirrors, obscuring a far more sinister reality.
In Lowry’s book, people have a job, there are no major crimes, old people die in peace. There is no bigotry and hatred and everyone is perfectly equal, functioning on the same plane of sameness. But it is also a society where basic human emotions like love, empathy, anger have been completely suppressed; there is no art, no literature, no liberty.
The best and worst of humanity is on display here, and the greater idea is that a utopian society will be impossible to achieve without having to let go of some things, even if those things define what it means to be human.
5. A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick:
A society plagued with violent youth gangs, delinquency, technological supremacy, and dehumanization, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is a controversial depiction of what life may look like in the future if people gave in to their basest impulses.
Based on Anthony Burgess’ novel of the same name, the film follows the life of Alex DeLargo, a young man who enjoys recreational violence and classical music. Following a fit of violence, Alex is arrested and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. In order to reduce his sentence, he signs up as a guinea pig in a scientific experiment that seeks to free him of his violent desires and make him a "good" man. However, while the experiment is successful in removing his evil leanings, it also deprives him any personality or the ability to think freely.
The film largely questions the idea of goodness and morality. It also raises some dramatic questions―Are the moral codes placed on society detrimental to individual liberty? How can evil be fully eradicated?
Writers, artists, filmmakers have since long been fascinated by what humanity’s future holds. Perhaps it is impossible to ever have a perfect world, but artists have already told us how terrifying and uncertain our future may be. It is only a question of whether we are ready to listen.
Everyone wants to fill in the blanks and conceive of a society that is in line with humanity’s present actions. These films and books aren’t simply interesting pieces of fiction. Rather, they are a stark depiction of what life may look like for future generations if we do not rectify the present conditions.
Questions of morality, liberty, and equality that make for the themes of most works of dystopian fiction are the ones we need to ask ourselves right now, in this very moment.