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Anarchy in the UK: Seven British Film Dystopias

On Friday Great Britain shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union. Almost immediately, social media and financial markets were in panic over this sudden reversal of the world order. The word ‘Brexit’ became commonplace overnight. If you took Twitter on face value, Great Britain was sinking into the waves of its own insanity. Dystopia was here and the people voted for it. Of course, in the real world, Britain did not overnight turn into a fascist police state. Europe will have long years of negotiation and complex discussions with the United Kingdom as they sort out this divorce. It is an unfortunate situation, but is it welcoming IngSoc/Norsefire in with open arms? Not really.

But that’s kinda boring, so let’s take it up a notch with real dystopias. People imagining a dark future for Britain is an old classic of SciFi. Ever since George Orwell’s novel 1984, Britain has been the sight of many a fictional dystopia. Film directors have borrowed plenty from Orwell or come up with own visions for a UK gone wrong. We at Fandom figured the best way to get some perspective on the Brexit vote is to show the horrifying societies that Great Britain might become.

Look at these six movies, Britain. This could be your future now.

1984

George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984 was originally adapted for film in 1956. Directed by Michael Anderson, 1984 is a disturbing tale of the world in constant war. The film paints a dreary view of the future. The entire atmosphere is dull and listless. Individuality doesn’t exist. Everyone dresses the same, listens to the same music, and hears the same news announcements. The state issues stories to the general public about the status of the war and anyone questioning political authority. “Big Brother,” watches over citizens via “telescreens” to ensure that no one is speaking out against the state. The “Thought Police” arrest citizens who do not follow the status quo. The setting is on the superstate of Oceania within the city of Airstrip One.

Our “hero,” Winston Smith (Edmond O’Brien), buys a diary and begins to document his thoughts, a crime punishable by death. This is filmed using voice over narration. His voice is tense, you can tell he is unhappy with his life and life overall. He doesn’t like revising history for the state and becomes obsessed with what the real history is and wants to learn more. Winston first writes an illegible date in his diary, then crosses it out to write “1984”. After becoming involved with Julia (Jan Sterling), the two decide they want to become part of the underground “Brotherhood,” and overthrow “Big Brother.” Their dreams end when they are arrested and taken away for re-education by General O’Connor (Michael Redgrave). After undergoing a lengthy brainwashing session, Smith is finally released. He reunites with Julia and they both confess that they turned on each other during their re-education. The film 1984 ends with Smith embracing the concept of Big Brother. The Orwellian themes created by 1984 are good reminders to “question” while you can, lest we become victims to Big Brother in our future.

This adaptation of 1984 is an early attempt, but not one of the best movies of the time. It was cool to see it on film but this version really did not captivate me at all. The set design was nothing great. Few changes are made in the story. But the main villain O’Brien was renamed “O’Connor” to not confused audiences with the name of the lead actor, Edmond O’Brien. [Alanda Carter]

A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange presents a near-future London, inhabited by a drugged populace, ruled by over-reaching governments, and plagued by vicious street gangs. We’re talking a REALLY near-future dystopia; visually it doesn’t make a lot of effort at building a highly futuristic world distinct form its 1971 release date. Alex and his gang of droogs prowl the countryside in a super-fast Durango ’95 car, and Alex himself lives in a gone-to-seed block of flats constructed of impersonal cement and frequents a music store of gleaming chrome and flashing colors. Not exactly Sid Mead-style, Blade Runner-ish societal forecasting.

The thing is, usually a “futuristic” movie from the 70’s becomes instantly dated. I’m looking at YOU, Logan’s Run! The frank, unflinching use of sex and violence keeps that from happening in A Clockwork Orange. When you watch the film, you realize that instead of moving forward in regards to acceptance of the naked human form in media, we’ve moved back at least two steps from Clockwork’s release. The other thing that keeps the movie’s vision timeless is the sing-songy Nadsat, a dialect spoken in the film by Alex and his fellow thugs. Taken from Anthony Burgess’s source novel, it is a kind of bastardized English, with Russian, German and childish terms mixed together. While keeping the film from becoming dated, it also plays on the age-old act of youth subculture coming up with impenetrable slang to befuddle their elders.

The fear of disintegrating society is probably the biggest driving force in Clockwork’s vision of the future. Society is drug-addled, crime is rampant, and prisons are dangerously overcrowded. The Government’s solution for crime is the controversial Ludovico Technique, an aversion therapy treatment that teaches Alex’s body and mind that violence is bad. By the end of the film, after Alex is manipulated by anti-government activists, the government has “cured” him again, returning him to his original state of debauchery. Everything in the movie is as circular, like the surface of an orange. We might have started off heading into a future Britain, but we still come back around to the same old problems, the same old governments, the same old tired ideologies. The final prediction of A Clockwork Orange is that there is no cure for human nature. [William Hunter]

ZPG

ZPG is a terrifying look at what the future of British society could be like if overpopulation and pollution were out of control. In the film, a husband and wife in the 21st century live comfortably in the one percent. Many of the citizens in the world are restricted to eating minimal rations of food flavored paste and have to wear gas masks just to go outside. The main couple in the story are wealthy and privileged, but soon they become criminals when the wife decides to take a child to term. The government has declared that childbirth is a capital offense punishable by death. Any family caught with a baby born after the law was enacted will be executed in public until the 30-year long ban on childbirth is lifted.

The title acronym stands for Zero Population Growth, and the story is a science fiction take on what our current issues could develop into a world government took over completely. Britain’s exit from the EU is a step towards evening the class system for many citizens, but the looming threat of populations being divided into the elite rich and the extreme poor is still very real. ZPG is what happens when the world can no longer support individual countries and free thought. It’s a very British film about very real issues that still affect us today, and it’s absolutely worth seeing. Where else are you going to see Oliver Reed be tortured for using the internet and Willy Wonka’s Candy Man brainwash a woman via hypnotic psychiatry. ZPG may be dated, but its threat is more relevant than ever. [Andrew Hawkins]

 

Brazil

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was written to be “a 1984 for 1984″. It’s working title at one point even was “1984 1/2“. Much like 1984, Brazil is set in a totalitarian world where the British populace are ruled by a government that controls their every lives. However while the government controls everything, it does not do a very good job of it. It is decaying into internal chaos and failing technology. Brazil is a world where bureaucracy, paperwork, and regulations have overtaken all sanity. A pair of air conditioner repair men can be reduced to hysterical panic if reminded they need to fill out the “27B stroke 6” form. The hero Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is originally tasked with sorting out a clerical error. An innocent man, Archibald Buttle was murdered by the government instead of the actual “terrorist”, Archibald Tuttle (Robert Di Nero). What is Tuttle’s crime? Being a rogue air conditioner repair man trying to sort through the bureaucracy and inefficiencies by just fixing things. As the bureaucracies desperately try to sort out their snarls of documents, Lowry discovers the the literal girl of his dreams, Jill (Kim Greist) is sentenced to death for knowing too much and tries to save her.

The most impressive and enduring legacy of Brazil is its art design. Brazil‘s world is a terrifying vision of the future as imagined from the 1940s.  Characters dress like they belong in a Humphrey Bogart noir film, they drive bubble cars, and they hum period music. (The film is named after its theme song, the freakishly cheery 1939 samba, “Aquarela do Brasil”.) A recurring visual theme is the use of ducts. These are tentacle-like industrial tubes that dominate the world and rarely function. Ducts are everywhere, smothering the characters and the society. Nothing works in Brazil. The oppression comes not from evil, just nobody being willing to take responsibility from the disaster that is the world. [Eric Fuchs]

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta is a 2006 adaptation of the Alan Moore and David Lloyd comic series. Following the breakdown of the United States and a pandemic in Europe, England falls under the iron grip of the Norsefire Party and becomes somewhat akin to Nazi Germany. Political rivals, people of the ‘wrong’ faith, homosexuals, and other undesirables are rounded up and placed in concentration camps. After a masked figure calling himself V (Hugo Weaving) saves Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) from being assaulted by the ‘Fingermen’ secret police, he invites her to watch him destroy the Old Bailey and claims responsibility the next day. Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) is assigned to discover who V is.

Over the course of the film, Evey comes to realize that V is the result of human experimentation and Finch discovers the bioweapons facility V was tested at. One of the products to be created was the virus now sweeping Europe and the fear of which Norsefire used to get into power after more than 100,000 people died. On November 5th (Guy Fawkes Night) V plans to use an explosive-packed train on the abandoned Underground to demolish Parliament. He also sends thousands of Guy Fawkes masks to the populace. Following a double-cross on a deal to execute the High Chancellor, V is able to return to his train where he tells Evey he loves her before dying. As a crowd marches on Parliament, Finch discovers the train but allows Evey to launch it. As the building explodes, the crowd removes their masks to reveal people who have died as well as normal people. Evey tells Finch that V was “All of us.” [Graham Host]

Children of Men

Children of Men is a near-future dystopian science-fiction film with themes of hope, the treatment of refugees, rebellion against the state, and religion. Clive Owen stars as Theo, a middle-aged Londoner who seems to have lost all hope in humanity. The film takes place in 2027, 18 years after the birth of the last human baby. The human race’s sudden infertility drives people to riot and rage war against one another – much of the planet is eventually lost to nuclear fallout. Only Britain remains as a true “nation”, its borders heavily guarded and its people strictly controlled. Refugees are forced to live in prison-like camps and are referred to as “fugees”. Theo’s faith in the survival of humanity is only rekindled after he meets Kee, a young fugee woman who happens to be pregnant.

Children of Men feels real in ways most science fiction fails to. Shot in a documentary style with phenomenal camera work (the car scene alone deserves accolades), the movie can take the viewer from moments of uneasy calm to incredible violence in half a second. The opening scene focuses on Theo as he gets coffee at a little shop, only to have the shop blown up by terrorists moments later as he stops to add sugar. Injured shoppers hold their bloodied limbs and scream, but the viewer can only really hear the high-pitched whine in Theo’s ears, the aftermath of the explosion rocking his senses. Things only get more intense from there, and a scene where soldiers on both sides stop fighting so that Kee and her baby can pass through brought me to tears in theaters. As much as it is about politics, Children of Men is also about the human condition and our desire to see the species survive despite petty differences.

This is a film filled to the brim with cultural ties and relevant social commentary. There are fake news clips and British propaganda that speak the opposite of the “truth” as shown in the film, with horrific conditions in the refugee camps and a British public so depressed that anti-depression medication is passed out by the government and suicide pills are legally on the market. Children of Men‘s future is bleak, but it’s also pretty realistic aside from the species-wide infertility. [Danielle Ryan]

Doomsday

Before he directed the best battle episode of Game of Thrones (“The Watchers on the Wall“), Neil Marshall brought his penchant for violence to Doomsday, a 2008 dystopian pastiche of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, George Miller’s The Road Warrior, and even medieval fare such as Marshall’s own Centurion.

After a deadly virus consumes all of Scotland, the UK government cordons off the home of golf in an attempt to prevent the infection from spreading. Doing this cripples the UK’s relationship with the rest of the world and their society falls into ruin. Years later, infected persons are found inside of Britain and the Prime Minister orders a team led by Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra doing a great take on Snake Plissken) to go into Scotland to find survivors in the hope that a cure has been found. It’s too bad that the place has become a hellish playground for groups of cannibalistic marauders, and Sinclair’s team has to try and battle their way out of this tribal nightmare.

Doomsday is a blatant love letter to the ’80s era of gonzo post-apocalypse films and it works primarily as this. The movie is a gory blast and full of wicked action sequences, but it’s for such a niche audience that it can’t help but feel a bit impenetrable to the uninitiated. However, if unhinged wasteland excitement is your cup of tea, Doomsday is a delicious offering. [Drew Diestch]

 


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Eric Fuchs

Eric Fuchs is the name his father gave him. "BlueHighwind" is the User Name he gave himself. He has been an user on Wikia since 2007. He's an Admin on the Final Fantasy Wiki, and has attended several Wiki events across the country, include E3 and PAX. Eric is based out of the New York area (but secretly it's New Jersey), where he has run his own blog Planet Blue for six years, reviewing movies and video games. He was also a part of the 2014 New York Film Festival Critic's Academy in collaboration with CriticWire and NYFF. His first Pokemon was a Squirtle, he owns a katana, and a has psychological disability where he would rather watch 'Gods of Egypt' over the newest Terrence Malick movie.

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