Top Classic Movies Based on Dystopian Books
Human beings have always held a deep desire to make the Earth into a paradise. The march of progress since the very first idea of the wheel to the age of microchips and rocket ships has been inspired with the dream of making our world a Utopia, where all things are good and pleasing. Artists, and writers, in particular, have always been at the forefront of giving these hopes and dreams shape, reflecting what we wish to see the world become.
Well, even with all our progress, a Utopia for mankind doesn’t seem to be coming along any time soon. In fact, we seem to be heading in the opposite direction. Writers who put pen to paper decades ago saw that the seeds of our future Utopia’s were tainted with a strain of rot, and thus was born the dystopian novel. Some of the most compelling dystopian novels have been put up on the big screen, and we’re now going to take a look at some of the most influential of these.
These are the film that best put on display just how wrong things can go in the hands of a humanity whose technological ingenuity and bravery is running ahead much more swiftly than its common sense, morality and empathy.
In brackets are film adaptation release years.
Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
In a world that’s already filed with troubles, what’s the point of making things harder with fiction? Why tease ourselves with imaginary visions when we have enough problems in the real world?
Books and novels are basically cruel works that make us unhappy with reality b giving us unrealistic pictures of alternate realities that we can never truly hope to achieve. The untenable dreams they inspire in us only serve to make us dissatisfied with our lives without giving us any real relief from the situation.
To keep the population safe from the harmful effects of fictional imaginings, the government designates its firefighters to be at the frontline. They are not putting out fires, however. They are burning any and all books they can locate, and they will burn down buildings with people in them if it means they will get the books inside as well.
Sounds a bit extreme, does it? Well, the scenario imagined in Ray Bradbury’s best-selling novel is not as far-fetched as you might think. In fact, all you history buffs out there will recall that there have been dark periods in our history when books were actively burned by governments and churches, and where art was considered to be politically subversive.
The film shot by the eminent French director Francois Truffaut was the first one he shot on location outside of France, and even though it received a mixed reaction from his fans and critics back in the day, it has grown to become a respected addition to his filmography and cinema in general.
The movie sticks faithfully to the book’s vision, intentions, and setting. It follows Guy Montag, an average man of his time who works as a firefighter – burning books wherever they are to be found. The world around him is one where the mass of the population is numbed by endless entertainment and consumerism, with drugs and degeneracy being the order of the day. Sounds familiar?
Well, Montag begins to develop an interest in the very books that are his job to destroy, and following an unexpected meeting with a strange neighbour begins to become involved and interested in a different view of the world than the one being fed to the people around him. He begins to ‘wake up’ and see his life, work, marriage, and existence in a new light. This, of course, doesn’t go well with the authorities, and so makes for highly intriguing and thought-provoking watching.
The book is over 50 years old as we speak, but the dystopia it outlines seems more relevant than ever in this age of fake news and twitter. Bradbury sought, in his book, to highlight the dangers of mass media and how it might grow to reduce our attention spans, erode and degrade our culture, destroy our literary histories, and plunge us into unthinking darkness of the mind.
Dystopia much? In today’s world, where speaking the truth may land you in jail (Snowden and Assange still can’t come home), art and science is at the mercy of politics, and you have government panels deciding what porn you can or cannot watch, Bradbury’s message and the warning is just as relevant as it ever was.
The Road (2009)
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from Cormac McCarthy is a terrifying dystopian masterpiece, its basic simplicity notwithstanding. It is a story of a father and son trying to navigate their way through a post-apocalyptic wasteland of a world, and the horror is brought home to audiences as they come face-to-face with visions of an Earth wiped clean of humanity. The film adaptation is a heavily emotional one, making full use of the unnerving unfamiliarity such a setting would inevitably deteriorate into.
Students of history, lovers of all things science fiction, and those who like to keep an eye on current events will all agree on one thing. The terrifying nature of George Orwell’s view of the future and the times we live in now is only topped by is accuracy.
Michael Radford is the director who was behind the camera for the film adaptation of one of the most well-known dystopian books ever written. The story follows the life of Winston Smith, who is living from day-to-day as a lower-level government worker in a tiny cubicle in the government’s Ministry of Truth.
The world here is one that has been through a number of cataclysmic worldwide military conflicts whose result is a completely different political and national landscape from the one we are familiar with. Winston Smith’s world is divided into three zones; Oceania, Eastasia, and Oceania. These are complete dictatorships and authoritarian entities and they exist in a state of unending war against and amongst each other.
The regime Winston Lives under, known as The English Socialist Party or ‘Ingsoc’, is basically a blend of the more negative elements that made up Communism and Nazism. The party has complete control over every aspect of people’s lives and any form of dissent or opposition is dealt with extremely harshly, with plenty of people being abducted never to be seen again or ‘disappeared’.
‘Big Brother’ is at the head of this hierarchical regime, and government institutions such as The Ministry of Truth where Winston works are in charge of determining and enforcing their own version of the truth upon the population.
Propaganda, censorship, and willful manipulation of the truth are tools in their arsenal, and they have plenty of operatives known as the ‘Thought Police’ whose official duty is to identify and apprehend those guilty of any thinking or behaviour that shows unfavourable thinking towards the ruling party. They call such crimes ‘thought crimes’, and the punishments for them are very real and.
Winston’s role in the government ministry is to monitor and review the various news clips and historical articles with the view to change and distort them so as to reflect the party’s current version of history, whatever that may be at the time. Being a diligent man by nature, Winston works hard and conscientiously at his job, but certain reservations slowly begin to creep into his psyche.
He spirals into deeper and deeper doubt, eventually developing a loathing for the party and the society it has created.
While George Orwell’s bleak picture of reality was created as a mirror to reflect and expose the horrors of the Nazi and Communist regimes of his time, it has ironically come to be regarded as one of the most sharply accurate portrayals of today’s world and the trends taking place upon it. You would be forgiven for thinking that certain world governments are taking it as a step-by-step tutorial on how to run their nations.
1984 has retained its well-earned relevance and pride of place among literature’s great works due to its seemingly inexhaustible relevance and prescience. The wealth of concepts, ideas, and terminology used in the book has seen its way across all media formats, in science, art, technology, and politics.
It is considered by many to rank among the greatest cultural influences of the 20th century, and however much we might wish it wasn’t, it seems as though it will continue to be an accurate reflection of our world society for a long time to come.
The Children of Men (2006)
The entire world is in a state of constant political instability. Waves upon waves of refugees are pouring out of one country into the other across the board. The leaders at the head of the world’s nations are turning to anti-immigration positions to appease their suffering and uneasy citizens. What we see in the news today was part of author P.D. James’ vision of the future as he wrote his dystopian novel all those years ago. The signs, apparently, were here for all to see.
There are scenes in the film that can seem overwhelmingly familiar. It is set in 2027, which here is following two decades of world-spanning infertility that has brought mankind and society to the brink of collapse, if not extinction. Huge immigration swarms are traversing the global map, and reports f terrorist attacks in the capital cities of the world are an almost daily reality. In response to the dire situation, the U.K. government takes a hard right turn to a state of authoritarianism and nationalism, with closed borders and a ‘security first’ ethos.
We’re talking about the book now, not today’s reality, but you see what we mean when we say that James had seen something of the future all those years ago?
Well, the story goes ahead to introduce us to Theo Faron (played by Clive Owen), who is a low-level government worker who is battling depression after the loss of his child to a flu pandemic that rocked the world in 2008 (again, sounds familiar?). He is reduced to being a cynical, broken, alcoholic, low-level functionary with little brightness to look forward to in his existence.
In the meantime, his now ex-wife known as Julian went the other way in dealing with her loss and dove into the world of political activism, becoming one of the leaders of a militant human rights group known as ‘The Fishes’. This is a group highly denounced by the government and hunted by its agencies.
Julian comes to ask that Theo perform a small task as a favour to her, and this simple request proves to be the spark of something bigger than he could have imagined, something that will prove to be vital to the very existence of the human race.
This is not a flashy movie. It is a lifeless, ageing, bleak world where crushing despair is the tinge that taints every activity and sight. The book and movie both emphasise the stark lack of technology, and this is one of the things that make this work such a timeless dystopian production. James sought to delve deep into the socio-political dynamics that might come to pass in a certainly uncertain future.
The author wanted to warn us on a number of fronts. He shone a light on the pernicious and self-serving natures of most politicians, the inevitable corrupting influence of power, and the absurdly inexorable way in which societies ultimately surrender their consciences as well as their liberties when faced with hard times.
Some rays of hope d shine through in the end, at least in this story. Children of Men, on another level, is a great tale of hope and redemption, and lovers of high drama and intrigue will love its satisfyingly convoluted twists and turns. This movie did not achieve commercial success by any stretch of the expression back when it was first released, but it has slowly and surely found its way into the hearts of science fiction cinema lovers worldwide. It is now a cult classic, renowned for its starkly
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