In the recently released film, Elysium, the wealthy live in Newport, Rhode Island mansions on a luxurious satellite called Elysium, while the benighted population of Earth must survive in a global barrio run by street gangs.
These films reflect the feeling of the populace toward 1% in their gated communities, but they also indicate that we want to defeat the privileged by redeeming ourselves. This is achieved by societal liberation, escape or destruction.
In Elysium, a lowlife Anglo named Max (Matt Damon) gets a radiation overdose that can only be cured on Elysium. He dons an exoskeleton and makes his way to Elysium and eventually installs a stolen computer program in Elysium’s main computer that rewrites the systems, making everyone on Earth a citizen of Elysium. Med-Pods are flown to Earth to cure the sick and injured and the Earth is saved.
Freeing humans from their own sins is one way to decimate the segregated society. In Wall-E (2008), the Buy ‘n’ Large (BnL) corporation evacuates the population of a despoiled Earth in starliners. Wall-E is a robot left behind to tidy up the rubble-strewn planet. He falls in love with another robot, EVE, and they emigrate to a spaceship known as Axiom, in which the inhabitants rely on automated processes to satisfy their needs. They suffer from morbid obesity and bone loss due to low gravity and indolence. After undergoing a series of perils, Wall-E returns to Earth with EVE, Axiom takes a hyperjump back to Earth, and humans and robots begin to restore Earth and its environment.
The hero may succeed by simply escaping the stifling social order. In The Truman Show (1998), Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is a small-town insurance salesman living an idyllic life. But he begins to suspect artificiality by clues, such as when he picks up communications on his radio that track his movements. He leaves an office building and returns to find it dismantled. A spotlight marked with the name of a star falls out of the air in front of him. He tries to book a flight to Fiji just to experience something new but the travel agent advises him there are no flights to Fiji. He tries to leave town in a bus but the bus driver doesn’t know how to drive a bus. His perfect wife starts doing commercial spiels in the midst of a marital dispute. In the past he had been attracted to a woman who was forcibly replaced for another that became his wife. He finally realizes he lives in a dome and is the subject of a lifelong reality TV show, whose existence is controlled by an obsessive director. The moon is in fact a giant camera. Truman escapes and starts as new life. The situation here is not as much about disparities between the upper and lower classes (though the director, Christof, abides in isolated affluence) as much as it about liberating oneself from an inauthentic life.
Another example of breaking free by breaking out is Blade Runner (1982). Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a bounty hunter who tracks down and kills artificial humans called Replicants in a society in which the wealthiest (at least the creator of the Replicants) inhabit high rises while the unfortunates experience a perpetually damp and overcrowded existence below. Rick falls in love with a Replicant and they manage to flee the dystopia for a happily ever after.
One way of at least disappointing the affluent is by winning a contest and defying their rules. In The Hunger Games (2012), the wealthy of the North American governing city known as the Capitol are involved in food, fashion, technology, and entertainment, which includes the enjoyment of a game called the Reaping, in which poor people fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), along with her unrequited lover, Peeta Mellark, win the contest but also refuse to abide by the commandment that only one contestant is permitted to survive. The divided world remains intact but there are suggestions that the prevailing order will soon fall.
These films allow the moviegoer to ally some resentment of the establishment by watching the upper class being discomfited at least, or their preserve eradicated.
The latter is achieved in films such as Logan’s Run (1976). The remnants of human civilization live in a domed city called the Sanctuary. It is a paradise run by computer, which takes care of all aspects of the inhabitants’ lives. However, the citizen-hedonists have accepted that, in order to control population growth, all of them must undergo a process in which they are vaporized and renewed at 30 years of age. However, they’re just vaporized. Logan (Michael York), a former Sandman (a kind of policeman-assassin) figures this out and becomes a Runner. Logan gets away from the pursuing Sandmen, but returns to the Sanctuary to denounce its falsity. The overlord computer scans Logan’s mind and ascertains his belief that there is no Sanctuary. But the computer’s existence is based on maintaining the Sanctuary. The paradox causes the computer to overload, the dome falls apart, and citizen flee the ruined city.
In Zardoz (1974), Eternals live in the Vortex behind a force field. Life is static and boring. Those who violate the complex social rules are designated as Renegades and punished with perpetual old age. The Apathetics regard this empty existence as bleak and hopeless. In the Outlands, the Brutals are controlled by Exterminators, the warrior class. One of the Exterminators, Zed (Sean Connery), is inadvertently (or advertently it turns out) smuggled into the Vortex community aboard a giant floating head. Eventually Zed absorbs all the Eternals’ knowledge, and removes the force field, allowing Exterminators to kill most of the Eternals, who welcome death as a release from their dull eternity. Zed and a few surviving Eternals go on to live mortal lives among the Brutals.
All of the films are expressions of our outrage against the elitism of the privileged and our belief that those with a heroic temperament, whether through enlightenment, flight or devastation, can be the catalysts for our liberation, so that we can in some measure be redeemed.
By: Tom Ukinski