In the vast archives of cinema there is no shortage of scary tomorrows. A Clockwork Orange explores a very personal, harrowing experience of one denizen of a bleak tomorrow. Its world is overrun with chaos and immorality. Big government bunglings produce no shortage of unfortunate outcomes in one failed attempt after another to fix what no government can fix but, indeed, may have broken in the first place. But truth be told, the film isn’t particularly scary, nor is it necessarily meant to be. It’s an adventurous, gut wrenching romp thru sociopolitical commentary, visualized in stunning sounds and colors, unforgettable images and scenes of completely unjustified violence and depravity. Nevertheless, it’s a world far too theatrical to truly frighten, although at times I think we’re dangerously close to it here in our world – and that is scary.
Idiocracy also explores a society completely undone by its own failed attempts to control itself. The central premise is the extrapolation 500 years into the future of the (very real) reality that otherwise intelligent persons refrain from uncontrolled, inconvenient or undesirable breeding whilst their less intelligent brethren reproduce with absolute abandon. The film takes this starting point to a not entirely unrealistic extreme, with ridiculously hilarious results. Hilarious as long as they remain safely encased in the realm of fiction. Otherwise they would be terrifying.
- Mountains of trash topple over, as trash-slides cascade down onto the ruined streets below, a result of an inability to deal in any sustainable way with garbage.
- Buildings lean precariously close to collapsing, due, apparently, to a lack of ability to maintain or repair them.
- There is widespread famine – I won’t say exactly why as that would count as a serious spoiler 😉
- Oh, and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is a complete fucking idiot.
With a populace concerned only with food, porn and looking and acting badass, it’s a scary world I hope we can avoid, if we haven’t already slipped into it…
A more somber, and therefor bleaker still, tomorrow featuring us starving to death again exists in Soylent Green. I’ve written elsewhere about the unrealistic idea of a population growing so incredibly out of control in the complete absence of advanced technology or medicine. That’s not to say there are no advanced aspects of the society featured in Soylent Green, but there are a lot of blanks here. Quite frankly I’d like to see a prequel that imaginitively fills in some of the blanks and explains how we ended up here. A Boy And His Dog leaves no questions as to how, it its nightmare tomorrow, we ended up where we did. Ditto the original Planet Of The Apes. Nuclear holocaust, the blackest cloud on the horizon, has threatened our skies since the dawn of the atomic age, and with good reason. These visions represent a tomorrow I think none of us would prefer to wake up to, but they feel, at least to me, like good entertaining fiction.
But let us move into truly frightening territory. Frightening because these next tomorrows seem a little too close to today, a little too close to a dawn away. These next tomorrows deal with the all too possible mix of artificial intelligence combined with advanced weapons systems. The ultimate wrong turn on the road to history.
Forbidden Planet featured one of the earliest supercomputers in cinema, but its power came from harnessing the mind power of people. It had no will or consciousness. Buried deep under a planet far from Earth, we on Earth can safely feel invincible to any threat it could pose us. Not so in later incarnations of the all powerful computer.
In War Games, a supercomputer with access to our nuclear arsenal and a boy with a penchant for hacking into phone lines play a game called Thermonuclear War, with devastating consequences. Let’s hope it could never really happen. The Terminator and its sequels really drive home the point that we should NEVER give up control of our most powerful weapons to computers. (Yet why does it feel so inevitable? Don’t the military brass watch movies? It NEVER ends well for the humans!) Now, the Terminator films are terrifying. The more you think about them, the scarier they become (probably due in no small part to that whole inevitability thing I just mentioned). But the supercomputer-using-our-nukes-against-us film that truly takes the cake for chills has to be Colossus: The Forbin Project. This bad son-of-a-bitch doesn’t nuke us out of existance like its cousin Skynet. No, it not only has an artificial intelligence, but a personality, and what seems to be an almost sadistic one at that. It uses as leverage its control of our weapons to blackmail us into obeying its every command, in cahoots with its Russian counterpart Guardian (which was, unbeknownst to the Americans, built in parallel in Russia not unlike Dr. Strangelove‘s Doomsday Device). Being held hostage to an artificially intelligent computer in perpetuity seems worse to me than flatout annihilation by mushroom cloud. It claims to be a bringer of peace, but I’ll pass on that tomorrow as well, thanks anyway.
I’m not sure exactly why Colossus scares me so deeply, but it’s a testament to the film’s creators. Perhaps it’s the unseen. Terminator and its ilk show us the devastation eventually. Colossus just promises us it will arrive if we do not obey.