The genre of dystopian fiction and film has been around forever, and it sure isn't stopping. Recent years have shown an abundance, and they've come in all kinds of forms; from adaptations of young adult literature (Hunger Games, Divergent) to visually stunning original works (Oblivion). While we can't forget a disaster or two (The Purge, In Time) that came along the way, we've been pretty lucky with them over the years.
We here at Cultist are suckers for them, and with the upcoming release of Brick Mansions -- the parkour-heavy dystopian crime-drama starring the late Paul Walker and RZA - we see a perfect excuse to talk about our favorites.
Coming off his other masterpiece Alien, Ridley Scott delivers what could easily be considered the most influential science fiction film of all time. Is it completely different from Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Of course, they might as well not be related. But that's part of what makes it so damn great. Every shot of the world, even the ones that you could frame and hang on a wall, show just how much of a gritty and unfamiliar future the neo-noir is. As much as that attention to world building makes it great, Blade Runner would be nothing without characters as human as they are not.
We must be one in three people on the face of this earth who actually thinks Richard Kelly's Southland Tales is an incredibly misunderstood movie. It's an insanely ambitious work, emphasis on insane, and a far cry from his previous Donnie Darko. The alternate history of the US features all the trademarks of a dystopian society, and the characters that inhabit it are as enigmatic as they come. To say it occasionally borders a Lynchian style isn't a stretch, but many still consider it a train-wreck, or a fever dream they don't want to remember. To us, it's nothing but fascinating; a great blend of biting satire, ridiculous conspiracy, and a heavy horror/sci-fi sensibility. Not to mention it features one of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's best performances pre Pain & Gain.
Where would we be without Terry Gilliam's beautifully innovative mind? A little emptier, probably, considering all the wacky things he's given the world over the years. No one could compile a list of the best dystopian films without mentioning the genius that is Brazil (although an honorable mention is well-deserved for Twelve Monkeys). You can practically hear Kate Bush's voice seducing you the minute you read that title, recalling all the wild images the film presents. It's got romance, constant delights and thrills, and a protagonist that just dreams about getting out of the crazy, government controlled, technology-heavy world he's stuck in.
Never Let Me Go
The films that always seem to come to mind when talking about dystopian themes are always these big sci-fi heavy works (like all three of the already mentioned). They're more epic in scale than anything else. Every once in a while, though, we're treated to something small-scale, like Mark Romanek's touching adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. The characters exist only as organ donors for transplants. Choosing to focus on a simple relationship between characters who are bound for death from the very start seems futile, but it only makes the film all the more heart-wrenching.
The End of Evangelion
I had to include an animated film. It could have been Fantastic Planet, A Scanner Darkly, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, or even Rintaro's Metropolis (inspired by Fritz's Lang masterpiece of the same name), but The End of Evangelion offers more than meets the eye. Not only is it one of the best follow-up sequels to a television series (Neon Genesis Evangelion), but it's such a fine exploration of one character's complete and utter psychological breakdown. The fun of apocalyptic scenarios and giant humanoid robots are all but shoved aside for the sake of introspection and existential crisis, and that's why it continues to stand above other mech-related works to this very date. There's no denying that Hideaki Anno's follow-up Evangelion Rebuild film series provide just as much of a stimulating experience for fans, but without The End, there would be no rebuild to speak of.
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Children of Men
As nice as it was to see Alfonso Cuarón snag an Oscar this year for Gravity, it still really can't compare to the incredible work that is Children of Men. Plenty of films try to capture the chaotic nature of a world where morality is all but nonexistent, but they all fail where this one succeeds. It presents the bleakest of worlds (maybe not so bleak as McCarthy's The Road), but the tale of humanity's will to survive is strangely hopeful. The technical prowess on display is plain amazing, and it accommodates the tale of human nature into the wasteland being presented in a way that's as raw as it is accessible. It's a thoughtful thriller, and that's something we need a whole lot more of.