No better escape than a trip to the end of the world

If you truly want to know what scares us today, you only have to look to Hollywood's visions of tomorrow, says Francesca Steele

Cinemagoers, it seems, are obsessed with the impending downfall of mankind. Since Fritz Lang's Metropolis imagined a cheerless post-industrialisation future in 1927, Hollywood has churned out films detailing our demise by the bucket-load, from Brave New World and Blade Runner to War of the Worlds and Wall-E.

But while cinematic dystopias have been a Hollywood staple throughout the last century, the record-breaking success of post-apocalyptic teen bloodbath The Hunger Games has given them greater currency than ever before, replacing Twilight's supernatural mooning as the money-spinner du jour.

Acquisition departments have been snapping up adaptation rights to books featuring ominous future worlds, including Ender's Game, about children trained for war ahead of an alien invasion (Harrison Ford is already attached), Matched, where algorithms determine whom you must marry, and, most recently, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four – acquired by Ron The Da Vinci Code Howard's production company, Imagine.

The futuristic list goes on: this summer, a remake of the 1990 Arnie blockbuster Total Recall, about a man who has memories implanted, will also hit the big screen, followed by Dredd, where police rule futuristic Mega-cities, and Looper, in which hitmen track down targets from the future.

It's easy to understand the success of the teen love triangle element in The Hunger Games, but the enduring popularity of dystopias is less easily explained. Why are we so drawn to such bleak images of the future?

Michael Radford, who directed a previous film of 1984 starring John Hurt – released, appropriately, in 1984 – suggests that we love apocalyptic futures because they mirror the world we live in. "Dystopian films are about what we are afraid of right now. That's why we like them. Actually, whatever the era, we all have the same fear: the fear of losing our own identity. It's just manifested in different ways: industrialisation in Metropolis, the computer in The Terminator, politics or lack of privacy in 1984. They're all versions of the same thing."

Orwell himself made no secret of the fact that Nineteen Eighty-Four was not really about the future but about his 1948 present and pressing concerns about poverty, hunger and totalitarianism.

The screenwriters for the new Total Recall have unmistakably updated Philip K. Dick's story (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale) for a more modern audience. Instead of post-space race trips to Mars, we have a world made up of two superpowers, Euromerica and New Shanghai, vying for power. Similarly in the world of online dating, Matched, where The Society picks your future mate via a computer, feels very much like a commentary on today's romantic uncertainties.

The dystopian films of the last few decades have become increasingly preoccupied with invasive technology. Minority Report, set in 2054, imagined a world of individually tailored advertising, where eye scanners pick people out of a crowd in shopping malls. Iris recognition was in fact already a reality – and the subject of some concern – in 2002, tested in airport immigration and cash machines. Similarly, in Gattaca, a 1997 film set in the near future, where regular screenings determine social class on the basis of genetic superiority, at a time when genetic engineering was coming on in leaps and bounds.

Even Metropolis, in which wealthy intellectuals in dazzling towers rule machine-wielding workers living in abject poverty below, was about "today" rather than "tomorrow". The film addressed the disconnect between the Weimar Republic and its people that later provided the perfect breeding ground for fascism, and the dangers of machinery, as Berlin became the most industrialised city on the continent. Would the new machines liberate the workers migrating to the cities in droves, Lang seemed to be asking, or would it condemn them to lives of drudgery?

Hollywood technophobia reached its zenith in the 80s and 90s, as personal computers became ubiquitous. Following on from Ridley Scott's incarnation of Philip K. Dick's rebellious synthetic "replicants" in Blade Runner, 1984's The Terminator envisaged a killer cyborg whose sole purpose was to destroy all human life. Thirty-two years (and three more Terminator installments later), and we have also had I, Robot, A.I. Artificial Intelligence and, of course, The Matrix. Not mere computers, but robots, artificial beings, whose humanity we may address, but who are, ultimately, a threat.

It is the uneasiness about things we don't fully understand that makes its way onto our screens, says George Starr, professor of literature and film at Berkeley University. "Dystopias are a stick to beat the present with," he says, citing the first film of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds in 1953 as an example. The film was released soon after the global superpower standoff of the Cold War had turned hot for the first time with the savagery of the Korean War. When it was later selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, it was applauded specifically for how it reflected "the apocalyptic paranoia of the atomic age."

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss