I recently watched two films Divergent and Elysium. While mildly entertaining, I would not really recommend either of them. As with many such futuristic films, the plots are full of holes large enough that one can drive a truck through, but I am going to overlook them. What prompted me to write about them was what they said about the prevailing zeitgeist.
Both deal with a dystopian future. In Divergent, we have a cross between the visions of Brave New World and Gattacca, where young adults are sorted into five different groups in a ritual reminiscent of the sorting hat in the Hogwarts, but with choice thrown in. Each group has a specific role in society and the problem arises when the group that consists of the intellectuals (called Erudite) enlists the paramilitary forces (Dauntless) to take over the government from the Abnegation group. The other two groups of Amity (food producers) and Candor (honest people) play no role in the film.
Not being up to date on popular culture, I had not realized that this was based on a trilogy of popular books and so was dismayed at the end to find that the story was to be continued, because I have no intention of seeing the rest. The parody trailer produced by Honest Trailers gives a better representation of the film than the authentic one.
Elysium has an even darker tone, in addition to being extremely violent. Here the Earth has become pretty much a desolate place with Los Angeles looking like a crowded refugee camp with people living a bleak existence. The elites have abandoned Earth and created a new home for themselves in space in the form of a massive space station. Life there looks like the gated communities that currently exist on Earth, with massive homes, lush lawns and golf courses, and superb medical care. The people living there control everything, run factories on Earth to produce what they need, and shoot down any vehicles that try to bring ordinary people there from Earth.
Unfortunately there’s no parody trailer so I have to show you the official one.
Both films had the common feature of women playing the role of powerful villains. For such an accomplished actor, Jodie Foster in Elysium gives an astoundingly bad performance, playing a character that is so grimly and stereotypically bad as to be laughable. Kate Winslet in Divergent has more subtlety and nuance.
But what interested me was another commonality, and that was their vision. Each portrayed the current state of affairs on Earth taken to extremes, where there is rigid stratification of society and elites are taking control of all the power and resources, impoverishing everyone else and subjugating all to their will.
When I watched the films, the message I got was of a critique of the way things are and thus these were subversive films, even if badly constructed. But I was not sure if that was because I tend to see a political angle to a lot of things. Maybe others do not see them as warnings of where we are now and where we are headed but as purely escapist adventures.