Brave New World?
Dystopias in film and literature
The word “dystopia’ (an unhappy country) was first uttered back in 1868 by renowned English philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill in a speech, ripping into the British government for its policies regarding the Irish land. Dystopia is an imagined community or society that is dehumanizing and frightening. It is antonym of utopia, which is a perfect society. In its modern definition, a dystopia can be apocalyptic, or post-apocalyptic, or neither, but it has to be anti-utopian, a utopia turned upside down, a world in which people tried to build a republic of perfection only to find that they had created a republic of misery.
From nuclear annihilation and alien attacks to evil robots and totalitarian regimes, dystopian film and literature showcase all of our wildest fears about what could happen in the future. By taking violence and oppression to the extreme, dystopian stories question the role of government and shed light on real-world issues such as disease, warfare, politics and climate change. Dystopian literature is a form of speculative fiction that began as a response to utopian literature. It, unlike the utopian literature, explores the dangerous effects of political and social structures on humanity’s future. Following is a list of some judiciously selected novels wherein the writers have created grim portrayals of the future.
Orwell’s allegorical novella “Animal Farm” was published 75 years ago, on August 17, 1945. It was also later adapted into cartoon versions and a film in1954. Referring to the chaos and the trauma of World War II in this political satire, the author reveals his bleak view of humanity — which can also be read in another one of his most read and well-known books, i.e. “1984.”
Published in 1949, George Orwell’s novel “1984” also painted a grim picture of a totalitarian surveillance state no one could hope to escape. Yet this great English writer and journalist could not have imagined the kind of control the internet would one day have.
Unlike utopias, dystopias depict a gloomy view of the future. They emerged as a side-effect of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, and questioned people’s faith in technology and progress at the time. The 1932 futuristic novel “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley created a dystopia that still today stands for the horrors of totalitarian rule.
Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) was a science fiction literature pioneer. His 1895 novel “The Time Machine” introduced the remarkably handy device of travelling through time by way of a clock. The novel is considered one of the earliest works of science fiction and the progenitor of the “time travel” subgenre. The novel took a critical look at Victorian society. His protagonist travels toward an uncertain future with the help of a secret invention.
Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper supposedly self-ignites. This is what Ray Bradbury called his 1953 novel about a country where people are not allowed to own or even read books. Free thinking is considered dangerous and antisocial. In Francois Truffaut’s film adaptation, this fire brigade uses flamethrowers to destroy the written word.
The Iron Heel eerily prophesizes the disastrous rise of fascism in the first half of the 20th century Mr London earned praise from such renowned social critics as George Orwell and Leo Trotsky for his perceptive portrayals of how decaying capitalism could mutate into an authoritative plutocracy, in which a dominating circle of wealthy individuals turn farmers into serfs and labourers into near-slaves.
It is breathtaking to see how Polish-born Stanislaw Lem foresaw the technical upheavals of the 21st century. In stories and novels like “The Futurological Congress,” “Golem XIV” and “Solaris,” he focused on key philosophical and ethical questions. Where does total automation lead? His prognosis was not too optimistic.
Franz Kafka’s (1883-1924) work defies clear interpretations. Yet the texts of the linguistic purist are often regarded as dystopian responses to an alienating modernist bureaucracy. This is especially true of the 1915 novel “The Trial.” Today, we refer to situations like those described by Kafka — bizarre, nightmarish — as kafkaesque.
The Canadian author catapulted the literary genre of dystopias straight into the streaming age. Atwood’s novels “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Testaments” show life in Gilead, a totalitarian state created in America by religious fundamentalists in the wake of environmental disasters. Adapted into a hit TV series starring Elisabeth Moss the story now inspires activists around the world.
Where is the land that provides for its citizens, where people are happy? Thomas More lived in 16th-century England, the era of the Renaissance and the Reformation, but also of the discovery of the New World. In More’s book, a sailor outlines an ideal society. He and More debate private property and social equality. “Utopia” established the literary genre of utopian fiction.