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The Hollywood Insider Dystopian Films, The Matrix

Photo: ‘The Matrix’

Dystopian films, as morbid as they are, make for some compelling and entertaining material. These doomsday scenarios often present alternate realities, or rather our futures depending on your beliefs, where humanity has become an endangered species through a myriad of end-of-the-world fatalities, and the unlucky survivors find themselves clinging to a life that the vast majority of us wouldn’t find worth living.

Some of these films are so grim in nature that they’re hard to watch, but at the same time, we can’t take our eyes off of them, since they prey upon our macabre fascination for humanity’s inevitable self-destruction. It’s even worse when the dystopian film in question hits a bit too close to home, parading an apocalyptic future that can easily happen tomorrow without warning or preparation. The five films on this list, in particular, either portray humanity, or the Earth, or both, at their ugliest. And at the same time, they’re ironically some of the most beautiful pieces of Cinema that Hollywood has to offer.

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5 Dystopian Films

‘The Road’

No film quite hurts as good as director John Hillcoat’s ‘The Road’. Written by Joe Penhall, and based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, the appropriate titled ‘The Road’ follows a father and his son as they traverse a malnourished Earth that’s completely devoid of light, as if even its own sun had to leave the world to its fate. Nature is completely compromised, stripped of all its nutrients and vitamins, so if it was green then chances are it didn’t survive. It’s a planet that’s always cold, with food and water being scarce commodities, and a decent segment of humanity has resorted to cannibalism to survive. There’s no explanation as to what horrible series of events crippled the world beyond repair, which is deliberately left up to the interpretation of the viewer.

The only hint is a bright light that encompasses the entire world in a flashback sequence, as if mocking the arrival of some divine force, before transporting audiences back to its hopeless present. McCarthy, and by extension Hillcoat, intentionally withholding the source of this cataclysm adds to the terror inherent in this new society. By forcing us to self-meditate on what could’ve caused humanity’s extinction, it encourages the audience to compare Hillcoat’s world to ours, searching for possible clues and breadcrumbs in our own reality that might’ve led to this depressing future. It’s a masterful psychological tactic used against the audience that immerses us even further in McCarthy’s horrifying imagination and pulls us out of our reality, seemingly against our own will. 

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But despite ‘The Road’s somber subject matter and grim circumstances, there’s a beauty in the film’s narrative, particularly with the father and son who are given no names, that’s juxtaposed against the movie’s hideous backdrop. Viggo Mortensen, who plays the Father in the film, gives a raw and emotionally driven performance that lingers with you long after the credits roll in haunting form. His interaction with his son, the equally talented Kodi Smit-Mcphee, is guaranteed to move even the coldest heart. The relationship between the two, both as actors and as characters, is packed with so much warmth it feels like the only thing that’s truly still alive in a world filled with the walking dead, and is also what makes ‘The Road’ stand out as an all-time great. 

Fast Color’

The best part about ‘Fast Color’ is that it doesn’t really seem like a dystopia. But that’s because, as with most of the film, ‘Fast Color’ is very subtle and almost nonchalant about the destruction the Earth is facing; shrugging it off as if to say, “Well, what did you expect was going to happen? I tried to warn you all.” Ironically, despite its subtlety, ‘Fast Color’ is so terrifying because it hits closer to home. Because of what’s implied to be climate change, the planet hasn’t experienced the comforting and refreshing touches of rain, and it shows. Water is running so low it might break your bank account if you even think about buying a gallon, all the food looks dry, bland, and inedible. The planet is dying a slow, uncomfortable death, but human beings, in general, feel like they’ve accepted it, and they’re still going on with their day-to-day lives. ‘Fast Color’ not only presents a realistic dystopian future, it presents a realistic reaction to that dystopian future, and that’s what makes it all the more terrifying.

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‘X-Men Days Of Futures Past’

Before the MCU or the DCEU thought about using time travel in superhero films, Fox’s ‘X-Men’ franchise beat them to the punch. In an extremely bleak future, mutants are hunted down to the brink of extinction by an army of unstoppable machines called the Sentinels. But what makes this future even worse is that these Sentinels don’t just stop with the killing of actual humans. If a normal human being even so much as has the potential of passing off a mutant gene to their offspring, they’ll be on the Sentinels’ hit-list as well.

The determination of these literal killing machines makes it so they won’t rest until all of mutant-kind is wiped out, even if that means causing several human casualties as well. It’s truly a grim reality that sees most of our favorite ‘X-Men’ characters killed off in unceremonious, brutal ways that seem unfitting for characters who saved the world ten times over.  Of course, like in ‘Endgame’, the only way to save the world is to go back in time, and stop this horrible future from taking place. 

‘The Matrix’

There’s only so much that can be said about the Wachowski sisters’ magnum opus that hasn’t been said already. ‘The Matrix’, starring Keanu Reeves, redefined action thrillers in Cinema with technology and stunts that completely shook up the world of Hollywood for the better. But when people think of ‘The Matrix’, the first thing that comes to mind is usually bullet time, the ahead of its time filming technique that was used back in the day. Or Carrie Ann Moss’s Trinity levitating in midair before delivering a devastating flying kick while rocking stylish latex. The dystopian future that it managed to create, although appreciated in its own right, still feels a bit underrated when it comes to actual impact.

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‘The Matrix’ took a very cliché dystopian stereotype, which is machines rebelling and wiping out mankind, and redid it in a way that made it fresh. By creating a world where machines need humans alive, but enslaved, to feed off of their energy, it creates an interesting dynamic that’s more than just Machines vs human beings. They need each other, even though they wish they didn’t, like a marriage that neither of them wants to end because they don’t want to split the property. ‘The Matrix’ also created some of the most interesting dystopian mythology seen in fiction, which is usually expanded upon in side stories like ‘The Animatrix’ and video games like ‘Path of Neo’. 

It’s debatable whether or not fans really connected with the dystopian side of ‘The Matrix’. Both ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ and especially ‘Matrix Revolutions’ spent a considerable amount of time outside of the simulated world to explore the real world, a world where humans live underground and wear clothes often seen on Cavemen, the human race seemingly set back thousands of years in technological advances because the Machines are the ones hogging all the technology. But the dwindling hype and excitement surrounding ‘The Matrix’ with each subsequent film seemed to indicate that films didn’t want to spend time in the real world, and wanted to continue hanging out inside of their simulated reality. Maybe the upcoming sequel, and fourth ‘Matrix’ movie, will give fans what they want, but personally, I would be more than happy if we spent even more time in ‘The Matrix’s’ dystopian society. To this day I feel it’s one of the most under-appreciated concepts yet.

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‘Avengers: Endgame’

Although most might not consider ‘Avengers: Endgame’ dystopian per se, there’s a case to be made that it is. After all, what would you call a world where fifty percent of all living things, in the universe, died and stayed dead for a good five years? Avengers Endgame broke many records, and seemingly everything that could be said about the film’s accomplishments has already been said in every modern-day language in the world. But one of the things I always found the most interesting about the film was the interesting scenario and dystopia it managed to set up. Not only did the film touch on how people are functioning in a universe cut in half, but there are quick throwaway lines that support Thanos’ cause for a cleaner universe. Steve Rogers, for instance, briefly remarks to Black Widow how the water is much cleaner now, so much so that there are actually whales in the Hudson River. It’s an interesting statement about a world I wish we spent a bit more time on in the film, as it plays around with the idea that the world as we know it might, in fact, benefit from far fewer people. 

‘Avengers Endgame’ also scores points by not using time travel to magically reset their dystopian world back to normal. Time travel is used in a way that’s not seen in many movies, and even though it allows our superheroes to save the day once again, a lot of ‘Endgame’s’ consequences stuck to the MCU, and will have long-lasting impacts that have already begin to affect the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large.

By Tony Stallings

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