The #scifitop7 hashtag is back! This week’s #scifitop7 is gonna be movies. Not just blockbusters, but any #scifi movie you hold dear (later in the summer, we’ll go to blockbusters, indies et cetera).
In no particular order, my top seven science fiction movies are:
Alien: Scary, intelligently rendered and tense, this movie is a total genre-buster. It featured Ellen Ripley as one of the earliest modern examples of a female protagonist who combines intensity and complexity, in the type of role typically reserved for men (especially in the late 1970s); it also manages to be scary and outlandish without the plethora of plot holes that plague so many of its kind (and plagued, for example, its latest successor, Prometheus).
Blade Runner: Based on the Philip K. Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this movie is another Ridley Scott hybrid. It’s classically sci-fi in many of its trappings, but it’s also a compelling rumination on how we define, and defend, our concept of humanity. Rutger Hauer, the leader of a band of escaped android slaves known as Replicants, has some of the best one-liners ever delivered, including: “quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” And then there’s always the classic “tears in rain” soliloquy…a last-second appeal to empathy from the John Brown (yes, I said it) of replicants.
The Thing: A faithful cinematic rendering of a Cold War-era story called Who Goes There?, John Carpenter’s 1982 movie was a claustrophobic look into the breakdown of civility and trust among a group that once thought they knew each other. It’s an allegory for many things, and its lack of gender diversity (along with Twelve Angry Men, it’s probably the only all-male cast movie that I actually have any regard for) is situationally conceivable due to the setting (an arctic expedition)–and is also offset by an ahead-of-its time ethnic diversity, including African-American characters who aren’t all the same guy. As we know, I tend to favor movies that manage to avoid ethnic and gender reductiveness without obviously trying so hard as to overdo it or distort the story…but I digress. This movie isn’t great because of the cast, though like the others on this list, it’s quite well acted. It’s great because it shows how ordinary folks behave when fear and mistrust catch fire in a group setting.
Gattaca: This is an interesting, methodically paced, well acted movie that is yet another rumination on how we define ourselves as human beings. In a society almost entirely driven by eugenics, a person of predetermined low caste decides to “pass’ into high society. Relevant in any time, independent of the more futuristic aspects of the story.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Not science fiction, you say? Consider the premise: the invention of a machine that can erase one’s unwanted memories. The movie follows a possibly doomed love story between a passive-aggressive head case and a mean-spirited narcissist, and inspires us to ponder both the meaning of love and the value of lessons learned. In many ways, it’s an updated version of Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, except that PKD’s story was made into Total Recall–a classic cinematic case of ‘great idea, interesting premise, cheesy movie with a focus on all the wrong elements.’ If only Total Recall hadn’t been made in the 1980s, with Arnold as the protagonist…alas. Eternal Sunshine is a frustrating, thought provoking movie, well acted and worth watching a couple of times.
28 Days Later: Again, not sure if it’s sci fi? If The Andromeda Strain is science fiction, then so is a movie about a human-engineered “rage virus” that runs amok and almost crashes what we call civilization. This move has it all, and operates at a multitude of levels: it’s epic and panoramic in feel, yet both the violence and the relationships (the moment when papa-bear Frank apologizes for losing his temper, then tells Hannah “I love you very much…keep away from me” before changing over, still gets me every time) have an intense, first-person feel. 28 Days Later explores the breakdown of civilization, the awful choices people make in extreme times, the transcendence of a few brave souls, and the catastrophe that can ensue when humans tinker with virology. it’s got a strong (afro-Brit, moreover) female protagonist and non-reductive ethnic diversity. I think it’s Danny Boyle’s best film, and it’s probably my favorite film, and if not, then it’s mighty close.
That’s my list! Feel free to agree or disagree, diplomatically of course, with my list or with each other. Stay tuned for upcoming #scifitop7 lists, and follow me on Twitter @firstcausenyc to keep the conversation going.
Again, my #scifitop7 movies (not in order): Alien; Blade Runner; The Thing (1982); Gattaca; 2001; 28 Days Later; Eternal Sunshine/Spotless Mind
The bed we’ve made: the cruel irony of Brexit
I must confess to have, at first, grossly miscalculated the larger net effect of the phenomenon known as Brexit.
On the day the official vote took place, my reaction was that England had earned itself a sorely needed object lesson, while rendering itself a laughing stock among progressive thinkers worldwide. Then the ‘reality on the ground’ set in. Widespread reports of people, suddenly emboldened to ‘tell it like it is,’ shouting hateful epithets–and downright threats–at not just brown folks, but Poles and non-Brits who are otherwise generally perceived as ‘white,’ began. And I realized that the movement to leave the EU wasn’t simply a desire to reclaim English identity in a nationalistic sense; it was a desire to reclaim English identity with a frightening eye toward ethnic cleansing. I also began to realize that–largely due to the machinations of the same Anglo-American elite which has often proclaimed itself the leaders of civilization and civility–progressive ideals, and human civility writ large, are on thinner ice than they’ve been in a long time. If America and England continue their collective lurch toward the far right, at the same time as England’s exit from the EU sets off a global economic downturn, then central and Eastern Europe will continue their collective lurches toward the far right. When this happens, then the world will actually be more overwhelmingly anti-democratic, and hostile to progressive ideals, than it’s been in decades. And again, let me repeat: this is largely the fault of the same Anglo-American elite that has, for generations, laid claim to being on the leading edge of not just Western civilization but human progress at large. Let me explain.
When Ho Chi Minh tried to do to the French and Japanese empires what America did to the British empire, he patterned his declaration of independence after ours and asked us for help. We told him, to use an English expression, to piss off; so he went to the next biggest guy in town, who played the ‘enemy of my enemy’ game. So we called him a communist, and spent half a generation’s time hammering his country with pesticides, carpet bombings and chemical weapons. Similar stories have played out throughout much of the so-called third world, especially in the Western Hemisphere. This pattern has continued all the way through its present day incarnation, whereby our policies have continued to foster radicalization and extremism in countries where we’ve supposedly intervened on behalf of democracy.
This all gives our current state of affairs a cruel, practical joke sort of irony: had the Anglo-American elite not spent the entirety of the Cold War squelching attempts at democratic and progressive reform in every part of the world, perhaps progressive, socialistic, egalitarian, secular, and democratic ideals wouldn’t seem in such short supply among the world’s governments. America’s geopolitical allies are among the most repressive, fascist, and yes, openly bigoted and ethnocentric, governments in the world…and we’ve openly supported them while continually claiming to act in the interests of the ideals to which our Bill of Rights is beholden.
This brings me back to square one: in a manner of speaking, England and America have brought their current troubles upon themselves. Were they as invested in the worldwide spread of their stated principles as they were in feeding their wealthy elites and sustaining so-called spheres of influence, neo-fascism and theocratic fascism would have had neither chance nor excuse to gain traction. But alas, America’s Republican party has long been allowed to subtly infuse large swaths of the American voting populace with modern day Know Nothing Party sentiments, while modern day Thatcherism was allowed to seep back to the surface across the pond; and now that the sentiments they’ve quietly sown have gained enough collective momentum that the tail is proverbially wagging the dog, the GOP and Parliament are somehow aghast at the result. These aren’t the results, mind you, of momentary lapses of reason, short-term misjudgments, or failures of perspective: they’re the result of prolonged, deliberate, and calculated efforts to maintain a dangerous status quo by espousing regressive values among the English and American working classes, while creating social, political, and economic situations in the developing world which have long been known to lead to reactionary extremism. Of course, said reactionary extremism has served the purposes of the Anglo-American elite in other ways, but I digress.
So then, here we are. The disgruntled English working class has helped usher in Brexit, which many fear is a precursor to a similar ushering in of ‘nativist’ ideology in the United States. The grim possibilities that George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Sinclair Lewis, Alan Moore, Rod Serling, and many others have warned us about for generations, continue to emerge into view.
The world is still incrementally trying to get better, as evidenced by its present state of worry over matters such as Brexit. But the shadow of the past continues to loom, and history might someday reflect on 2016 as the beginning of an epic regression.
Leave a comment | tags: alan moore, Brexit, HG Wells, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Rod Serling, sinclair lewis, society | posted in Commentary