COLUMN: Hollywood portrays future in dismal, pessimistic view

By U-Wire

Over the weekend I had the chance to see “Children of Men.” Based on the book of the same name, the film depicts a dystopic picture of the near future where humanity has ceased to be able to reproduce. The world’s societies thus descend into anarchy, violence and despair.

Over the past ten years, a growing number of filmmakers have chosen to explore a similar future where humanity has taken a turn for the worse, exists on the brink of disintegration or has altogether collapsed.

“The Matrix” trilogy, “Minority Report,” “Dark City” and “An Inconvenient Truth” are just a few that share a pessimistic vision for tomorrow. Even Mel Gibson hints that “Apocalypto” is an allegory for today.

Envisioning a depressing future is nothing new. Huxley, Bradbury and Orwell wrote about similar themes – capturing the atmosphere of mid-20th century, as the aforementioned films seem to capture the mood at the dawn of the 21st century.

About an hour after seeing “Children of Men,” I read a newspaper article indicating that Israel plans a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s budding nuclear facilities – taking Ahmadinejad’s threat that “Israel must be wiped off the map” seriously.

While I do support the Israelis’ right to use force to protect themselves, their plan to use tactical nuclear weapons in the operation is particularly disturbing. If such a defensive maneuver were to take place, it would be the first use of nuclear weapons in a combat operation since 1945.

With potential nuclear attacks looming on the horizon it is hard not to argue against the filmmakers’ gloomy gaze into the future.

At some point, artists and visionaries ceased to see a future of promise where human beings faced and overcame the challenges of modern life. Instead, optimistic appraisal deteriorated into prophecies of ecological catastrophe, technological anarchy, political upheaval, economic disaster and spiritual ruin.

Hollywood is not alone.

A host of non-fiction authors have shared in this pessimism. Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” suggests that environmental disasters introduce the fall of civilizations. Jane Jacobs wrote about a coming dark age in “Dark Age Ahead” due to the destruction of local communities.

Francis Fukuyama explores the perils of bioengineering in “Our Posthuman Future,” while “The Singularity is Near” and “Our Final Hour” suggest societal collapse owing to technological tribulations.

While many of these works carry a great deal of merit, perhaps their pessimism does little in actually inspiring humanity to achieve a positive tomorrow.

For example, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” meanders through a keynote presentation showing what the world will be like if we fail to change our destructive ways.

Even if we assume the failed politician’s tripe is scientifically accurate, what good does it do? Would not a positive depiction of the future and a detailed path to achieve ecological balance have been better?

Even while being a superb film, “Children of Men” fails to introduce hope until the final minute of the movie, and even then it is questionable.

We have been shown all of the necessary warnings we need. Fiction writers, academics, filmmakers and politicians have exhaustively covered the various disaster scenarios.

Now I think the time has come for a more positive portrayal of the future and how to achieve it. While dystopic views might arouse humanity into action, it’s the utopian ideas that animate the spirit of man. Our despair results from the death in spirit.

I am reminded of a quote in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Invisible Monsters”:

“When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?”