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Instead of focusing on the human aspect of a failed future shock, ex-Python Terry Gilliam gives us a sour society where bumbling bureaucracy (and the equally ineffectual war against is) has been reduced to a series of ducts and a shit-load of paperwork. It’s a world where information is king, where it’s retrieval is retribution, and its dissemination a dead subject. One man’s dream of escape leads him to rage against such a machine. His fate—and the fate of those like him—turn a goofy, fun house truth into something quite telling… and terrifying.
Here we have something vastly different than either Soylent or Logan. Under-population is the problem, the human race rendered infertile by a plague that has swept across the planet. In order to keep their dwindling numbers and resources safe, strict laws against immigration are imposed. When a young West African girl is found to be pregnant, those fighting against the government must try and get her to a secret scientific community, less humanity be doomed forever. While the thinking behind such a strategy may seem suspect, how the powers that be go about their duty is beyond disturbing.
Human biological perfection is the preface for this unusually thoughtful look at life in the not too distant future. Through the use of complicated scientific screening, society has been broken down into ‘valids’ and ‘in-valids.’ Those with the proper label get all the advantages. Those who do not are marginalized and reduced to something akin to a slave class. The story centers on one man’s desire to break free from these genetic shackles and realize his dreams of space flight. It’s the inner workings of this strangled society that provide the power… and the fear.
It’s a world of space exploration, robots, and mass multiculturalism. It’s also a reality where our mechanized friends are no longer happy with their place in the process. Thus the title characters must come along and “clean up” the rogues, protecting society from something even more disheartening than rain, gloom, and the gleaming towers of a skyscraping Big Brother. Outwardly, this future doesn’t seem so bad. But when viewed through the prism of an agent looking for a way out, it’s claustrophobic and suffocating.
What’s more horrifying than a doom and gloom dystopia? A doom and gloom dystopia which tricks you into thinking everything is all right, just so it can harvest your bioelectric energy and BTUs. That’s the premise of the Wachowskis amazingly influential film, a take on virtual reality in which a world run by machines harvest human beings for their energy needs. In order to keep them passive and performing, they jack everyone into the title construct, an existence where everything seems normal, but actually is nothing more than a series of impulses to the near-vegetative brain. While the idea is not all that novel, the execution is what sets it apart.
// Notes from the Road
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