Thursday, August 08, 2013

Sci-fi Parables

Once upon a time storytellers who wanted to get a real-world message to readers or listeners would wrap the message in fictional fantasy. The practice stretches back for centuries: Greek and Roman mythology, Aesop and his fables, Jesus and his parables, stories passed down by indigenous tribes of all continents. Later, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, Victor Hugo, Sinclair Lewis, and many others created vastly expanded fictional versions of messages touching on all human life, its problems and injustices. Authors such as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley buried their messages in visions of the future rather than straight fictional fantasy, and this practice is continued in movie-land today, by certain creators and directors of sci-fi films. The best of these stand as critiques of wrongs of the present, mirroring them back to us in futuristic garb from years, decades, centuries or even millennia hence.

District 9 was one such movie. It was released in 2009, its story set in the very near future. It's message touched on the injustices of segregation, not based on skin colour, or racism but on species-ism as applied to a race of aliens accidentally trapped on Earth. There's a secondary theme of state reliance on multinational corporations as a government funded enforcement arm, and a warning against the type of corporations which partner with governments - the dangers of outsourcing militaries and bureaucracies to private contractors. Seems I've come across that very theme somewhere recently in real life stories! I felt sure I'd written a blog post about the film after we'd seen it at the cinema, but either I wrote it and didn't post it, or my tagging skills in 2009 left a lot to be desired.

District 9 was directed by Neill Blomkamp, written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell. Neill Blomkamp, a South African/Canadian, was eminently equipped for writing about the evils of segregation. He has a new movie due for release this week: Elysium.

From information available so far, it seems Elysium is set in 2154, partly on an Earth devastated, over-populated and very hot; partly on a luxurious space habitat called Elysium which orbits our planet.

A factory worker, Max (no relation to the Mad one), played by Matt Damon, is suffering from cancer contracted in an industrial accident and is desperately in need of the advanced medicine available on Elysium. He, and any others like him, are prevented from obtaining the aid they need by one of Elysium's politcians, played by Jodie Foster.

So.....this time sci-fi is taking on The 1%. This is a tale of those who have and the struggles of those who have not. This time the story is not set in the past with aristocracy and landed gentry versus the serfs and peasants; or in the present as the poor and middle classes against the corporations, oligarchs, elites - the 1%, but translates the theme flowing through all of those into the language of an envisioned 2154.

Elysium sounds promising - even though it'll have plenty of what I call "crash-bang-wallop" to satisfy the younger generation of movie-goers. I intend to see it. Dang! We watched one of the modern Sherlock Holmes films (with Robert Downey Jnr as lead character) shown on HBO at the weekend. They've even managed to insert a goodly overdose of crash-bang-wallop into that! Arthur Conan Doyle will be spinning!


mike said...

I was fortunate to have read my first mythology books via the translations and writings of Edith Hamilton. She was superb with the Greek and Roman story telling.

The original "Star Trek" series by Gene Roddenbery is a popularized sci fi version of parables. Each episode always concluded with a meaningful allegory. One of my favorites was about an android that felt love (for the first time ever) for Capt. Kirk. It concluded with Spock declaring, "The feeling of love made her human; the agony of love destroyed her."

I'm not much of a theater goer (way too expensive), so I'll probably pass on "Elysium".

Paulo Renato Scheunemann said...

District 9 was such a great movie, and the interesting thing also, was that it showed us our lack of empathy, at first we feel disgusted by the roach like aliens, and that, even after we’re shown all the horrors the aliens stranded here have to go through; still, by the end of the picture, most people will agree that the aliens are victims more than anything, but they will still feel disgusted by them, I think that was a really smart idea of the director. The main character has to become an alien in order to feel their struggle, and see past their different appearance… I think it is a very powerful parable to our days, I mean, people feel so distant, so disconnected from the suffering of others that they can’t feel anything other than disgust or pity… Here in Brazil there is an outbreak of crack in all our major cities, and these people usually gather in abandoned parts of town to smoke, they’re broken people, but the general idea of citizens is that they are a disease, they are disgusted and embarrassed by them, for they are a living mirror of our own selfishness; and most will even agree to the use of police violence in order to make this hellish image of zombies disappear. It is very sad, and I would challenge anyone, myself including, to live in the streets for 3 days, with no food, no shelter, fear, thirst, cold, and not look for numbness in any sort of drug… In these cases the drugs help relieve them from a reality no human mind should be able to withstand, it is not a choice for these people, it means survival in a level so gritty that the mind has to be numbed down to be able to cope with it.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I don't remember detail of my early introduction to Greek/Roman stories. I've a vague recollection of a hard-backed book, pale blue cover, its title something including the words "myths and legends". That's all. ;-)

I wasn't a Star Trek Fan (much to the husband's disgust). If I'd realised that allegory was involved I'd have felt tempted to dive in though. Now, whenever I've been persuaded to watch an odd episode of Star Trek, or one of the movies, I've felt like "an interloper at the feast", not knowing the characters an' all.

Yes, I guess in some areas cinema seats are expensive. As seniors we get a discount and our local cinema, which is is reasonably priced in any case, and quite often the audiences are tiny - which makes us feel we should do our bit to keep it alive. It'd be a pity for the town to lose it (another "use it or lose it" effect!)

Twilight said...

Paulo Renato Scheunemann ~ Hi there! :-)
Thanks for your thoughts on this - you've set them down so well, and reminded me of what a high quality movie District 9 was.

Much of the story line has become hazy for me now, I do seem to remember, though, that at the end of District 9 I left the cinema feeling very sad, and wanting a sequel - right away!

You've also pointed out that the lack of empathy and the injustices heaped upon certain groups need have nothing to do with race, colour, or creed. That same cold careless attitude evident in those instances happens in many different circumstances also, but resulting always in leaving feelings of alienation among the targeted group.

So sad - and we just never seem to learn, in spite of the good lessons given to us over many centuries and decades.