Are Dystopias Getting Boring?

 

I tried to read the first book of the Hunger Games series awhile back, and although I thought it was well-written and had a good setting, it was hard for me to get into it because it was fairly predictable.  I’m sure that’s partially because it was written for a younger audience, but I think it also is a just a little too cliche filled.  I’m not saying it’s bad.  It’s a decent book, but I pretty much knew where it was going from a very early point.  This is a problem I have with a lot of dystopian fiction–it all seems cut from the same cloth.

You know, I had an idea for a dystopian movie once.  It would be set at an undefined place and time, in a country where a totalitarian, fascist government had taken over.  The main character would be some kind of violent goon for the government who went around suppressing all dissenters.  And the whole film would present him as the hero–he’d be played by a “leading man”, the camera angles would present him heroically–the whole film would seemingly approve of the dystopian society.  Then, at the end, there would be some kind of title card or something telling the audience that this was a propaganda film approved by the fictional government, perhaps even detailing some of the techniques involved.

The point of this would be to pull the rug out from under the audience; see how many of them would have found themselves being subtly seduced into rooting for the main character–and the society he represents–by the film’s technique.  The “plot twist” would actually be a test to see how much people would start to buy into something awful because of good cinematography. Then they would have to re-evaluate what they had just watched.

The trouble is, this is more of a science experiment than an entertainment movie.  The trick of the movie is that usually, in dystopian stories, the protagonist begins to question his society, and through him, the audience is told about the society’s problems. (e.g. Winston Smith in 1984, Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451)  There would be none of that in this movie.  He’d be 100% behind the society, and looking to maintain it.  It would be kind of like 1984 from O’Brien’s perspective.

The thing about my idea–and I’m not saying it’s a good idea–is that it plays with the tropes of the dystopian genre.  Dystopian stories give the audience some character they can turn to to see the dystopia’s flaws; or at least the “tone” of the piece, or the “voice” of the narrative give it away.  Here, there are no societal outcasts or anything like that for people to turn to. (The main character takes care of that.)  I thought this up largely from noticing that every dystopian story seems to rely on the same devices, and that makes them pretty predictable.

8 Comments

  1. Immediately thought of “Triumph of the Will” and “Starship Troopers”. Although few people at the time got that Starship was a satire. “Bladerunner” for the majority of the film, is just like that, the hero of the film is fulfilling the government’s wishes virtually unquestioned.

    In some ways, many Police Dramas follow that logic, of the Policeman upholding the government’s ideals in the midst of a dystopia (albeit one that we live in).

    Just thinking out loud, but I really like the way you’ve turned that genre upside down.

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    1. That’s a good point about Police shows and movies. I remember that somebody–maybe Pauline Kael, I’m not sure–said that the movie “Dirty Harry” was a “fascist” film because of how it stresses the government agents being hampered by laws designed to protect the rights of criminals.

      I’ve never seen “Starship Troopers”, but now that you mention I do remember hearing that it caused some confusion. I’ll have to check it out sometime.

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      1. It’s an incredible film, but the critics just did not get it. Luckily it survived on as a cult film and now heralded at the classic it truly is. It is a very interesting film.

        I on the other hand will have to check out Dirty Harry!

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  2. I think that simply the nature of dystopian books makes the overall plot somewhat predictable. If you have a person or a small group going against an oppressive government there are really only a couple of ways that the story can end, and the truth is that most authors probably aren’t willing to end a book like 1984.

    The closest books that I can think of that might fall into this category are all by Hubert Selby Jr. The only problem with saying that is that his books aren’t really dystopias, they’re books set in the real world where the characters are going against the government and doing illegal things. (Requiem for a Dream, Waiting Period, and The Demon are all examples of this.)

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    1. That’s true; there are only a few possibilities. Are there any stories about two very different Dystopias fighting each other? Not just as a background element, but as the primary focus, maybe with chapters alternating between viewpoints in the two countries. I always wondered what things were like in the other superpowers in “1984”–were they basically the same?

      As I type that it sounds familiar. Maybe that is something I have read and forgotten about.

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  3. It’s a decent book, but I pretty much knew where it was going from a very early point. This is a problem I have with a lot of dystopian fiction–it all seems cut from the same cloth.Agreed,it is also sometimes because we have read a lot of similar books.Dystopian literature are meant to change our ways,and perceive things,but sometimes the changed cannot be changed anymore.

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