There's been a little complication with my complication
January 19, 2014 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I need a dystopian film to replace Terry Gilliam's Brazil in my undergraduate course.

In the past few years I have taught this course, I have paired Fahrenheit 451 and Brazil with varying degrees of success. As time has gone on, students have enjoyed the film less and less and therefore grasped the point of the viewing less and less; mostly, it is the humor that is being lost on them, sometimes it is the accents (?!), but also the style seems be a barrier. This is not a film studies class and I don't really have a lot of time to scaffold them into this movie. This is a methods class for education and what I am trying to do is present material for these students that they might even possibly be able to use in their own future high school classrooms. So.

I love the movie. But the reason I use it is for the aspects of the film which explore surveillance, being a cog in the machine, Byzantine procedural bureaucracy, representations of dystopia, its particular representations of clunky future technology, consumerism, portrayals of violence and terrorism, the juxtaposition of the horror of torture and the shuffle of paperwork, etc. There are obviously overlaps with F451.

I understand no other movie is really going to do all of this. I would like suggestions for a more accessible, possibly newer movie that I can use in class with 18-20 year olds that would reasonable pair with F451 along the above lines.

The Hunger Games is off the table for various reasons.

Thanks in advance!
posted by oflinkey to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Children of Men (2006) comes to mind. List of dystopian films that can be sorted by date.
posted by lukemeister at 11:42 AM on January 19 [7 favorites]

My beloved uses Children of Men and V for Vendetta in a situation something like you describe. He also shows 123 Monkeys or clips from same.

The course in question in his case is a film studies survey course, however.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 11:44 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Battle royale is probobly too violent and is subbed (it is a Japanese film) But if you could get away with it it is similarish to hunger games. And very awesome.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:46 AM on January 19

Elysium or District 9. They're more 'realistic', more up to date and relevant and have more action.
posted by empath at 11:47 AM on January 19

Never Let Me Go?
posted by BibiRose at 11:48 AM on January 19

Cannon Fodder from Memories is short but could be an interesting addition.
posted by wintersweet at 11:49 AM on January 19

Repo! The Genetic Opera is different and has many many themes on capitalism. It is not to well known but is an newer movie. It also deals with family related issues as well.
Gattica is another suggestion.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:53 AM on January 19

oh god, Brazil seems even more relevant now than when it was made...

Maybe Idiocracy?
posted by at 11:58 AM on January 19 [16 favorites]

John Carpenter's They Live could work if you aren't too committed to the future technology and bureaucracy stuff.
posted by Redfield at 12:13 PM on January 19

Equilibrium (2002) [available on Netflix streaming] is basically Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Farenheight 451 meets The Wall (as my dad put it.) It's really good and has Matrix-like action sequences which keep interest going. There is a lot of thought-control meeting cog in the machine sort of lifestyle where everyone's emotions are controlled by a serum.

Very good movie. I loved it.

I also agree with Children of Men, but that's not as government-controlled dystopian future, as Equilibrium is.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:18 PM on January 19 [7 favorites]

In Time - I mean, it's not a great movie, but it does have a lot of pretty people using time as currency in a movie designed for the modern audience who may prefer things as unsubtle as possible.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:25 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Don't use Children of Men; it has way too much faux-religious cruft and nonsense mysticism. Idiocracy or V for Vendetta would work well.
posted by limeonaire at 12:27 PM on January 19

Not at all new but Toys with Robin Williams has a lot of what you need.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:28 PM on January 19

In no way do I think it's equal to Brazil, but Minority Report (2002) might work. It depicts a dystopian world and ticks the boxes for a lot of what you're looking for: surveillance, bureaucracy, being a cog in the machine, technology (not retro or clunky like in Brazil though), consumerism, violence/terrorism.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:33 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]

Idiocracy is far and away the best dystopian warning in modern film history.
posted by planetesimal at 12:45 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

Take a look at Gattica.

Also, I realize that you'd like a more contemporary movie, but the old version of 1984 has some pretty straight-line treatment of the issues you described (with John Hurt and Richard Burton).

THX1138 is a more kinky treatment, with the bonus of having Robert Duvall as the lead character.
posted by mule98J at 1:07 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]

aspects of the film which explore surveillance, being a cog in the machine, Byzantine procedural bureaucracy, representations of dystopia, its particular representations of clunky future technology, consumerism, portrayals of violence and terrorism, the juxtaposition of the horror of torture and the shuffle of paperwork,

Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys portrays most of those.

This comment will contain SPOILERS.

aspects of the film which explore surveillance, being a cog in the machine

James Cole (Bruce Willis) is assigned to "volunteer" for various research chores by a committee that oversees some or all of his actions. Exactly how much of his adventures they are privy to becomes a question both within the film and meta-textually in the analysis of the plot.

Living in a dystopian future where humankind has retreated underground, he's expected to perform for the good of the larger (miserable, confined, sickly) system, and when he travels to the 1990s to search for clues to prevent the disaster that destroyed civilization, he's confined to a mental hospital where he is also expected to behave predictably as a cog in the system.

Byzantine procedural bureaucracy [...] the juxtaposition of the horror of torture and the shuffle of paperwork

Twelve Monkeys doesn't fill up with paperwork the way Brazil does, but it uses another form of bureaucratic oversight: both James Cole and his psychiatrist, Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) face committee hearings (and, in Railly's case, public readings and signings) where the tone of their interlocutors ranges from ambivalent to hostile to congratulatory. The shift in tone (and sometimes, in visual perspective) gets downright vertiginous, and of course the meetings convey a voyeuristic aspect largely absent from Brazil's paperwork sequences.

portrayals of violence and terrorism, the juxtaposition of the horror of torture and the shuffle of paperwork

[THIS IS A BIG SPOILER HERE] One of the central plot points in Twelve Monkeys is the conflation by our future observers of a pranksterish political organization, which inconveniences everyday people, with a doomsday obsessive who seeks to eliminate consumerist ruination of the environment by decimating humanity with a new plague.
posted by Elsa at 1:21 PM on January 19 [9 favorites]

it is the humor that is being lost on them, sometimes it is the accents (?!), but also the style seems be a barrier.

I meant to add: Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys hits most of your check-boxes, but has a slightly more modern sensibility that will be more comprehensible to younger viewers, and with North American accents. Even as a fan of Gilliam who thinks Brazil is the better film, I find Twelve Monkeys far more straightforward to watch, and the well-known actors (Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt) may help them feel comfortable with the film, too.
posted by Elsa at 1:26 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Equilibrium might fit your bill.
posted by zombieApoc at 1:27 PM on January 19

RoboCop. It hits a lot of the same themes: painfully clumsy, dehumanizing technology, urban decay vs corporate dystopia, garish and grotesque commercialism, and the societal roots of crime. That said, it is (very intentionally) gruesomely violent. The Verge did a little writeup on its timelessness here.

As much as I love Equilibrium, it's kinda... dumb. Wonderfully so, in my opinion, but if Brazil is a rich Black Forest cake of themes, Equilibrium is a saltine. Twelve Monkeys is brilliant, but I think probably too narratively convoluted if you are trying to avoid the structure of the film getting in the way of thematic teaching points.
posted by demons in the base at 1:31 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

I asked mrrussell about this one - he's a teacher and often uses film in his classes.

He suggests 2081 - based on Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron. Also V for Vendetta and Idiocracy if you're looking for something a little lighter.
posted by kimberussell at 1:41 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Have you ever seen "Dark City"? It's an astounding film and has a lot of the characteristics you're looking for, but it may not work for you because the bad guys are aliens. All the humans are slaves.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:53 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

posted by Mchelly at 1:54 PM on January 19

Your description made me think of Fifth Element and Minority Report.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:31 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

The little-known, under-rated, but increasingly plausible Code 46.
posted by Wordshore at 2:37 PM on January 19

How about V for Vendetta?

It's dystopian, deals with surveillance, Orwellian government, terrorism vs. insurgency vs. revolution, and is probably more culturally relevant than Brazil. (I mean, it's the source of Anonymous' Guy Fawkes masks and imagery, at least.)

It doesn't have the sort of cynical gutpunch ending that Brazil does, and is a little too childishly "fuck 'da man" for my taste, but it's the sort of thing that I could see provoking a good discussion. I think in any reasonably-diverse group of highschool or undergrad students you'll have some different opinions on it at least.

Also, it's both recent enough and high-profile enough that you can find a lot of criticism (feminist / gender theory crit, economic / political theory crit, etc.) written about it. And much of it is not fawning fanboy nonsense (counterpoint), either, which is the problem you get with a lot of comic-movie-adaptations. So if you wanted to jumpstart the discussion, you could also pick out any number of essays, or have students find essays, and read them as part of the assignment.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:53 PM on January 19

Do 12 Monkeys! But also, please look at the Metacritic ratings before you pick a film. I think some of these suggestions are not that good... ^_^
posted by zscore at 4:42 PM on January 19

Hey also check this out wikipedia has got your back:
posted by zscore at 4:45 PM on January 19

There are some great suggestions here, but I don't think any of them top Brazil. If it were my class, I would frame Brazil with some references to current popular culture, like Steampunk and Mad Men and retro. I would also give the students some background information on World War II and how Brazil became a haven for war criminals, perhaps talk about current politics between the Americas, for example. Or Japanese class differences and Star Wars. Elide the parody of Battleship Poetemkin/Baby rolling down the stairs Gilliam does and explain irony. The film is brilliant.
posted by effluvia at 5:03 PM on January 19

Thirding the 1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's my suggestion for the film that's exactly like the book.

And I'm very pleased with the implication here that one of my all-time favorite films, Fran├žois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, is still making the grade -- with its dated futurism, the style doesn't "seem be a barrier." Even after all these years.
posted by Rash at 5:35 PM on January 19

So far 12 Monkeys is a great second to Brazil. Delicatessen comes to mind. It's French, and delightful, but if language is already an issue it might not be the right choice. Others that meet some of your criteria, but probably not all...
- The Prisoner (tv, 17 eps)
- The Truman Show
- Being There
- Dark City
posted by cocoagirl at 7:01 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Maybe this isn't quite right, but what about A Scanner Darkly? It has a very disturbing dose of the banality of surveillance, violence, and the futility of escaping the social forces that perpetuate these cycles.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:36 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

Nth Equilibrium. I paired it with 451 and high schookers snd it seemed to help then get the book better. Beware the fight at the end though.
posted by jander03 at 10:57 PM on January 20

Fight Club: consumerism leads to feeling a lack of identity leading to terrorism
posted by xammerboy at 8:37 PM on January 27

How about The Zero Theorem? I haven't seen it yet, but I'm hoping that could lead them back to Brazil, which is the movie I name when absolutely forced to declare "one favorite movie".
posted by hme at 11:13 PM on February 11

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