The theme of post-apocalypse had somewhat developed in the American film during the Cold War, however, it has become a part of the most interesting trend between 2000 and present day alongside with other futuristic plots.
A film is a form of art and a good art always reflects the reality, physical and mental, although sometimes the reflection comes in such a veiled form that everyone struggles to spot the hint of their own story behind all those spectacular special effects that draw the attention of the large audience in the first place...
One day, after watching one of the 'new generation' movies, my best friend mumbled 'There is a message they are trying to pass in these films'... and this got me going.
The scenarios of such films as In Time , Elysium , Divergent , Upside down , Planet of the Apes , Hunger games and
Avatar contain reminiscence of the humanity's history, reflection on contemporary issues as well as suggestions for possible future developments, a consequence of the present-day reality. Most curiously, in a nutshell, they demonstrate the connection between the three, rarely delivered by school teachers. Therefore, many popular films bare messages of warning...
The titles above are merely samples, a few of many. It is interesting though that, despite the similarities of characters and ideas, the screenplays are created by different authors, which only shows how many similar thoughts and similar fears there is among the people of the same (American) culture.
THE RICH lead a luxury, eternal or ay least, very long life thanks to the resources available only to this group of people. They are the ones, who make rules, first of all, to their own benefit to protect their wealth and superior position. This is what their call 'our freedom', when the system come under a threat (Elysium). Usually, it is not explained in the film, how exactly, the Rich had come to rule but tightening and increasing amount of laws and manipulating with the majority's insecurities seems to be a likely way.
Common features of the 'new generation' plots
Some of the scene settings (Elysium , Divergent / and Planet of the Apes) present the future society that has survived after a global (nuclear) war or a cataclysm that destroyed the most of the Earth's population. Interestingly, the post-apocalyptic setting is a given in the 'new generation' films as if the (American) authors have no doubts of what exactly the Earth's destiny is. Some scenarios skip the issue of a nuclear cataclysm (In Time, Upside down and Hunger games). In either case, the actual plot offers conflicts other than a nuclear war... a social conflict; a very contemporary one.
In each plot, the LAW is the cornerstone of the conflict. The reason for the conflict is biasedness and hypocrisy of the law, which is declared to help society survive but, in truth, it serves the interest of one social group (let us call them the Rich) at the expense of the other group (the Poor).
For example, in Divergent the system of factions is supposed to ensure the social order and, therefore, protect the humanity from conflicts in the future. However, in the third film, it comes out that dividing people into fractions merely as someone else's experiment...
The Rich promote and maintain a philosophy/views / ideology that supports their superior position in the society and the submissive position of the Poor.
Justification of such an ideology is usually based on believing in the better nature of the Rich either as species, like in Planet of the Apes , Divergent and Avatar, or as a culture/civilization as in the rest of the listed films. Interesting, that, one way or another, the film makers bring us to realise how artificial and absurd this kind of philosophy is. For example, in Planet of the Apes , where the Apes believed in their superiority before humans simply because they managed to come to power...
One cannot help remembering the words of Winston Churchill 'I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.'
The hunger games
...Or this line of the head of the government from 'The Hunger Games': 'Did you visit the 12th District? You will find a lot of coal and wheat there but most of the people, who live there are losers. If you visited, you would not support them'.
This attitude sounds very similar to one towards, for instance, Ukrainians that has been dragged into bigger political games but nobody really cares, to which extent those colour revolutions have ruined the Ukrainian people's lives... Just like in 'The Hunger Games', the Rich make a show or sensation of the event making human deaths just one of the game rules.
Upside down THE POOR in the 'new generation' plots are totally denied the quality of life and access to the existing inventions and technologies. In Upside down , it is actually being mentioned that the Lower World should not even be offered the new product that had being developed by a scientist, who himself comes from the Lower World. Even the names Upper Worlds and Lower World are there just to reflect the status of their population as the two planets that are running together and there is no a top or a bottom when it comes to physical definitions.
The Poor struggle to get hold of the basics: food (Hunger games), fuel to warm houses (Upside down), effective medical treatment (Elysium) and even life itself (In Time).
The Rich do everything to maintain this level of conditions for the Poor so that the Poor have no choice but working hard and long for minimal reward. They also frequently get penalised (following the law) and can never relax or think of higher matters because their attention is constantly focused on survival (In Time , Elysium , Upside down , and Hunger games ). In the film In Time it really comes to the extreme, when a Poor earns the time of life instead money and literary has to work just to live another day, while a Rich, having billions of days in the bank of time, can live forever...
This makes one think of the minimum wages that the workers in African and Asian sweatshop receive, for the sake of our consumer culture in the West.
In the films, we also observe that the Poor are kept in such unacceptable conditions not due to the recent cataclysms because. We can see how, alongside with the desperate existence in the Poor world, the Rich world enjoys abundance; there the technology is very well developed and is at services of the Rich as well as being heavily used to re-enforce the law on the Poor but never for the Poors' benefit.
The Immigration theme
Immigration theme is central in the films, where the conflict is based on the exploitation of the Poor by the Rich, by which whole countries rather than individuals are meant.
In those plots, the geographic locations of the Rich and the Poor are strictly separated. The Rich area is remote and heavily restricted for the poor in In Time. The Rich live away from the Earth in the ecological paradise Elysium, because the Earth's air is extremely polluted. Interestingly, the those living on Earth speak a different language (Spanish). In The Hunger games , the tributes from the 12th district have to travel for 2 days by train with the speed 200m/h before they reach the capital to take part in the show that precedes the cruel competition. And, finally, in Upside down, the Lower World is a different planet.
No need to suggest that these elements of fantasy plots are clearly a reminiscence of the contemporary relations between the democratic countries, who are also MEDCs, and their former colonies, who are supposed to be 'the weaker race', according to Churchill.
Large Western companies move their factories abroad, most frequently, to so called 'Third World' countries, where not only the minimum wage restrictions are absent but also environmental policies are far less limiting than those in the West. This automatically creates the separation into Upper and Lower world communities because, otherwise, how else the people in the former colonies have fewer rights for the fresh air than Europeans?
In the films, despite the fact that the Rich lead their luxury life only thanks to the hard labour of the Poor, it is ILLEGAL for the Poor to cross the border while any member of the Rich society can come to the Poor area and have a wonder. Although they are not very keen and travel to the Poor areas mostly for work ('If you visited the 12th District, you would not support them' ). The majority of the Rich know about the Poor's life from media.
In reality, the immigration rules also do not support equality of MEDC and LEDC travelers. Most of MEDCs have quite strict immigration policies. In addition, the people from their own former colonies are now charged big (for them) money to come and enjoy the better life of MEDCs, the life, that has been actually built at their or/and their ancestors' expense. Therefore, the fantasy movies present the democratic reality in a nutshell brilliantly.
In a film, any attempt of crossing the border by Poor offenders results in them being chased and killed or, at least, deported and isolated.
Excluding the element of violence, this is exactly the same attitude towards illegal immigrants in EU and US. In turn, EU and US citizens enjoy free and unlimited access to the Third World as they are likely to invest and spend there. Is it really working? The most apparent result: the Upper World earns and the Lower World pays. Again.
The tendencies of contemporary immigration worry many members of MDECs' societies. And they really should be worried from the point of securing their system - democracy, the thing that they call their freedom. It is THEIR freedom indeed...As the head of Security in Elysium says, if you had children, you would want to keep the house you built just for your children and their descendants... even when it costs a life to someone else's child.
On the bigger scale, the breakdown of democracy as the cradle of the Upper World life style is unavoidable. Because there is a price for everything and it seems the time to pay that price is coming rapidly. The gap in quality of life in Upper and Lower worlds is fathomless. Having tasted the Rich life once, a Poor does not want to go back. If the Lower World mixes with the Upper World, then, there will be no riches for the Rich anymore. So the demonstration effect can kill the whole Upper World system. This is what these plots always end with. This is the first message.
And another message at the start of every of those films. The unrest that is currently happening in the number of less developed countries, happens in the interest of the Rich, who are not too bothered about an apocalypse. In the event of a WWIII, they have enough resources to survive as well as to keep their power and have a luxury life. So, is succumbing to provocation or even participating a conflict for money such a great idea?
In the apocalyptic fantasy films, there is always only one part of the world that manages to have lived...