Sometimes it comes on the wings of Faustian hubris, man’s endeavors far outreaching his capacity. Other times it is ushered in by way of an ecological or cosmic cataclysm, the planet racked by various forms of degradation. One way or another, a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future, where society dwindles in self-consumptive spirals, has often been a preferred setting for films, mainstream and underground alike. Every year several movies of the genre will make it to diverse audiences, some good and others immediately forgettable. Out of the many categorically dystopian films, three have stood out as iconic pinnacles of the genre.
3. I Am Legend (2007)
I Am Legend comes at the viewer with crushingly lonely should-be-populated cityscapes that really serve to evoke empathy from the viewer as well as emphasize the film’s dauntingly dystopian atmosphere. Under the pretense of complete dehumanization of mankind, I Am Legend isolates the protagonist and his dog as the only immediately relatable figures. Bleak, desolate in places of familiarity, and touting a scene so emotionally charged and crushing that the viewer actually begins to digest their own heart for a few painful moments, I Am Legend dives to the bottom of the frequently tapped dystopian keg and emerges fresh with an unforgettable offering.
2. Children of Men (2005)
A stirring work of dystopian poetry, Children of Men is as gripping a film as has ever been produced. Dropping the viewer into the United Kingdom of the not-too-distant future, at which time all of humankind has been inexplicably plagued with sterility and infertility, Children of Men is filmed with the jarring tension so virulently eroding the foundations of its depicted societies. By the paranoia of such a premise, truly valid issues like racism, nationalism and man’s misanthropic capacity for genocide all boil to the surface in a series of concussed encounters as the film’s protagonist journeys with a diminishing group of people striving to protect the one spark of hope humanity has left. Visually, Children of Men is raw to the point of assault. The terror that the film engenders throughout its narrative is palpable in the very framing of its chosen shots. Unrelentingly placing the viewer in the thick of the film’s conflict, it makes the point very clear that, as a viewer, there is something more to be taken away from Children of Men than just satisfaction by way of entertainment.
1. The Road (2009)
Continuing the literary metaphor, if Children of Men may be considered poetry, then The Road is a series of finely crafted sonnets. As beautiful as bleak can be, and as enthralling as slow extinction could ever appear, The Road is simultaneously inspiring and soul-crushing. In a world withered by some unspecified catastrophe, a lone father and son journey from one lifeless landscape to another, all of them different except for their common plague of decay. Traveling the titular road to the hope-invested coast, the father and son struggle through sceneries as ashen and devoid of life as their bellies are devoid of anything life-sustaining. That’s another point shockingly scored for the film: several scenes grant the viewer a glimpse into the destitution within due to the dearth without, as both father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee, respectively) are shown sickeningly emaciated. The horror of mankind’s neglectful attitude to things like conservation and sustainability are manifested on as terrifying a scale as may be conceived, counting ribs while earthquakes rip trees from their soil-turned-detritus and water becomes a faint memory. The viewer is not told what set in motion the planet’s decay, but it’s not necessary as the vagueness only serves to further the focus on the two struggling survivors. Emotions course with artisan composition through the stark landscapes, silent and still but for the movement of the protagonists and the intermittent musings of the father. As if the best elements were plucked from picks two and three and woven together through an Inuit loom, The Road is beautiful in its barren simplicity and the emotional realism of its characters, and it is crushing in the loneliness of its vacated relationships and dystopian hopelessness of its eventuality.
“The Road (2009).” IMDB.