Utopias Explored: THE TIME MACHINE and BLADE RUNNER
Science Fiction and Film
Utopian Societies Explored
The Ancient Greek work for "no place," utopia has come down to modern readers as something to be the ideal -- the Eden. The actual word comes from the Greek 'ou -- not' and 'topos -- place,' and was coined in the modern sense by the title of a 1516 book written by Sir Thomas Moore. More's Utopia describes a fictional island possessing a seemingly perfect society in which social, legal, political and cultural systems act in harmony and are ideal for humans (Manuel).
The reverse, dystopia, is life that is characterized by poverty, oppression, suffering, unhappiness, and the lack of basic human rights. The irony and use of the term arises from much of utopian literature and the juxtaposition between the utopian ideals of certain societies with the realities of the way that society actually functions.
Within the utopian/dystopian society, however, numerous common themes arise. Since society consists of multidimensional parts, there is, of course, the necessity to ingrain the norms, values and basic cultural structures within that society, and for future generations. Thus, each society needs to perpetuate itself with the "right" type that will allow it to continue.
The idea of utopia/dystopia has been popular for hundreds of writers, particularly in the science-fiction genre. When writers explore the political and social structures of their age, or reflect on the past, it is logical to ask the major question of -- What if? Utopian fiction explores the idea of creating an ideal society; while dystopian fiction is the opposite - a degraded society. Most writers combine both because as humans, we have choices. Indeed, what is ideal for some is less than ideal for others. Interestingly, prior to 1900 more than 400 utopian works were published, after 1900 literally thousands have been published, while a good many have made the jump from the page to film (Sargent).
Of the hundreds and hundreds of utopian/dystopian novels that have been made into movies, most all share many common themes: the control of one part of society (or species) over the other. For instance, in 1984, George Orwell imagines a future London in 2540 AD. The novel anticipates genetic manipulation, sleep-learning, psychological control methods and a change to society that initially seems positive -- wiping out the negative emotions, thoughts, and actions of humans -- and replacing them with the "appropriate concepts." (1984). Modern reality can sometimes be best expressed in fiction -- a non-threatening way that allows society to critique and discuss sensitive ideas. These ideas are represented quite well in a fictional 1997 movie, "Gattaca" -- named to represent the four DNA bases (Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, and Adenine). Society has evolved to one driven by liberal eugenics. Children of the wealthier classes are selected and designed through genetic manipulation to ensure they harbor only the best, most desirable, genetic makeup. A national genetic registry uses biometrics to classify those as "Valids" as well as those of the lesser classes, known as "In-Valids." Valids are qualified for professional employment, based only on their genetic profile, not their ability. The main character, Vincent, is an "In-Valid" who is expected to live only 30.2 years because of a heart defect, but dreams of being an astronaut He impersonates a "Valid," Jerome, who botched his own suicide and became paralyzed. By "purchasing" blood and urine from Jerome, Vincent's gifts allow him to rise to the top of his class in aerospace school, ending up next in line for a space mission, thus defeating the utopian society (Schellenberg).
Both of these films are germane to the analysis of two of the most important works in science-fiction in the genre: The Time Machine and Blade Runner. Like 1984, authors H.G. Wells and Philip K. Dick imagine a future world based on the unique trends they see from the present. Similar to Gattaca, the worlds of both become polarized based on a combination of technology and genetics. In both novels, the general idea of a utopia becomes quite dark, and dystopian themes run rampant - primarily in the lack of wisdom that causes the protagonist to rethink his own individuality and core values.
Wells and The Time Machine -- H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was an English author who wrote novels in several genres. Today he is best known for his science fiction, producing such classics as The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man. He considered the world state to be inevitable, and anticipated globalism by 50 years. Wells believed in improving society, so much so that he was a supporter of the theory of eugenics. In fact, some see the Morlock race to be his commentary on allowing genetic inferiorities to thrive (Levy and Peart).
The Time Machine was published in 1895. Wells coined the term in the novel, and is likely the source of the popularization of the idea of time travel by using a device to move forward or backwards in time. Wells wrote about time travel before The Time Machine, and was intrigued by the concept based largely on his socialist views. He found that society was not as evolved or positive as it should be, and dared to imagine what was ahead for humanity if something was not done to encourage optimism and equality (Batchelor, 9-13).
The polot focuses on an English scientist and inventory simply called "The Time Traveller." This gentlemen is part of an intellectual group that has a weekly dinner to discuss ideas and hypothesize about the future. The Time Traveller tells his guests that he has built a machine and invites them to return next week to hear about his adventures. The Time Travellers tests his device and moves into the future, 802,701 AD. Here, he meets a society of childlike people called the Elio. The Eloi live in small, rural communities while all around them are slowly deteriorating structures. The Eloi eat only fruit, and the Time Traveller becomes frustrated because they do not seem to be curious and spend their days "playing." When he returns to the clearing in which he landed, his machine has been moved. He tracks it to a large pyramid-like structure in which he later finds out is inhabited by another race, the Morlocks. The Morlocks are ape-like troglodytes who live underground and surface only at night. However, The Time Traveler also discovers that the Morlocks maintain the machinery to make the above-ground paradise possible, and farm the Eloi like cattle. Attempting to recover his machine, The Time Traveller enters the realm of the Morlocks and escapes ahead to 30 million years from his own time. He sees a dying Earth, large crab-like creatures and no humans. He travels even more, and finally sees the Earth die as the sun burns out. Returning to the laboratory just three hours after he originally left, he tells his tale, his evidence two strange flowers. Returning to the house the next day, the reader finds The Time Traveller preparing for yet another journey. While he promises to return in 30 minutes, three years later there is no sign of him (Wells).
Dick and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep- Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was an American novelist who focused primarily on science fiction. His primary focus was on the political, sociological, and metaphysical themes found in authoritarian governments and monopolistic and controlling corporations. He drew upon his own troubled experience to explore drug abuse, paranoia and schizophrenia, but despite remaining in near-poverty, wrote 44 novels and 121 short stories. Eight of his works have been made into feature films, and in 2007 he became the first science fiction writer to be part of the Library of America series (Library of America to Issue Volume of Philp K. Dick; Platt).
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a 1968 novel that was retitled Blade Runner for film. The novel is set in 1992 or 2021, depending on the edition, and is focused on a society in which Earth's population has been damaged by radition from World War Terminus. The United Nations encourages the remaining citizens to emigrate to off-world colonies, in the hope of preserving the human race. The government incents individuals by giving each emigrant an "andy," or servant android. The story is set around San Francisco, the protagonist is Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter. Androids are used only in the colonies, yet many escape back to Earth to flee the psychological isolation and slavery they believe has been placed upon them. These androids are made of biological materials and physically identical to humans, but are still considered nothing more than "pieces of machinery." Bounty hunters "retire" fugitive androids, a euphamism for killing them. The difficulty for Deckard and his cadre is that as technology evolved, identifying androids has become more difficult. The earlier models had limited intelligence and were easily identified through a Voigt-Kampff test of empathy, designed to evoke strong emotional responses. Because early…