Words by Benjamin Pinsent
It has been true of all artistic mediums that messages can be conveyed to warn or to educate. One of the easiest genre’s to spread a message is through science fiction: one can explore our own society through comparing us to an alien species; one can project a future of the earth with modern day problems exaggerated by an almost utopic amount of technology. Over the course of cinematic history our problems have changed, from the Nazis, to the cold war, to environmental problems, to the Middle Eastern problems. The thing that never seems to change is the conclusion of these tales: that Man is inherently corruptible.
During the Second World War morality seemed black and white, the Nazi’s were the bad guys and we, the Allies were the good guys. This set up has left its impact particularly in children’s films and fantasy. However since the collapse of the Hitler’s reich and the rise of tensions between the USA and the USSR that black and white began to blur into grey, individuals were not the enemy but the establishment was. And as it has always done, cinema played with the fears of nations.
Nuclear enhanced bugs, aliens destroying entire cities, mad doctors transforming ordinary citizens into hideous monsters. All these represented America’s fear of communism and the nuclear power that both sides wielded, fearing the utter destruction of the status quo. Many of these films where not so subtle about their political standing, like Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still with its idealism of peace. Others kept theirs in subtext; for example The Invasion of the Body Snatchers shows us an image of an entire world of people that look like ordinary people but are actually unfeeling “Pod People”.
As time marched on, the world has become more cynical and the capitalists that were once the saviours in a constant war on communism become the villain. Giant spiralling dirty metropolises, the upper classes keeping the lower oppressed through the media and the economy. They place you in dangerous predicaments for their own bizarre amusement in the Running Man,or gain like the Weylan-Yutani corporation from the Alien Franchise. Sometimes those in control aren’t even human like They Live or Society, but these are still the representation of the distance between the classes and the disillusionment of the masses. On the other sides of the spectrum greed destroys not only society but the environment like the very heavy handed Avatar.
This corruption is not just limited to science fiction but all genres in cinema. The War film has gone from the similar good versus evil of America vs Germany to the more complex tales of intrigue and stories of the individual soldiers being used like pawns for power hungry genres. The Bourne series is a prime example of this.
The horror genre has long been a source of psychological analysis. Each type of monster within them being retooled to fit the nations current fears delving deep beneath mans apparent civility to find the primal animal driven by a fear of death. The Modern phenomenon of the Zombie is the perfect example, just like the “Pod People” they are humanoid but with out the humanity. Zombies strip man of their superiority and show us that we have nothing to really be proud of. Without the trappings of materialism or reason we dissolve into a mass, eating each other to survive, consuming every valuable resorce until in the end we destroy our selves. Even the survivors of apocalypses show us a evolution in behaviour, savagery survives, a perfect metaphor for the cut throat attitudes of the “YUPI’s” .
Think about all the most memorable villains in history, there is a correlation. Most are either humanoid or created by man. From Hannible Lecter, Anton Chigur, Victor Frankenstein to H.A.L. 9000 and the “Pod People” it is clear to see that the Joker was right, he isn’t a monster he is just ahead of the curve. And though monsters’ and villains’ faces change what is beneth it is the same, it is still a man. Proof that we are our own worst nightmare.