Saturday, March 24, 2012

Memory & Manipulation

Up to this point in the film class, our “aliens in science fiction” movies have dealt with aliens who are big, ravenous and very, very scary.  This week, we go back to one of the ideas from Invasion – the alien threat looks just like us.  In the overlooked gem Impostor, Earth has been at war with the Centauris for years and we’re not doing so well.  The Centauris have discovered a way to infiltrate our society from within and you can never be sure who’s who.  Very sophisticated robots (who have definitely NOT been programmed in accordance with Asimov’s Laws of Robotic) have been placed in human society to bring us to our knees. 

At its core, Impostor asks one of the most central of questions - Just what does it mean to be human?  How can you tell?  Impostor is based on a Philip K. Dick story, a writer whose work has been the basis on many science fiction films, including Blade Runner and Total Recall.  As a writer, Dick returned obsessively to the role memory plays in making us, well – us.  If your memories are what set you apart and make you absolutely unique in the world, what happens when those are manipulated, folded, spindled, and mutilated?  Are you still you?  Were you ever?  Can you ever be again? 

Meanwhile, I did something I haven’t done in many a year this week and went to a midnight showing.  TheHunger Games was primarily filmed in western North Carolina where I live and my small town was prominently featured in the District 12 Reaping scene.   (Yeah, we apparently look like a depressed mining community.  Sad, really.  However, let me point out that the mining shacks in District 12 are NOT in my town!  They used an abandoned mill village for those shots.  Probably didn’t have to do much set dressing, more’s the pity.)  Anyway, the film (which I quite enjoyed) can be read as a cautionary tale about media manipulation.  Dick focused on screwing around with what’s already in someone’s head – Hunger Games messes around with history.  It’s been said that if you repeat a lie often enough, it takes on the shine of truth and Hunger Games makes that a major theme.  The Capitol uses the annual Games as a tool of oppression for the outlying, once-rebellious Districts and also uses them as a shiny distraction for the citizens of the Capitol.  After all, if you’re constantly being told to worry over superficial things such as fashion and hairstyles, you don’t have time left over to think and notice and demand change.  Reality in Hunger Games is definitely manufactured and it’s downright creepy to realize that, as part of the audience watching the film cheering for Katniss to survive, you’re also part of the Capitol watching and rooting for Katniss to win.  And if she doesn’t, well – there will be new Tributes next year.

People as things.  It’s a common theme in science fiction, dating at least back to Metropolis in which the underclass are used to maintain the Great Machines that supply the energy keep the ruling class contented and oblivious.  In Impostor, people are used as templates for the Other to create perfect weapons.  In Hunger Games, teenagers are chosen at random to fight to the death for the entertainment of the well-off few.  They are polished, trotted out for potential sponsors to look over, and put in front of countless TV cameras.  In Bride, the mad scientist had the decency to hide his monstrous manipulations from the public.  In Hunger Games, we’re funding the lab equipment.

It’s probably the scariest theme we’ve explored all semester.

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