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Does an Excess of Power Always Lead to Dystopia? | Gothic Dreams

Posted by Matt Knight

What are the repurcussions of excessive power? Superhero films have lately opted for darker storylines: Man of Steel's final battle left Metroplis in ruins, with surely thousands of citizens dead. Equally Avengers Assemble's final set piece destroyed most of New York. One may wonder if the same levels of destruction will be found in the sequel. 


Image via youtube

However, superheroes are only one subsect of genre that has enjoyed enduring popular appeal throughout makind's creation of art. That said, I'm going to skimp on the Milton and focus instead on the various film representations of dystopia, with special attention to what I think are the three most prominent routes to destruction: Super Power, Genetic Power, and Wealthy or Political Power.

Superpower Dystopia

After Christopher Nolan's pioneering Dark Knight trilogy, superhero films have listed towards more realistic depictions of their action. Most noteably this means that the destruction of cities throughout superhero battles is something that can no longer avoided. But what are the effects of such incredible amounts of damages? It certainly seems to be a sticky issue in the new trailer for Batman v Superman, in which Kal-El is labelled a 'false god' for his inability to prevent wider damage and simultaneously save everyone around the planet.

dystopiawide2-2.jpg Image via youtube

A similar theme was found in X-Men: Days of Future Past last year. Teminator comparisons aside, the story saw the group of heros trapped in a dystopian future which even their super powers could not prevent. What was interesting about this conceit, was that it was the hero's own powers that made the enemies fighting them stronger. The Sentinals could absorb abilities and use them against the X-Men, asking the question: if such power hadn't of existed in the first place, would this dystopia have existed at all?

Dystopias of Wealth and Power Divides

Probably the most popular approach to dystopia before the advent of superhero movies, wealth divides have been an effective form of visualising the future due to their grounding in realism and their social message

Neill Blomkamp's 2013 movie, Elysium is one of the latest renditions of this dystopian bracket. Whilst the majority of mankind lives on an impoverished earth, the upper echelons reside upon the eponymous space station. In their safe haven not only are the lifestyles drastically more comfortable and peaceful, but they also shelter advanced medical facilities - this being the main envy of the people back on earth.  

V for Vendetta might be the political dystopia film. Set in London 2020 (see, 'the not so distant future'), the plot boils down to rebelling against a fascist government who imprison every and any 'undesirable'. With totalitarian whifs of that classic novel, 1984, V for Vendetta is an interesting, stylish and contemporary take of revolting against political power. Interestingly in another dystopian universe, we see almost the exact opposite. The world of Judge Dredd (most recently seen in the franchise reboot, Dredd) is almost the antithesis of most other dystopian narratives. In these stories it is the public masses who have fallen into disarray, fighting over the remaining scraps in a stark wasteland - the product of international war. Dredd is the best Street Judge in Mega City 1 and though often violent and brutal in his methods, he is generally seen as fair and stringently law-abiding citizen. 



Image via propside

A quick honorable mention to the Matrix trilogy. Falling somewhere between this and our next category, the Matrix is a hugely succesful franchise centering on man's battle against machine. We learn that it was man's hubris that lead to their technological development on artificial inteligence, which then, in turn, enslaved humanity. Yikes. If you somehow haven't seen these films yet, go and give them a watch right now. Though mankind was the creator of his enemy, the films are still a fascinating exploration of fighting against an immense power. A kind of David versus Goliath mentality with lashing of religious symbology that has given media studies students plenty to write about since 1999. 

Genetic Power

Admittedly this section is closely tied to the above category, but so well fleshed out is this niche I've decided it was worth its own space. In movies that focus on genetics it is often the persuit of perfection and the disregard of the weak or flawed that lead to the divides in society. 

In the frenetic action film Equilibrium, Christian Bale is gun-ninja (actually termed 'Cleric's, but I prefer mine). The baddies up top have banned emotions, leading to the seizing and destruction of all art. To further the inhibition of any emotional response citizens are told to maintain their dosage of Prozium, helping to subdue those troublesome feelings. How considerate! These 'sense-offenders' lead mundane lives, but at least they all stay in line and obey. That's the main thing, right?


Image via staticmass

Gattaca is more concerned with eugenics. It is the genetic makeup that decides a person's place in the world, leading a young Ethan Hawke to be frustrated at his poor lot in life. Who wields the power in this dystopian universe? The perfect people of course! And yes, I know I'm meant to be generally riffing on the abuse of power here, but you godda admit, those 'perfects' built a damn lovely city!

Of course, genetic abuse isn't something to be taken lightly. Here's a quick nod to one of the more cinematic game franchises out there, Bioshock. Three of the most highly regarded console games ever, players explore societies gone awry after abusing a substance known as 'Adam'. Admittedly it does give the user special powers, which is great! However, it will probably also make you go mad, not so great. 

What do you think, can anyone possess power without screwing up the world? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or cite any utopias that have it all figured out. 


If you want to learn more about dystopia's and enjoy some stunning artwork at the same time, you'll love our book Dystopia (also available as an ebook here)

Check out our other blogs about Dystopias in literature Here:

Topics: movie posters, dystopia, superhero movies

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