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Dystopian Movies and Their Relevance to Society

Updated on November 17, 2016

The position


Art and society share a close relationship. Throughout history, art has continuously been

influenced by society, and likewise; society consistently imitates art. Dystopian films are a

special type of art that often reflects on real world problems through hyperbolizing them into

extreme situations. Though the work itself is usually fictional, the audience can easily see the

symbolic meaning of its relevance to real life. In Time, Pleasantville, and Gattaca are three

dystopian films that relate to the real life crises of the present day through hyperbolizing our

social, political, and economic issues into terrorizing situations.

“In Time (2011) is a movie about a future world where people stop aging at 25, but are

engineered to live only one more year, and unless that person amasses time and stays at a

positive time balance, they die. Having lots of time means having the means to buy your way out

of any situation and is a shot at immortal youth. Extremely wealthy people like Philippe Weis

have hoarded time and various districts have been developed in order to maintain the inequitable

distribution of wealth. Here, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) finds himself accused of murder and

on the run with a hostage - a connection that becomes an important part of the way against the

system. The hostage (Amanda Seyfried) turns sides and decides to help Will Salas rebel against

the system as they try to ‘disrupt the balance.’” [20th Century Fox, 2011]

In Time reflects real world socioeconomic problems. The concept of a world where the poor

scramble desperately trying to gather enough resources to sustain themselves is not far from

reality. As the price of good and services rise, the wages of workers must also increase to combat

that inflation. However, if you looked at the United States of America’s inflation, you’d see that

the price of nearly every imaginable good and service has inflated yet the income has not risen

with it. What this means is that the already-struggling poor now has to struggle even more to get

the amount of money necessary to continue their lives as that rent just got a bit higher. This

inequity also drives the lower class to work more, which sets the poor up for exploitation. If an

employer knows a person NEEDS a job to support themselves, NEEDS every bit of pay so that

he or she can make ends meet, that employer may not feel the need to pay that person top dollar.

In fact, the employer may take advantage of the situation and see just how little that person will

work for. This type of situation was hyperbolized in In Time with the Will’s employers in the

beginning of the movie when they cut his pay in half. When he asked them why his pay was cut,

they said he did not meet the quota. When he said that he did meet the quota, they said that they

raised the quota, and more or less just to ‘deal with it.’ This is because in In Time each person

needs time in order to survive (much like we need money, but not quite as much) and each

employer knows this and takes advantage of their position in the affairs of the In Time society.

The bus driver’s fare was doubled when Will’s mom Rachel tried to catch a ride home which

resulted in her death. When Will decided that he was going to attempt to bring down the system,

it was symbolic of a much greater act. Taking the situation into consideration, it was Will’s own

actions that represented the overthrow of an entire corrupt nation. James Madison once said that

the greatest threat to a democracy is the deepening gap between the rich and poor, and I think

that statement has relevance here. In this society, the poor are ruthlessly exploited so that the rich

can stay rich with little to no effort involved. At the peak of this exploitation is Rachel’s death,

where we see the desensitized driver and passengers who do not care that Rachel will die if she

does not get a ride, and Rachel’s death in and of itself is representative of the working class

family that despite working cannot make enough money to sustain living. After this climactic

moment we see Will turn on the system, and even though it truly is just him against the system at

that moment, it is representative of the poor class turning on the upper class after being exploited

for far too long. I think this is a warning sign for the US because the poorer classes suffer from

inflation and the middle class suffers from current taxing standards while the wealthier classes

and corporations enjoy tax loopholes. As these conditions worsen, unrest rises in a positively

correlating manner. The French revolution and the Russian Revolution both started because the

Third Party (working class) and Proletariat (working class) respectively, were exploited to the

point where they could no longer support their own needs, and the governments refused to care

for the lower classes. An example of this is Marie Antoinette’s famous ‘If they can’t afford

bread, let them eat cake’ statement, characterizing her disregard for the working class portion of

the population, a ‘portion’ that comprised over 90% of France’s population. We can look back

into our own history book and see that the American revolution and the Boston Tea Party were

initiated for the same reasons. After being exploited for years and being given the impression

that policymakers were not going to take care of them, these people revolted the overthrew their

governments who abused the people they were supposed to serve.

While we were not given much background history on how wages used to be in In Time, it is

clearly evident that the wages given were intended to impress upon the audience the concept that

the lower class was being exploited. The dialogue between Will and his employer about not

meeting his quota that I previously referenced and the situation with Rachel and the bus driver

work to create this sort of atmosphere of poor exploitation that is further reinforced by the fact

that the wages themselves are ridiculously low to begin with, not taking into account the extreme

inflation of goods and services people would spend those wages on. While one may consider

Will’s turning point when Henry Hamilton tells Will that there is enough time for everyone, but

that the rich hoard it because they want to live forever, I ask them to reconsider. While this

would serve as a good turning point, I think the statement adds insult to injury to Rachel’s death.

This new knowledge combined with the background of Rachel’s death yields the information

that Rachel didn’t need to die, but because the rich hoard all of the time for themselves in the

rich districts, there was not enough time to go around in their district so that they could earn

livable wages and his very own mother suffered the consequences. It was not that there wasn’t

enough time, it’s who is in possession of it. After this realization, Will set out against who was in

possession of unbelievably excessive time (like our friend Philippe Weis, holder of a million

years) to redistribute it amongst the poor and bridge the gap between rich and poor.

“Pleasantville (1998) is a movie starring a guy named David (Toby Maguire) , single, lonely and

not happy with his life, flees reality by watching Pleasantville - a 1950's black and white soap

opera, where everything is just that... pleasant. His sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon), sexually

far more active than her brother, gets in a fight with him about a very strange remote control. The

remote was given to them just seconds after the TV broke, by an equally strange repairman. They

suddenly find themselves in Pleasantville, as Bud and Mary-Sue Parker, completely assimilated

and therefore black and white, in clothes a little different and with new parents... pleasant ones.

David wants to get out of the situation as well as his sister, but whereas he tries to blend in

(effortlessly, with his knowledge), she does whatever she wants to do. One event leads to the

other, and suddenly there is a red rose growing in Pleasantville. The more rules are broken, the

more colorful life gets in Pleasantville, USA.” [Reischl, 1998]

Pleasantville imitates some real world social issues that existed predominantly in the period

that the soap opera was supposed to take place in. The repression of women and the widespread

belief that a women’s place was at home or in the kitchen is prevalent throughout the movie, and

it is during the 50’s that that chauvinistic behavior was most exhibited. Women are still

somewhat repressed, but not anywhere nearly as much as characterized in the movie. The

repression of ‘color’ or ‘colored’ is a recurring theme in the movie and is representative of the

repression of African Americans during the time period. Segregation was widespread, racism

rampant, and in the movie there was not a single black person due to the fact that in the time

period the soap opera took place a black person would not be on TV because segregation was so

prevalent. African Americans are still repressed but not as much as characterized in the movie.

An education system emphasizing continuity of beliefs rather than alteration of them is a

problem that was apparent in the movie itself, the time period the soap opera took place in, and

today. It is a control mechanism used to indoctrinate the youth with a system of ideals and

teaches them to uphold the pre-manufactured set of ideals rather than creating their own.

While one may think that it is impossible to represent a race of people and a concept about that

race of people and how they are being treated by the mere fact that there were no people of that

race in the movie, I present them with the fact that in 1958, the year the soap opera supposedly

took place, segregation as still active. This meant no black actor would have gotten a role, no

matter how good, because he was ‘colored.’ This theme of repression of ‘color’ and the ‘colored’

in the 1958 soap opera and actual repression of colored people during the time period is no

coincidence. While one may think that teaching a system of education that emphasizes continuity

instead of alteration may lead a nation toward an increased rate of progress since they are

focused on continuing on their way, I think it would actually hold the nation back. I support this

with a statement by Albert Einstein, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of

consciousness that created them.” What would this nation that adheres to continuity do if its

policies were less than perfect? It would continue those policies and those problems would be

perpetuated as long as the policies are. The only way to solve a problem with your way of doing

things is to change (alter) the way you do them.

“In Gattaca, Vincent is one of the last "natural" babies born into a sterile, genetically-enhanced

world, where life expectancy and disease likelihood are ascertained at birth. Myopic and due to

die at 30, he has no chance of a career in a society that now discriminates against your genes,

instead of your gender, race or religion. Going underground, he assumes the identity of Jerome,

crippled in an accident, and achieves prominence in the Gattaca Corporation, where he is

selected for his lifelong desire: a manned mission to Saturn's 14th moon (Titan)” [Rees, 2003]

Gattaca represents real world social issues. In the same way Gattaca used genetic engineering

to avoid disease and genetic defect to cure things to a ridiculous extent, we use pharmaceutical

engineering to cure things to a ridiculous extent. Instead of people solving their personal issues

that cause them problems, people take antidepressants. Instead of people exercising and working

out, people take weight loss pills. Instead of people dealing with being tired, people take caffeine

pills to stay awake. Instead of people dealing with mild insomnia, people take sleeping pills.

Since when did taking a pill become the answer to every problem? The striving for perfection

was another recurring theme in Gattaca. Their idea of perfection was unrealistic, perfect in every

conceivable aspect through genetic modification. This is relative to the immaculate image of

beauty in this society that some women covet. It is unrealistic and futile to pursue because it

ultimately inevitable results in failure.

While one may argue that taking a pill and genetic modification are two very different things,

I advise them to look at the bigger picture. They are both adding something to yourself that is not

you, and its entity is the solution to your entity, the problem. That pill is the answer to the natural

imperfection in your body or mind in the same way that the genetic modification serves to

remove the natural imperfection in your body or mind. While one may argue that women should

attempt to be as beautiful as they can be I say that pursuing an image of beauty is not the means

to that end. Beauty can be many different things found in many different ways. Pursuing it is

futile because each person is already beautiful, it is merely themselves or others who fail to see

so. In pursuing beauty, you give up the image that is yourself for the image that you believe or

society believes is beauty, which is anything but. Even in a world where all women looked like

that immaculate image of beauty, it would be the imperfections that would make one beautiful.


Antoinette, M

Einstein, A

Madison, J

Niccol, A. (Director) (1997). Gattaca [DVD].

Niccol, A. (Director) (2011). In time [DVD].

Reischl, J. (1998). [Retrieved from]

Rees, C. (2003). []

Ross, G. (Director)(1998). Pleasantville [DVD]

Twentieth Century Fox. (2011) Retrieved from]


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