Throughout history, many individuals have attempted to figure out how to create an ideal society, one free of war, poverty, or any of the other problems facing societies today. This tradition can be found even in the writings of Plato, arguably the father of the Hellenistic tradition, who wrote about a society governed by philosopher kings, or in almost every major world religion, which promised bliss in the afterlife. However, the first one to give it a name was Thomas Moore, who coined the term “utopia.” Fittingly enough, “utopia” is Greek and translates to “no place.”
A society without problems is inherently impossible as it is in contradiction with basic human nature. Humans have unsustainable greed, a drive to fight, and a will to dominate, and a utopia is not sustainable and will eventually collapse into itself and turn into a dystopia. And because of this, utopian thinking is not just foolish, but it’s actually dangerous. So then what should humans fight for if not for an ideal society? And the answer is that this lies with developing inner strength, rather than finding an easy life, finding the strength to persevere in a difficult one.
In this essay, using the films Zardoz, Get Out, Fight Club, Blade Runner, and Blade Runner 2049, I argue that a society cannot exist as a pure Utopia alone without elements of dystopia, it will either be trapped in the vicious cycle of utopia and dystopia, or only exist as a Utopia for a select few, built on the backs of others, but destroying the society will not allow one to escape one’s dystopian fate, but instead will only perpetuate the cycle, and the only way to truly escape is through individualism or cultivating inner strength.
A utopia cannot exist in a vacuum, but instead must exist on the back of a dystopia. The utopian society is only for a select few, and must be built on the back of lower classes. For example, in Zardoz, we see that the utopian society of the Immortals is only able to exist because they have no scarcities of needs such as foods because they are able to use their superior technology to oppress the Brutals and trick the Exterminators into getting food and controlling the population for them.
In the Blade Runner series, we are presented with a dystopia for the majority of both films with a few small exceptions. The only world of luxury lies in the hands of the creators of the replicants. In the original, we see the contrast to the poverty-stricken, gloomy, dark Los Angeles, in the Tyrell pyramid, which is filled with animals and art and beautiful light patterns.
In 2049, we see the Wallace headquarters towering over the Tyrell pyramids, and Wallace’s personal lair has wooden floors built over pools of water: two resources that were shown earlier in the film to be especially scarce, as a toy horse made of real wood was valuable enough to get K a ticket and papers to get off world, and people were only allowed showers a few seconds in length due to water shortages.
The money is in the slave owners pockets. Off-world colonies are also mentioned in both films, an advertisement in the first film features the slogan, “A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies, a chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure.” (Blade Runner) However, as revealed in K’s conversation with Dr. Badger in Blade Runner 2049, getting off world requires a lot of money and is only an option available to the rich.
In Blade Runner 2049, it is revealed that after the events of the original Blade Runner, replicants were outlawed, but had to be brought back because civilization was collapsing. Niander Wallace, the new creator of replicants, outlines his plan to save society and create a utopia; he wants to “rule the stars” and “storm Eden and retake her,” but also clearly says that “every leap of civilization was made on the back of a disposable workforce, we lost our appetite for slaves unless manufactured.”
Showing that again, this utopian society cannot exist for everyone, and in this case must be built on the back of replicants. In Get Out, we see a modern perspective on how a white utopia can exist via the enslavement of blacks. The movie starts off with a compilation of Chris’s photographs, which portray scenes of poverty and the larger African-American struggle within America, which is a stark contrast to the white society enjoyed by the Armitages and their neighbors, which enjoys wealth and no scarcities of resource.
However, this white utopia is built on the enslavement of blacks, and we later learn that its inhabitants even enjoy immortality at the hands of abducted and enslaved black people, who are forced to give up their bodies so that dying white people can take control over them. The black consciousness is then placed into the “sunken place” an area where they can only watch over what is happening to them. Director Jordan Peele explains that the sunken place is representative of the marginalization of black people today, who says that “The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.” Get Out offers a social commentary on how white Utopia is built on the backs of black dystopia.
Because a utopia is not a self-sufficient society and cannot exist alone, this means that it is also very fragile society, and can easily fall apart into a dystopia from the rebellion of the oppressed. The oppressed will only remain silenced for so long until they eventually rise up and revolt against their rulers. In Zardoz, Ned, a Brutal-Exterminator, eventually becomes suspicious of the floating Zardoz head, infiltrates the Vortex, and with the help of other Brutal-exterminators, leads the destruction of the Tabernacle and the butchering of the Immortals.
In Get Out, in order to keep his body and escape from his capture by the Armitages, Chris is forced to fight or kill many members of the family and destroy the Armitage home in order to escape. In the Blade Runner series, we see replicants revolting on many levels. In the original, it starts with the replicants Roy, Leon, Pris, and Zhora rebelling from their life of slavery, and coming back to Earth to “meet their maker,” which, as we find out, means that they seek vengeance from Eldon Tyrell.
And in 2049, we find that there is an entire organized underground resistance planning to overthrow all of humankind. In Fight Club, Tyler Durden creates the fight club to fight the dystopia fueled by consumerism, saying that the society “makes them buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.” His fight club eventually creates “Project Mayhem”, a secret terrorist project which seeks to destroy credit buildings and essentially create a state of anarchy.
It is not just external pressure that can lead to the collapse of a utopia, but internal as well. Humans may fight for a life without problems, but if they ever got it, they would not know what to do with themselves. Humans are fighters by nature, they have to struggle against an obstacle, and when a utopia takes away any obstacles, then ironically the utopia itself becomes the obstacle.
The film, Zardoz, features a utopian society of “Immortals,” who do not suffer from the usual human problems of hunger, war, or aging, and while one would think that they live a blissful existence, the fact that they do not have anything to do yet are unable to die leaves them trapped in a personal hell. Without any drive for survival, the members of the society become weak and corrupt, the men become impotent, and some even enter a catatonic state, referred to as “Apathetics.”
The Immortals eventually end up seeking death as a release from the torture of existence, and support Zed’s quest to destroy the Tabernacle and request their own butchering by the Brutal exterminators. Zardoz makes an important point: a utopian society neglects a very important aspect of human nature, which is human drive. Humans are evolved to be fighters, it is our nature to fight and struggle with conflict, and if man ever achieved his goal of solving all of his problems, would he know what to do with himself?
In Blade Runner 2049, Niander Wallace realizes that a utopian society would never work when he comments on to a jumping fish stating that “always jumping that one…never a thought of what to do if it made land” which symbolizes the foolishness of the replicant resistance trying to create its own secluded utopia. Even if they were to succeed in building their “ideal” society, would this truly bring satisfaction? The reality is that once there is nothing left for man to fight for, he will either create a conflict or destroy himself. In Blade Runner, when Roy Batty fulfills his mission to “meet his maker,” he almost falls into a bit of an existential crisis. Without anything left to fight for or live for
(maybe switch the paras)If a utopia does not destroy itself from within, it will be destroyed externally. However, it is very important to understand that the destruction of a utopian/dystopian society does not necessarily break this vicious cycle but instead will likely perpetuate it. When a dystopian state is overthrown, while there may be promises of a utopia, but as talked about previously in this paper, a utopian state is essentially not a real lasting thing.
In Fight Club, we see that the narrator creates fight club in rebellion to the consumerist society he lives in. He hates his life in his corporate, pencil-pushing job and so he creates Fight Club as an anti-corporate, anti-materialistic place of anarchy. However, as Fight Club grows we see it turning into something that resembles the corporate setting that the narrator was initially trying to escape.
Once Fight Club gains a large following and the house becomes filled with members, the narrator wanders through his house, and we see members of the club doing work resembling that of an assembly line and that of filing paperwork and making phone calls, work that resembles the typical corporate and materialistic environment that, ironically, the narrator was initially trying to escape in the first place.
The question is then raised, how does one escape this cycle of utopia and dystopia? There may not be a panacea to this problem, but one way to truly resist it is through an individual’s inner strength. In many of these films, we see a man facing a society much larger and more powerful than himself. However, we see that the man is usually able to overcome these problems by inner strength, usually cultivated through sacrifice and struggle.
In Zardoz, despite the fact that Zed was not of high birth or in possession of the magical powers of the Immortals, he was able to do things that no other man could because his past as an exterminator conditioned him to have true grit. He was the only man in the Vortex capable of maintaining an erection, which is symbolic of his masculinity and its strength, as the Vortex is an otherwise matriarchal society until Zed’s masculinity destroyed it. All of the magic and power within the Immortal’s society failed to destroy the Tabernacle, but Zed summoned this inner strength and destroy the it, free the Immortals, and was able to live a quiet yet free life.
However, while some of these individuals may not have liberated the entirety of the society from the cycle, they do have a victory in that they, through inner strength, have liberated themselves from the cycle. In the alternative ending to Get Out, we see Chris persevere in the face of something much greater than himself in a few ways. First, we see him escape from the Armitage household while both outnumbered and incapacitated. He is able to escape because he stuffs his ears with cotton from the chairs, preventing himself from going into the final hypnosis.
This cotton symbolizes the sufferings of African Americans, as many slaves were worked to pick cotton. Being saved by the cotton in turn represents suffering becoming inner strength, which will allow one to persevere against conditions that would make others break. In the alternative ending, we see that Chris is wrongly incarcerated for the murder of the Armitages with almost no hope of being set free. But instead of hopelessly fighting the system even more, he says to Rod, “I’m good. I stopped him.”
This ties into the Orwellian concept that Dystopia is a product of the mind, and the dystopia only truly wins when it takes control over the mind and will of a man. While Chris’s body ends up enslaved by the system, through inner strength his mind remains free, and therefore, in his own way, he prevents the dystopia from winning. In the Blade Runner series we also see the protagonists escape their respective dystopias. In the original, we are presented with Rick Deckard as the hero cop and Roy Batty as the rogue villain.
However, we soon find that Roy Batty, and all the replicants, are not villains, but rather, victims. Specifically, they are slaves of society. Deckard then realizes that to do what is right, which is to stop hunting replicants and save Rachel, he must go against the dystopia by escaping. In 2049, we see K in a similar situation, he too is a blade runner sent off to kill rogue replicants only to realize what he is doing is wrong. However, K faces a multitude of pressures from different groups, all preaching some level of morality.
Lieutenant Joshi represents organized society, and orders K to kill the replicant child, saying that if people find out about this child, then “you’ve bought yourself a war, or a slaughter.” The replicant rebel group tells K that he must kill Deckard in order to save the child, as “our lives mean nothing to the storm that is coming”. And finally there is Wallace, who believes that capturing the child is the key to his plan to create and control unlimited amounts of replicants and eventually “storm Eden and retake her.”
However, in the end, all of these plans will simply perpetuate the cycle of utopia and dystopia. Lieutenant Joshi’s plan would maintain the dystopian status quo of slavery and oppression, the Rebel group’s plan would attempt to violently overthrow their overlords and create their own utopia, which would oppress the humans, and as shown previously, would also perpetuate the cycle and soon turn into a dystopia, and Wallace’s plan would create a dystopia in which he was the dictator of the society and everyone else enslaved to him.
In the end, K makes his own decisions, he chooses not to kill the child but instead keep her safe, saves Deckard from Wallace without killing him, and takes him to meet his daughter. K searches for meaning in an otherwise meaningless world, and he wants to believe that individuals have meaning, replicant or human, rather than being another expendable cog in the system as the organized groups view them. To escape the cycle of utopia and dystopia, whether physically or mentally, therefore, is not something that can be done by the group, but instead by the individual.