Sci-fi has always been a way to travel in time. It brought us flying cars, robots, video calls, and mobile phones long before they existed. But beyond imagining new technology inventions, great films don’t shy away from the philosophical and moral consequences that innovation brings. We’ve already started seeing the results of our focus on a growth economy, obsession with the digital world, and extremist political tendencies. Could these movies predict what will happen if we don’t fully understand the future we’re building?
Her: What could happen if Artificial Intelligence gets too personal
Millennials are having less sex, Gen Z is called “puriteens”, and a study about more and more people staying single pops up every now and then. Romantic relationships and intimacy may not be a happiness requirement, but the fact is: we are also lonely. “Her” is a melancholic reflection on a world where our Siris and Alexas possess empathy and actual intelligence. Or at least, that’s what people believe.
Lonely, depressed Theodore bonds with his virtual assistant Samantha who can learn and evolve into an ideal companion. Theodore’s soon-to-be ex-wife is shocked to hear that he is romantically involved with “a computer”. She even accuses him of not being able to deal with real emotions. Now that’s something the film won’t answer for you: could AI help cure the loneliness epidemic, or is it a dangerous way to avoid complex human relationships? Our guess is that we will see this unravel in the real world soon enough.
Mad Max: Fury Road – What could happen if we ignore climate change
In the newest installment of the Mad Max series, Max wanders a post-apocalyptic wasteland, tortured by memories. Society has collapsed after numerous wars, and a few dictators rule over the remaining humanity. Max gets captured by one of them: Immortan Joe. The ruler is sending Imperator Furiosa in her war rig to the Bullet Farm and Gasoline Town. What comes next is essentially a thrilling car chase, as Joe realizes Furiosa and Max are helping his five wives escape. But where could you possibly go in a desert? Furiosa still remembers “the green place” from her childhood, and she swears to find it.
Needless to say, all Mad Max films are brilliant, but Fury Road was released in 2015, allowing for breathtaking visuals. The director George Miller has once again envisioned what could happen we don’t overcome our greed and let the planet collapse. This time, Miller also allows Furiosa and her vision for matriarchal society to command the screen, receiving praise for embracing feminism in this installment.
Cloud Atlas – What could happen if we irresponsibly play God
Cloud Atlas is an ambitious creation. It involves six interconnected storylines spanning 1849 to 2321, with actors playing several different characters. The first storyline set in the future is that of Sonmi, living in Neo Seoul in 2144. She is a humanoid clone working as a server possibly exploited for sex, who slowly awakens to the harsh truth and gets involved in a revolution. The film explores the familiar theme: if we “play God” and create other humans in labs for a specific purpose, what are the moral implications? In Cloud Atlas, humanity fails spectacularly, leading to the final dystopian storyline set in 2321.
Ready Player One – What could happen if VR becomes too addictive
Virtual reality has already started infiltrating everything from gaming to education and the workplaces. Ready Player One is set in 2045 when VR becomes so engaging that real life can’t compare. People prefer the virtual world called OASIS. To be fair, if virtual reality included as many pop culture references and Easter eggs as Spielberg was able to cram into this film, we wouldn’t want to leave either!
While the film is a fun-to-watch adventure, the warning signs are clear. People disconnected from real-life responsibilities. Greedy and ruthless corporations trying to “rule” the OASIS. Overwhelming advertising. It doesn’t sound that sci-fi, does it?
V for Vendetta – What could happen if democracy doesn’t prevail
When tech giants violate privacy in plain sight and the likes of China or Russia barely bother covering up doing the same, freedom sounds a whole lot like an illusion. V for Vendetta takes inspiration from totalitarian societies we’ve already experienced to create a dystopian future. In the movie, the world suffers consequences from global war and terrorism, as well as a pandemic. The High Chancellor Adam Sutler (reminds you of someone, doesn’t it) rules over The United Kingdom, now a police state.
We’ve seen authoritarian regimes before, but V for Vendetta adds much of what we’re seeing happen. “With a wealth of new, real-life parallels to draw from in the areas of government surveillance, torture, fear mongering and media manipulation, not to mention corporate corruption and religious hypocrisy, you can’t really blame the filmmakers for having a field day referencing current events,” wrote Los Angeles Times.
Gattaca – What could happen if we embrace eugenics
Companies that let you choose the best possible embryo already exist. While they argue that they haven’t crossed the line, it’s certainly a controversial topic. Eugenics means choosing the genetic traits of your future child, and obviously, that comes with a set of moral quandaries.
In Gattaca, those conceived naturally are more prone to genetic disorders and thus are viewed as less worthy. While discrimination is technically illegal, this divided system prevents in-valids – the “genetically inferior” – from working certain jobs. Vincent is one of them, and the film follows him trying to cheat his way into Gattaca Aerospace Corporation.
Contagion – What could happen if we don’t prepare for the next pandemic
This film was one of the most streamed throughout the pandemic. Suddenly, Soderbergh’s thriller felt very much like our daily reality. The pandemic in this film looks like the Covid-19 pandemic, except the fictional virus is much more brutal with a 25–30% mortality rate. In the future, that might be reality.
Experts already called for a coordinated effort before the next pandemic hits. Hopefully, the governments will listen. Just imagine Covid-19 being as harsh as the virus in Contagion wreaking havoc in an unprepared world.