It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Have Recommendations)

Gilmore Girls taught me that sometimes you have to just wallow, whether its after a break-up or a really terrible winter or the so-called end of the world. If you’re ready to wallow and go deep in the pain, I have some recommendations of how to settle into it. So often it’s easy to think to ourselves “it can’t get any worse” but pop culture shows us it can get worse, a lot worse. Here are some recommendations if you want to explore how much worse it can get. But in this journey, you can learn, like I did, that things aren’t as bad as they seem. I hope these books and movies give some perspective and distance. Spring is almost here. Let’s wallow to get all of this out of our system, then get to work on making a difference.


Dystopian Literature

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

This 1935 novel is an alternate history if a populist candidate defeated Franklin Delano Roosevelt to become president. He imposes totalitarian rule along the lines of Hitler’s rise in Nazi Germany using fear of immigration and a fervent worship of patriotism to shape the United States. Sound familiar? This hits close to home right now, perhaps too close.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the not so distant future, the new Christian republic of Gilead has formed from the ashes of the United States and is now a theocratic dictatorship. The main character, Offred, is a handmaid, a slave required to conceive and carry the child of a powerful military officer. The novel is a must read to understand that lack of reproductive freedom comes with a heavy price and if a government can easily prohibit abortion, it can easily legislate mandatory pregnancy as well. Soon an adaptation will be released as a new series on Hulu.

1984 by George Orwell

This iconic novel of Big Brother is an examination of the post-war world where everything is manipulated by a central government. Histories are changed and erased. The media is controlled by an autocracy. Even thoughts are policed. Anyone could be an agent of the government, and everyone is a suspect. This novel shows the importance of a free and independent press, something we take for granted too often.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World was written in 1931 and establishes a world run by a caste system that was created by eugenics. The themes of this novel explore the assembly line culture created by Henry Ford and their application to human development. Sex, pregnancy, relationships and family are eschewed for this new dystopian state where people are divided by “engineered” groups of people with Alphas on top, and Epsilons at the bottom.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This seminal dystopian text has long been read in high schools. The main character is a fireman whose job is to burn books. The characters of this world are drugged into states of bliss which induce ignorance and apathy towards their world. Though many of the predictions set forth in this novel from 1953 didn’t pan out exactly as described, it still holds up as a powerful reminder to stay engaged and keep learning.

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Similar to It Can’t Happen Here, this novel from 2004 explores the history of United States if Charles Lindbergh had defeated Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 election. The novel is framed with the author as a character. The book starts when Roth is a child and explores Jewish-Americans in this new country.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

What if the United States and allied forces lost World War Two? This is the premise of “The Man in the High Castle” which is also now a series on Amazon. In this parallel history novel, Roosevelt was assassinated leading to a continuation of the Great Depression, isolationism and eventually losing World War Two. When this novel begins in 1962, the United States is divided into the imperial Japanese occupied Pacific States of America and the Eastern United States controlled by Nazi Germany.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Many know A Clockwork Orange from the film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick. The novel is just as disturbing. Alex is a young thug living in a dystopian England and roams the streets with his gang of droogs and drinking milk-plus at their favorite bar. Convicted of a brutal crime and sentenced to prison, this novel quickly explores crime and punishment, retribution and recidivism. The state tried to brutally rehabilitate Alex and reincorporate him in society. This novel discusses the themes of free-will and rehabilitation. Interestingly, the last chapter was not released in the US until 1986 which changes the ending significantly.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This novel can’t be described without giving everything away and one of the most interesting parts of this novel is the slow unveiling of this world by master novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a quick read and full of mystery. It was also recently made into a film with Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.

Children of Men by PD James

In the year 1921, the world is in chaos after all humans have become infertile and it has been 18 years since last human born on Earth. When a man encounters a pregnant woman he must protect her from the government and groups of rebels so she can carry the child to term. This book was also made into a movie directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

Bonus: Dystopian Young Adult Fiction Series

If you or your children are looking for their own dystopian literature, it has been common genre lately. Check out the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Divergent by Veronica Roth and The Maze Runner by James Dashner for interesting takes on a dystopian future with some great world building.

Note: All books links redirect to Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont. Please support local and distant independent bookstores when possible. To find an independent bookstore near you, search at IndieBound.org.


Dystopian Film

La Jetée

La Jetée is a ground-breaking French movie from 1962 presented as mostly still images in black and white. It’s the story of a post-nuclear war world where people forced underground have discovered the secrets to time travel. I first saw this in my French film studies class in college and was blown away.

12 Monkeys

Inspired by La Jetée, 12 Monkeys covers many of the same themes and elements. The 1995 film was directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis. Watch La Jetée first though if you haven’t seen it yet.

Metropolis

Metropolis is a revolutionary film from 1927 Germany about an urban dystopia and explores the themes of freedom, labor and a society of classes. You can also watch a version of this with a soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder with Freddie Mercury, Loverboy and Adam Ant.

Logan’s Run

I caught Logan’s Run on TV when I was young and it terrified me. It featured people flying up to the ceiling wearing clothes from the 1970s and exploding in a shower of sparks. In this world, no one lives past the age of thirty, and any “runners” who tries to avoid their “Last Day” are chased by one of the “Sandmen” such as the titular Logan. I don’t know how well this holds up but it’s camp elements are hard to ignore.

The Fifth Element

This fantastic space opera from Luc Besson is one of my favorite movies. In a dystopian world of space cruises and flying cars, Corbin Dallas is called to find the Fifth Element to save Earth from destruction. Though this movie does not present as much a cautionary tale as others, it is a fun romp through an urban universe.

Wall-E

Pixar and Disney’s journey into a dystopian future features a cute robot named Wall-E. Though not as deep or dreary as some other films, Wall-E is a great entry point into dystopia, especially for kids.

Elysium

The recent Matt Damon film from Neill Blomkamp looks at a future where the rich and powerful have fled from a dystopian earth into a utopian space station floating above, named Elysium after the paradise of Greek myth. This film is an overt commentary on issues such as access to universal and equal healthcare, immigration, population, labor and class. It’s timeliness with discussions around the Affordable Care Act and its successors are hard not to miss.

Gattaca

The film Gattaca starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law explores genetics and eugenics and the issues of discrimination. This has become something of a more recent cult classic despite being a box office flop in 1997.

Idiocracy

No film has received more buzz during the 2016 election and the rise of President Trump than Idiocracy. This satirical film is from Mike Judge of Office Space and Silicon Valley. A man put in suspended animation wakes 500 years in the future and is soon discovered as the most intelligent man alive. Instead of selective breeding often explored in dystopian films, this film uses dysgenics to show the affects of breeding to perpetrate less favorable genes.


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