This Decade’s Best Dystopias

November 7, 2014
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If you read the news most days, you know the world is heading toward total (and only a little hilarious) oblivion. There doesn’t seem to be a picturesque end in sight for us humans–quite the contrary–and that means it’s a perfect time to turn to everyone’s favorite pastime: enjoying a good book, film, or other kind of media depicting the end of the world or some other kind of nightmare dystopian future. Our race’s despair is best dealt with via artistic renditions of futures slightly-to-monumentally worse than ours.

However, it’s not enough anymore to reread 1984 or Brave New World. As it turns out,  some really sweet dystopias have been released over the past decade, and it’s time to welcome some new book/movie/TV friends into our libraries and dark hearts.

In terms of novels, there’ve been a few greats from right after the turn of the century, and even more epic publications from this current decade. The Road by Cormac McCarthy, while not my favorite of his novels by any means, is simply devastating, and reminds us that the apocalypse will be manmade and irreversible. If you haven’t read it, get ready for at least a week of sitting in the dark and holding back tears (but in a good way).

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, the third in a masterpiece trilogy, is weirdly, hilariously relevant to anyone who foretells a scientifically inspired doom. The characters are expertly written, the style is insanely fun, and the whole thing is eerily plausible, no matter how transgenically wacky. There are even a few dick jokes (now that’s literature!).

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart and The Circle by Dave Eggers are both highly satirical and make you wish you’d never joined a single social media site. Shteyngart plays on how we place monetary value on ourselves and require “likes” and views to feel any emotion, while Eggers just creates a monolithic supervillain social media company that spells doom for all privacy, while not so subtly changing the name of the business goliath from Google. You will literally read both these in a single day and never be satisfied with other novels. It kinda sucks.

Also, there’s J by Howard Jacobson, one of the newest dystopians around, which deliciously, darkly mirrors the lifestyle of our tacitly dystopian, real present. It’s all about hiding atrocities under a deluge of pop consumerism, which is overt in many dystopian novels, but Jacobson writes it brutally and better.

Gattaca (1997)
Gattaca (1997)

Dystopia in film has always been weaker than dystopia in paper form, except for ridiculously incredible films like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca, but there are a few standouts from this decade. Never Let Me Go is pretty good, although the novel, published almost ten years ago, is a Kazuo Ishiguro masterpiece that’ll make even the beefiest sum’bitch cry.

To a point, the Rian Johnson film Looper, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt battles his future Bruce Willis self, is a dystopia where the mob runs everything with time machines, so there’s that. It’s a pretty decent film, and would make any Philip K. Dick fan super happy. And Wall-E (yes, I mean the Pixar film) is surprisingly brutal toward our relationship to consumerism. Sure, there’s a robot love story, but also there’s the suggestion of us becoming blobbish slobs addicted to screens (like that could ever happen).

Looper (2012)
Looper (2012)

The best cinematic dystopia of the past ten years has to be Snowpiercer, a circus of violence and twisted utopian politics, all taking place on a nigh invincible super train. Directed by Bong Joon-Ho, it’s unconventional, brutal, and utterly relatable. The entire premise is that an environmental technology meant to solve climate change has frozen the world, and humanity is confined to a dystopian train on a continual, year-long pleasure cruise around the globe. Except the tail section is filled with the refuse of mankind, while the train’s creator lives in mysterious luxury and breeds paranoia. It’s literally insane, and insanely fun.

Black Mirror, (TV Series 2011– )

And for anyone who doesn’t have the time to watch a full movie or read a book (shame on you), there’s always the BBC miniseries Black Mirror, which offers every kind of televised dystopia you’d ever ask for, from totalitarian talent shows to messed up addictions to reliving memories. Best TV dystopias ever, but they’ll make you wish the world would just end already. Stuff’s bleak, you guys. Here’s to a relatively painless apocalypse or totalitarian future!

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