Dystopian Sci-fi at Glasgow Film Festival 2020

Hoping for a bright, shiny future with flying cars and labour-saving technology? Glasgow Film Festival's daily retrospective suggests some less upbeat possibilities for humanity

Article by Jamie Dunn | 19 Feb 2020
  • Stalker

Is Glasgow Film Festival trying to tell us something with this year’s retrospective programme? The strand’s title – Are We There Yet? A Retrospective of the Future – evokes anticipation, suggesting we should be eager to reach these predicted futures of cinema past. While I for one welcome the rise of our simian cousins (Planet of the Apes), because – let’s face it – those damn dirty apes can’t do any worse than homo sapiens have done over the last 300,000 years, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about the other imagined futures in the lineup simply because they don’t look that futuristic anymore.

Take another Chuck Heston joint: Soylent Green. Set in a grubby New York where food is scarce and human compassion even more so, Richard Fleischer’s 1973 sci-fi imagines a world where climate change and rampant overpopulation has forced the masses to subsist on rationed wafers reportedly made from sea plankton (spoiler alert: they contain something much more morish). Set in 2022, Fleischer’s image of humanity's downfall may be a tad premature, but all signs suggest we’re heading for a similar disaster.

Or maybe it’s tech that will be our downfall? The rise of the robots is vividly staged in man v machine shlock Westworld (director Michael Crichton would go on to pen another theme park gone haywire thriller with Jurrasic Park) but an even more potent imagining of the corrosive power of technology can be found in Kathryn Bigelow’s blistering Strange Days, in which people escape into glossy virtual reality fantasies as a balm against the violence and corruption of real life.

Are We There Yet? posits plenty of other possible futures: alien invasion/oppression (District 9), forced euthanasia at 30 (Logan’s Run), the mindless bureaucracy of a totalitarian government (Brazil). Nuclear armageddon might be a better bet, though. Val Guest’s Brittish thriller The Day the Earth Caught Fire channel’s the angst of the Cold War, which ironically causes the world to heat up exponentially when simultaneous H-bomb tests either side of the Iron Curtain knock the Earth off its axis. A nuclear event is also responsible for creating the mysterious Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 masterpiece Stalker, which the great Russian director captures as a dank industrial wasteland where your deepest desires come true, the only problem being you develop trench foot while trekking there.

The most persuasive of Are We There Yet?’s dystopian futures, however, is also the most humdrum: humankind just peters out. That’s the prognosis in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, in which the human race has inexplicably become infertile. “I can't really remember when I last had any hope,” says Theo, the film’s schlubby protagonist, played by Clive Owen, “and I certainly can't remember when anyone else did either” In 2020, that’s a sentiment plenty of people can get behind.

Are We There Yet? A Retrospective of the Future screens daily from 27 Feb to 8 Mar, 10.30am, Glasgow Film Theatre, free tickets available on the day from 10am