Dystopias

 

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FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions belongs to a known tradition of dystopias (anti-utopias) characteristic of the film, comic books and literature of the 20th century. It is, as such, in its essence related to 1984, Brave New World, Matrix, The Man in the High Castle, Brazil, THX 1138 or Gattaca among many others. It shares with the all two fundamental elements: the totalitarian setting —that of a triumphant, world wide, deshumanizing and unquestionable totalitarianism—, and the protagonist —an anonymous individual— who rebels against the system. Depending on the case, the population more or less forcefully or peacefully assumes the totalitarian control; and the rebelliousness of the protagonist is more or less involuntary or voluntary.

The historical experience of totalitarianisms has marked the collective unconscious of our time, and the dystopia has become an irreplaceable and referential genre; an efficient way to express our social fears and anxieties. Where some have taken on the role of accusatory mirror to the reality of their time, others have ended up being tragically prophetic.

Since they end up forming a genre themselves, FAQ turns to themes common in other dystopias —omniscient control, obsession, and the deterioration of the environment, rarefied human relationships and the censorship of sexual practice. The films particularity lies in contemporizing the causes of its totalitarian setting. Every age has had its own nightmare. Massacred by Nazism and Stalinism, the Forties gave rise to none other than 1984. Revolutionized by the Internet as well as by discoveries in genetic engineering, the final years of the 20th century engendered at once Gattaca and Matrix. FAQ, however, distances itself from what has been the hegemonic form in recent decades: the techno nightmare, in order to recuperate the witness of political-fiction often used by authors before the Second World War. In this sense, FAQ owes more to George Orwell, or, although posterior, to Philip K. Dick, than to the Wachowski brothers.

All dystopias have their origin in one key question: What would happen if this went further? The question, as such, is about taking the present situation and forcing it to its limits in order to try and make out the consequences. In the end it is about describing an undesired and absolute triumph: the triumph of Nazism in The Man in the High Castle, of Stalinism in 1984, or of the machines in Matrix. They are triumphs that devastate us and, inexorably, enslave us.

This description becomes narration when the protagonist, the rebellious figure, bursts onto the stage. The protagonist doesn't necessarily have to be successful —very rarely does he reach his aim— only to serve as our guide and kind host in this world of terror. Holding his hand —like Dante does Virgil's— we travel the concentric circles of hell, most often in one direction; from the periphery to the center of power. In almost all dystopias the main character initiates his trajectory in the most anonymous of outskirts. Dragged along by his own rebelliousness, his trajectory always comes to an end in the office of the Great Leader or the office of the always-absent Great Leader's representative.

Yes, FAQ is born in the age of cyberspace, climatic and bioethical debates... but also in the age of political correctness. In this case, these are the themes that inspire the key question: What would happen if this went further? FAQ is not a reactionary or misogynist film. At all. It only proposes a vision of what would be involved in, for example, the absolute triumph in Europe of a certain type (radical) of feminism, among other things. Here, machines, technology, and science fiction serve only as accessory elements, inevitable, but collateral. The originality of FAQ's proposal resides in that parting from the premises of our time, it flees from the usual cliché —lets make worse what is atrocious: What would happen if the Nazis had triumphed irrevocably?— in orden to propose an alternative nightmare: What would happen if there were a decisive, reckless and radical triumph of all that is Politically Correct?

FAQ pivots on two axes. The application of a convex mirror to our current reality is one. The other is the questioning of reality, a theme that we can find in other cases of dystopia as well. Something inevitable, indeed, because absolute totalitarian control forms a closed, watertight, perfect system that in its essence and logic cannot be assumed: It can't be that there is nothing else out there! The protagonists of dystopias are always faced with a duality of escape. One is exterior, physical, spatial, and geographic. The other, interior, where they are plagued with doubt about the reality in which they live, the degree of reality in that reality, the degree life in that life, of death in that death, of life or death in that death-in-life, of the possibility that other realities exist. The nightmarish universe becomes, by nature, nightmare. The dormant rebel comes to understand the nature of nightmare —that is, oniric— and of his own existence. Naturally, the decisive rebellion consists of waking from his dream: Neo from his Matrix, Winston Smith from his Oceania, Mr. Savage from his Brave New World, Sam Lowry from his Brazil, THX 1138 from his subterranean city, Juliana from her Handmaids Tale... and Nono from his Sisterhood of Metacontrol. The methods employed will include, successively: to disconnect, to disobey, to commit suicide, to go mad, to flee, to understand... to fade away. Paths that converge on the same end.

FAQ is not just a dystopia; it is a movie about dystopias. The title Frequently Asked Questions is a commonly used term on the Internet. It shows up as a link within a web page and serves to conduct a relationship between the most frequently asked questions and their respective answers. This film poses many questions. It is up to the public to find the answers.

 

 

© Carlos Atanes

Barcelona, 2004

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