“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past”: A Discussion of Pre-Crime, Lack of Free-will and Totalitarian Governments in Science Fiction…

Warning! Warning! This following discussion contains extensive reference to 1984, Minority Report, V for Vendetta, A Clockwork Orange, A Handmaiden’s Tale, Star Wars along with other related movies, series and novels, contains minor spoilers. Also, contains me rambling about History so I hope you enjoy my weird facts I pull up every so often. Read ahead at your own risk…

Welcome back future thinkers, after the last couple of posts focusing more on Science Fiction filmmaking during the Summer, I wanted to go back to a concept or sub-genre of Science Fiction. This time I want to look at repressive governments of the future. The world where we don’t all die but we are slaves to a totalitarian dictatorship that punishes us for doing nothing, watching over us, detaining us if we step out of line and controlling our thoughts and feelings. I think this should be an interesting topic to explore how Sci-Fi isn’t just used to show the danger of technology or alien lifeforms but most importantly the danger of ourselves and examining what could be ahead of us in the future.

This is different to my post on dystopian sci-fi as I will focus more on the portrayal of the people versus the governments as depicted in film, literature, comics and even audio plays. Warning, however, I will be highlighting actions from throughout history and the present which relate to the reality this particular branch of grim Sci-Fi presents. I will try my best here to stay objective although this is my view and outlook of this reality at the end of the day regardless of politics or belief. I hope you enjoy this grim dive into the dark belly of Science Fiction and without further ado, on with the post.

I think it’s important to talk about what exactly each of these main concepts are and how they are linked before I dive into the examples I have prepared for today. First of all is the totalitarian government. This stands for permitting the freedom of the individual usually through a one party fascistic (putting race and the nation above the individual) system. This term dates back to roughly the 1920s with the rise of fascistic Italy run by Mussolini, a term which has been used ever since, (although these days is often used incorrectly which is why I wanted to add the official definition here). The second term, I want to discuss is Pre-crime, this is the idea of predicting the future so that you stop it before it happens. The problem is punishing someone for something they were going to do rather than when they have actually done the crime. I will go into more depth on each of the terms later but for now, those are their definitions.

The first example I want to look at is 1984 a book by George Orwell which was made into a film starring John Hurt, directed and scripted by Michael Radford with cinematography by Roger Deakins. Whilst the book is the much more in depth version of the story and its events, the movie is still successful at adapting the novel accurately. In essence the story depicts a future of Oceana versus Eurasia, a war that the people are brainwashed into believing the lies of the fascist government. It explores themes of fact and how it can be exploited to the governments will, breaking the people within it as they are watched at every turn. In a similar essence to Animal Farm, it is a deconstruction of political systems and how they can be taken advantage of. Whilst Animal Farm presents communism (seizing the means of production) through a literal animal farm, 1984 leans more in the direction of Science Fiction as a warning of how fascism could take over if we don’t keep our politics in check.

The story itself follows a man known as Winston Smith who is under the control of Big Brother similar to the rest of Oceana. Originally in full control under the brainwashing of the Ingsoc party. The story is about him trying to break free to lead a normal life as he slowly realises that the war between Oceana and Eurasia has only been for roughly 20 years within the story rather then as long as anyone could remember. This all comes to terms for him when he meets Julia, a woman who confesses his love for him, and they begin an affair (a small scale rebellion). In this essence you can see the two different methods of rebellion that lead to both them getting captured and brainwashed within the story. Julia covets for simple rebellion through sex whilst Winston originally coveting the same thing as Julia comes obsessed with a larger rebellion, to get his hands on the Manifesto of the Brotherhood.

In short, they get captured by the Thought Police due to this constant thought of rebellion which begins to arise throughout the film. O’Brien, who he thought was part of the Brotherhood, is truely a member of the Ingsoc party and his landlord is a member of the Thought Police all this time. What happens next is the brainwashing of both Winston and Julia in order to break them before they are made examples of. Our main character of Winston is broken into believing everything that the government throws at him. They use his fear of rats against him and breaks his love for Julia and in that sense they take all he has and melds him into a new shape. For him it is no long 2+2=4, it is 2+2=5 as he is told by O’Brien. All this for him to be made an example. To plead for crimes he didn’t commit in order to hold a mask in front of the government. A normal man who wanted better is corrupted by this world. No love for anyone else, only Big Brother. The cycle continues, much like he watches at the start of story, he is another link in the chain. No longer an individual, all bricks in the wall.

This is a great example of how Fascist countries will treat anyone that may fall out of line and make examples of them. It comes more out of fear of those who might rebel and act as a martyr for the movement to take down the government rather then the actual crimes themselves. Whilst some of these governments such as Communist Russia start off as a way to get away from the corrupt systems of the past, the idea of a one party democracy can corrupt very quickly due to the power one leader has with little objection.

Similarly, how Nazi Germany brainwashed the masses into believing the ideals of the party after getting them out of the hole they has been dug in due to the Treaty of Versailles and further again to the Wall Street Crash in America during the mid-1920s. The burning of the books, how Germany brainwashed the youth into believing that the Jews were the enemy. Their history was changed by the Nazis, the sociopaths were in charge. In other words art imitates life and the way that 1984 looks at corrupt government’s will to make everyone into a slave is something that has happened and will happen again if we give leaders too much power without question. But I think it is time to move on and talk about our next example Minority Report.

Whilst Minority Report isn’t heavily influenced by Fascist governments, the idea of Pre-crime is similar to how the Brotherhood in 1984 punish its citizens for even having thoughts of rebellion with the cops preventing crimes before it happens through the use of pre-cogs (those who can see into the future). Whilst it is a great way to prevent these crimes from happening, the main problem is that the people are punished for crimes they were going to commit but didn’t. Their fate has been changed yet they still are treated the same way regardless of what happened, even if spare of the moment. There is also the idea presented of how it only predicts how these events may possibly go, meaning that certain events may be predicted inaccurately which is pretty much how the story goes. The story written by Philip K. Dick (as most of the Sci-Fi novels that I bring up tend to be) which was adapted into the 2002 by Steven Spielberg concerns issues of free-will making parallels to authoritarianism also known as enforcing strict rule, similar to fascist governments.

I think the way it presents the idea of looking forward in time and trying to prevent a crime from happening similar to how often time-travel movies involve people from the present (to them anyway) trying to change the past, the story uses an interesting reversal of this which I would say is very ahead of its time (as with any Philip K. Dick novel). Instead the story portrays those from the present trying to prevent the future from happening. This brings up ideas of whether this future is really going to happen. Can it be wrong/will something different happen?

How then can we have free-will if we can be punished for something we haven’t done? These are the issues that are presented and discussed throughout the narrative. Although the world doesn’t seem as grim, there is an underlying dystopia where everything seems pleasant on the outside but many actions within it are immoral to how we would see our legal system today. You need evidence of them doing the crime but if they were prevented from doing that crime, that reality that they stopped no longer exists and there is no evidence to take because the crime no longer happened. Again, it’s more of an interesting way to reinvent time travel logic involving the police and what could happen if they knew a crime before it was about to take place. However, I won’t dawn too much on the plot because you’ve probably already seen the movie or even read the book because I think it’s time to move back into dark dystopia, a totalitarian world based in England as I want to discuss next, the Alan Moore and David Lloyd graphic novel V for Vendetta.

Remember when I said I was going to geek out about history…yeah, expect the same for this book. V for Vendetta is probably my favourite graphic novel of all time but whilst I could gush about it, this isn’t a review so let’s jump right into this with a bit of backstory, context and narrative. In essence the book, published in the 1980’s, is a book set in the future (as of then which was 1997). The book tackles the Thatcher era of England a form of Conservative government run by the infamous Margret Thatcher. Whilst known for many changes she made throughout her stint as Prime Minister she was known for making changes but also falling into the heavy hand of authoritarian rule whenever it suits her. This is heavily where the idea of rebellion and fighting for control comes from throughout the story, following England in a state where news is controlled, and they are only told what the government want them to hear. There is corruption, the people are treated like sheep, similar to other Totalitarian governments that I have discussed and will discuss further throughout this retrospective.

Basically, the narrative follows two main characters, that being V and Evey taking place in a world were England has survived Nuclear War due to their disarmament of weapons. This has, however, allowed far-right fascist governments to take control which is where we begin the book (time to flick through the novel if you haven’t because spoilers). Following Evey throughout the book, we see her at a young age trying to make enough money to fend for herself and how she does this…I’ve leave you to fill in the blank. She ends up going at night to work and gets cornered by corrupt officers very similar to the Gestapo who try to do inflict their force on her. This is all before V, the mysterious man wearing the Guy Fawkes mask comes into stop them in the most brutal way possible. He takes her up to the Old Bailey where V inflicts the first act of rebellion on November the 5th. “Remember, Remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot”.

There V then takes Evey to his underground what I will call V Cave or Cultured Cave from now on. The rest of the story involves V trying to take down various powerful corrupt people leading up to the fifth of November the following year. Evey is allowed to go out several times and even help V with his mission of rebellion. Throughout we get scenes of V action within the book although this is left to a minimum. In a scene you can see the character’s parallel to Batman acting as a symbol for rebellion but instead of preventing crime, he instead tries to break down the government and the people that put him in the position he was in, a death camp for people that are seen as inferior in the government’s eyes such as those of other ethnicities or those who identify as the LGBT+ community.

In essence, it is a revenge and rebellion story, a novel that looks at authoritarianism in an interesting way through the lens of someone who has seen it through the Thatcher era. The main difference of what makes it so unique even to 1984 and other totalitarian stories. It doesn’t paint one person as the good guy, everyone is written in a sense where they could all be real people that live in our world. They have motivations, we get why they want to do what they want to do, and they aren’t painted as being in the right because they all do both good and bad things. V himself is left mysterious and even locks Evey in a cell of his creation in order to make her follow his example of no longer living in fear whilst telling her the story through letters of a actor called Valerie Page who was put into the cell beside V. Her story is tragic and is really the main centrepiece of how bad the government has gotten after the nuclear war. They put these people into this camp and the people sit idlily and just let it happen which in essence makes them just as bad as the people that caused these acts.

I honestly think V for Vendetta has something incredibly interesting to portray in a world where no one is the “hero”, everyone is the villain to someone else. V is not a hero, he goes both right and wrong but he does what he thinks is right. He paints Evey as his successor to take the rebellion further but even though the leaders are killed and he sets stuff in motion, we see one of the characters we followed heavily throughout the character, just walking away (something I didn’t originally like but has really grown on me as I think about it). This is why I haven’t talked about the film adaption even if I found it an interesting modernisation). The main problem is that it tries to paint a clear hero and villain even though it is the systems in the book that allow these people to take power which is the problem much like Star Wars (more on that next).

You have a John Hurt playing more of a Hitler character who is the face of the government (reference to the 1984 film adaptation), there is no grey within the people in government here, they are just depicted as psychopaths. I only say this as I honestly feel that the original commentary in the novel is still very relevant and fitting today even if it wasn’t back when the film was released, even the parallels to the Guy Fawkes rebellion that went awry back on November 5th when V enacts rebellion himself. In the very least I like how they use the disease which is covered up as another way for Evey to fight back making it personal to her family rather than more like 1984 when Winston begins to realise there is another and better way that the country could run.

However, before we go back into the dark and moody depictions of totalitarian governments, lets jump into something a bit lighter. The battle against the Rebels and Empire in the Star Wars franchise, mainly the original trilogy. Star Wars follows a basic good versus evil narrative as it follows themes closer to Westerns and Samurai films or Space Fantasy serials such as Flash aahh, he’ll save every one of us) Gordan. We follow the battle between the Rebels (lightside) and the Empire (darkside) and funnily enough, the American actors play the Rebels whilst British actors play the Empire which somewhat could call back to the battle for independence of America in 1776 (sorry I got that wrong in a previous post).

Whilst even though Star Wars is Space Fantasy rather then Sci-Fi, I am going to make a post on it in the future so I won’t go too deep into it here. Basically I just wanted to mention how it is interesting to see their battle for the galaxy with the Empire in control as Space Nazis with that universe also going into cool topics like yin and yang. The two sides need each other in order to keep balance in the galaxy which is why the Jedi are killed in the prequel movies to leave two Jedi (Obi Wan and Luke) versus two Sith (Vader and Sidious). In fact Grand Moff Tarkin was meant to be the original villain and Vader as his brute but this was changed as you can see by watching the film. He being a traditional Nazi authoritarian bad guy played by the Hammer Horror legend Peter Cushing paralleling Nazi Politician and Reich Minister, Paul Joesph Goebbels.

And before you ask how I came to this conclusion of the political undertones in Star Wars “But my favourite space movie Star Wars can’t be political” then I’d like to ask you the names of the army lead by the Empire. Yes, they are called Stormtroopers and who were called Stormtroopers? The specialist Nazi soldiers, that’s who and in this case I say aligning with the Empire isn’t the greatest thing to do knowing this context. Sorry, little rant over, I just can’t how people can stand up for The Empire due to how they are presented and meant to be literal space fascists. I think it might be time to move on from our discussion of Star Wars (although I will be back another time to talk about it) and move onto to our last two examples A Handmaiden’s Tale and A Clockwork Orange.

First of all there is A Handmaiden’s Tale which is some of the most recent and most interesting Sci-Fi novels and series that tackle the themes of Fascism and the take over by Far-right forces. The story follows a woman within a world where after pollution and chemical spills lead to woman becoming infertile. The most high class being infertile, therefore force woman to be impregnated and have their babies. The book and show follow this plot which uses some excellent elements of Dystopian Sci-Fi like Children of Men delving into authoritarian themes, lack of free will for these woman and religious tyranny.

The show and novels tackle a world overrun by military dictatorship with sexual intercourse behaving more like a ritual and taking individuality away from the lower class in the new society of the 2195. I won’t go into any spoilers as the show is still running so I will leave it as a great example that I recommend reading or watching. It’s a very grim and depressing dystopia where humans are used like cattle and rebellion is in the small things like sex and having secret relationships, similar to Julia and Winston’s relationship in 1984. However, there is one final example we have yet to discuss.

A Clockwork Orange (the book by Anthony Burgess and brilliant film by Stanley Kubrick) is a dystopian crime story set in a world that is both normal but has an underbelly of gang violence at every corner. We follow the character Alex who enacts crimes with his three cronies. In essence they are horrible people that beat up, rape and fill any animal instinct of their desire. Soon these events lead to Alex being captured after he accidently kills a older woman in one of the houses he is robbing. Although we are not talking about thriller and crime films here, we are talking Science Fiction and, on that note, it has a very interesting but subtle use of technology that really blends this discussion together.

The subtle use of Sci-Fi comes in the reformation of Alex although not by usual means but through a new form of therapy within the film’s universe. The idea is to show the criminal vile images, not allow them to turn away and giving them a drug that makes them sick whilst watching these prepared videos. This builds a gag-reflex in the subject (Alex) whenever he is in the middle or trying to commit these acts. The fact is he isn’t deterred away from these acts, he isn’t reformed, he is just in a state where he is prevented from being able to commit them at all. He no longer has full free-will and that is the brain-washing fascistic ways that you can see in many other Sci-Fi that debates free will and foretelling future fascism. Even as a sociopathic gang leader, he isn’t the person he once was in the second half of the film/story, he is a man trapped in a prison that is himself. He is weak and defenceless and even the innocent things he loved like Beethoven, are is taking away from him.

In conclusion, there are many different examples of Totalitarian governments presented throughout Science Fiction. They are a way to look at how if unchecked we may fall into old and ruthless traps of Nazi Germany or Stalin era Communism. People left without will of their own, to be a blank slate for the government to do as they please with them. I think I’ve made enough interesting examples for this retrospective but feel free to leave any extra down in the comments below. It’s an interesting but very grim subject but it is interesting to look at ways history influences Science Fiction and how it is modernised for a current era. What I want to say is fight for what you believe in, be who you want to be, do what you enjoy and stay vigilant future thinkers, especially in uncertain times like these.

Anyway, with that final note, thank you for reading this post if you have got this far. I’ve been meaning to get to this topic since April and well, what better time to do it then right before Sci-Fi Horror month in October where I will be serving up four ghoulish retrospectives for you all. But let me know what you thought of the post. You may be wondering about Starship Troopers…well, that’s a whole post to itself. Are there any examples of fascism in Science Fiction you wish I covered? Do you feel I looked at the topic in enough detail? Let me know, future thinkers, in the comments below…

Next time, get ready for some scares as we descend into the dark slimey corners of Sci-Fi Horror month. Creatures from space and those created from Science will be the main theme and I can’t wait for what’s coming. There will also be a review of Snowpeircer posted just after this one so stay tuned for that later today. I’m also happy to say that the first episode of The Galaxy Wide Sci-Fi Broadcast is up on YouTube and Soundcloud for your listening/viewing pleasure. Next month, the next episode will release in Sci-Fi Horror month tackling Post Dystopia. Stay tuned for that Future thinkers and until next time

Michael McGrady, Signing Off.

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