For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Dystopian Movies, here’s a review of Harrison Bergeron (1995) by S.G. Liput of Rhyme and Reason
Thanks again to James of Back to the Viewer for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by S.G. Liput of Rhyme and Reason. We will be reviewing our favorite fantasy/sci-fi animated movies (non-Disney or Pixar) . Please get me your submissions by 25th May by sending them to email@example.com Try to think out of the box! Great choice S.G.!
Let’s see what S.G. thought of this movie:
Harrison Bergeron lives in the future,
Where everyone’s forced to be equal and fair.
Those cursed with talent must quench it and wear
A handicap band that will help to impair.
Harrison Bergeron’s blamed as a genius
And wishes that he could be average as well,
Until he discovers that those who excel
Control the more equal, obtuse personnel.
Harrison Bergeron trusted the system,
But now he considers its sameness the vice.
Change is a difficult roll of the dice,
For perfect equality carries a price.
Most dystopian films tend to fall into two categories: (1) an oppressive regime has taken over the country/world and certain heroes must rise up to overthrow it (often through time travel), or (2) an oppressive regime or cataclysm has taken some social ill to an extreme and the protagonists can do little more than endure said injustice. While Harrison Bergeron has elements of both, it falls more into the second category, taking place within an alternate future America in which a second revolution has resulted in a mandatory egalitarian society.
The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal,” but in this story, the government has taken it upon itself to ensure that no one is any better than everyone else. It’s a world that is topsy-turvy: being the smartest person in the room has become a stigma; athletes and artists are intentionally handicapped by broken instruments or cumbersome weights so that whoever wins does so more or less according to chance; governmental positions are filled at random since no one is more qualified than the rest; and an opportunity for a mental workout is literally akin to visiting a genius level prostitute in secret. It’s a world that seems increasingly absurd, and the film’s tone feels almost comedic at times. Continual televised executions would normally be nightmarish, but it’s practically funny as little old ladies are led to the firing squad for shoplifting while viewers are simply flipping channels to something more entertaining. (Filmmakers must expect 2054 to be a horrible year; this film takes place from 2053 into 2054, which is also the year of other dystopian features like Surrogates and Minority Report.)
As potentially humorous and unrealistic as it seems, the film grounds itself in the fact that everyone is entirely earnest. Harrison Bergeron (the typically likable Sean Astin) has more smarts than he desires and feels like an outsider as he is expected to dumb himself down with his “band,” a mental distractor that everyone must wear by law. He and his family believe everything they’ve been told about equality being the most worthy goal of mankind, and he is understandably shocked when he finds that this world of equality has been built on inequality, a secret cell of uninhibited leaders who run things behind the scenes even while deceptively enforcing sameness on the rest. As he is guided through the inner workings of this cabal, led by John Klaxon (Christopher Plummer), his outsider status allows him, like us the audience, to see the hypocrisy of his situation. When he suffers a personal loss from the overreach of these elite, he decides to show the nation what it’s been missing, in a stunt remarkably similar to Jack Lemmon’s actions in The China Syndrome.
Produced for Showtime back in 1995 and based on a Kurt Vonnegut short story, Harrison Bergeron may sound implausible, one of those movie futures that could never really happen, but its satire is pointed at enough aspects of our own world that it never becomes too half-baked. In fact, as the film progresses, its power and persuasiveness grow, until it achieves a shocking devastation toward the end (in a scene directly prefiguring Caesar Flickerman’s talk show format in The Hunger Games series). The message of equality taken too far continues to be relevant and has even been incorporated into certain recent animated films and TV shows (such as the necessary self-suppression of the supers in The Incredibles). As ridiculous as certain aspects of some dystopias are, their purpose (aside from entertainment) is as a warning, a cautionary tale to not allow inhumane societies to grow up around us unheeded; otherwise, we might end up like those in a haunting scene toward the end of Harrison Bergeron, saying, “What just happened?” “I’m not sure. Something sad, I think.”
Best line: (Harrison, to Klaxon) “You haven’t made everybody equal; you’ve made ‘em the same, and there’s a big difference.”
VC’s best line: (a facilitator) “You should always do your best; otherwise, we won’t know how much to handicap you.”
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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