Future becomes Past

esc1I am still beyond irritated that I never re-watched Blade Runner during November, 2019. It feels like something vaguely heretical that I never watched that film in that, of all months. Once upon a time, that film was of the future, now its not even of the past, but some alternate past, like the 1997 of Escape From New York, or the 2001 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alternative histories, of the future become past.

Perhaps that’s more powerful. It is, after all, the problem when predicting the future in science fiction movies. You can get judged by what you get right, what you get wrong, and maybe that’s missing the point- the films really tell us about when they were made. In the decade that gave us Taxi Driver, it wasn’t perhaps too much of a stretch to imagine New York becoming a maximum security prison to dump all the criminal filth of America into. Likewise when Kubrick and Clarke made 2001 in the 1960s, with America pumping so much money and effort into Apollo, it was no doubt easy to imagine the Superpowers with bases on the moon by 2001. In just the same way that Escape From New York shows how grim society seemed to be getting in the grim late-1970s, 2001: A Space Odyssey betrays the sense of hope and ambition of the 1960s.

In any event, its easy to re-watch 2001 imagining that Vietnam never happened and that political will championed an ambitious space program for decades to follow, or that when economic collapse threatened the America of Escape From New York,  far-right politics condemned society’s ills to the solution of a city turned into a prison. Or, in the case of Blade Runner, that perhaps the Axis won World War Two and set the world into the different path of a German Space Race, and an Off-World solution to the climate collapse of Earth.

In this way the films actually become more powerful, separated from the weight of prediction, instead benefiting from the freedom of dreaming what might have been. I think its something that film-makers etc should perhaps consider when contemplating possible futures: don’t make them ours, make them someone else’s. If the opening crawl of Blade Runner had been something along the lines of: “1946: The Axis wins WWII, 1954: The first man on the moon is a German,  2019: Now” then people would perhaps have been more open, even in 1982, to accept its future noir vision. Its an approach that Villeneuve and his team clearly seemed to relish when making BR2049 and furthering its alternate history/future, something that the film benefits from with its retro tech.

I note that perhaps the next film to join the distinguished company of Escape From New York, 2001 and Blade Runner is Soylent Green, whose grim future of 2022, of devastating climate change, pollution and overpopulation is next to become an alternate past. Mind, as predictions go they possibly weren’t terribly far off with that one.

2 thoughts on “Future becomes Past

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    Yeah, it must have been another in a long line of ‘reasons why 2019 was rubbish’ to have missed that anniversary.
    I managed a cinema screening at the Prince Charles as I was at a loose end for a lot of November, but I’ve seen the film too many times recently and it all flowed over me a bit.
    I’m going to put it on moratorium for a while.

    1. Its something I’ve been concious of for a few years now- usually I only return to Blade Runner once a year, if even that. I talk about it a lot, write about it on my blog all the time, and listen to the soundtrack quite often on commutes to work, but as for watching it, well, I try to moderate that more than I used to in the early years. When you watch a film so often, it gets to the point that you’re not really watching it. I was like that with Alien, too, some years ago, and realised that even the best films need to be treated with moderation. I have a friend who watches John Carpenter’s The Thing almost every month, almost religiously,he’s so fascinated by it, by its mood and setting. I think that’s a bit like having your favourite piece of music and listening to it all the time, only with a movie. With music it becomes a comforting background noise, with a film… I don’t know, maybe it serves the same function. Even for a film nut like me though, it doesn’t seem healthy.

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