A Year of Utopian Films

For the past year, the Utopian Book Collective have got together for film nights in between our book group meetings.

Here, list fans, are the utopian films we’ve watched in the order we saw them.

1. Unrest

    Utopian films: 1. Unrest

    2022 Swiss film about watchmakers in 1877 chatting anarchism, meeting Kropotkin, getting their photographs taken, and entering a draw to win a rifle.

    Verdict? Contemplative… you spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen. Not a lot does happen, but it’s intriguing all the same. A niche film, you’ll get away with scheduling this for utopian interest groups but maybe not for any other kind of party

    2. Black Panther

    Utopian films: 2. Black Panther

    2018 action/sci fi/superhero film based on the Marvel comics. Showcases the Afrofuturist invented utopian African nation of Wakanda.

    Verdict? A utopia to munch popcorn to. Fantastic visuals showing a nature/tech hybrid future world full of references to African culture. It’s refreshing to see a film with a Black superhero, and a future full of Black people. A lot of fighting though… Also, power seems to be got through inheritance, which isn’t ideal.

    3. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

    Utopian films: 3. Nausicaa

    1984 Japanese animated film from the team who went on to become Studio Ghibli. Post-apocalypse, the jungles are toxic. Princess Nausicaa fights against those who want to destroy them, becoming convinced the ecosystem could repair itself if only people would leave it alone.

    Verdict? She is wearing trousers, alright? Perhaps they shouldn’t have made them flesh-coloured. Despite being 40 years old the centring of fungal lifeforms is very on trend. Probably had anti-nuclear connotations back when it came out but also seems relevant to other forms of toxicity, e.g fossil fuel pollution, plastics etc.

    4. Logan’s Run

    Utopian films: 4. Logan's Run

    1976 American film about a perfect society with a hitch – life ends at 30. With Logan’s ‘Last Day’ approaching, he’s on the run…

    Verdict? The future is a giant shopping centre, with added swimming pools and sex rooms. Soundtrack complements the film perfectly. Hard to try to draw out anything too profound from this film.

    5. Aniara

    Utopian films: 5 Aniara

    2018 Swedish dystopian (very much not utopian) space drama. A passenger ferry gets knocked off course on the journey from Earth to Mars, meaning their planned three week journey is extended, indefinitely…

    Verdict? This film is bleak so make sure you have some sweets or other comfort food, are feeling cosy and in the company of friends. Things deteriorate quickly. It’s a shame they don’t accept the new shape of their life and decide to make a good go of it, but it’s not that sort of film.

    6. Woman In Motion

    Utopian films: 6. Woman In Motion

    2019 documentary about Nichelle Nichols, the actor who played Uhura in Star Trek. Nichols challenged NASA on their lack of diversity and ended up working with them to recruit thousands, including some who would go on to be the first African American, Asia and Latino men and women in space.

    Verdict? Excellent example of sci fi creating a platform from which to enact real world change. Rightly celebrates Nichols for using her position to change people’s conception of what an astronaut might look like, both within NASA and amongst those who would go on to apply for the job. Mentions her lovely legs quite a lot but she seems to enjoy that so maybe it’s OK?

    7. The Kitchen

    Utopian films: 7. The Kitchen

    2023 British film set in a near future London. The residents of the city’s last social housing block try to resist gentrification and hang onto their homes.

    Verdict? The trailer with its augmented London skyline and sleek motorbikes makes this film look more sci fi than it really is. Mostly a story about paternity and making space for yourself in a society that doesn’t want you there.

    8. The Village

    Utopian films: 8. The Village

    2004 horror film from M. Night Shyamalan. An isolated rural old-time community lead an idyllic life providing they don’t anger the monsters in the woods. Or have any medical emergencies.

    Verdict? Classic Shyamalan spooky film with a twist. All-star cast includes Hilary Hahn on the violin, for any violin nerds who might be interested. I’m beginning to think none of these films really model good ideas for an ideal society, there’s always a flaw…

    9. The Bothersome Man

    Utopian films: 9. The Bothersome Man

    2006 Norwegian dark comedy. A man arrives in a stylish, clean Scandi world, but no-one seems to have any emotions, the food is tasteless and the sex is rubbish. In a quest to feel something he generally makes a nuisance of himself and soon gets in trouble with the city caretakers.

    Verdict? I find the bothersome man kind of an inspiration. In any crappy situation he immediately strikes out in search of better rather than settling for the way things are. Truly utopian. Although, I do admit his actions can be morally reprehensible (infidelity, scoffing all the good cake and not sharing it etc.)

    11. La Belle Verte

    Utopian films: 11. La Belle Verte

    1996 French film about a very advanced planet where they eat raw veg and frolic in fields all day, who send an ambassador to Earth to check on how we’re developing. Cue much disbelief and disgust at traffic, pollution, money and the patriarchy.

    Verdict? Charmingly silly, with plenty of physical comedy. Not going to inspire any epiphanies and not terribly profound, but it is an actual utopia unlike most of these films.

    Now, this is where I realise we only watched 11 utopian films in the past year because there was no film night in December (it clashed with Christmas). So, to give you a full year of films, I will introduce our next film choice. Because we’re not giving up after a year, we’re keeping going.

    12. Her

    Utopian films: 12. Her

    Spike Jonze’s 2013 film about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) falling in love with an AI (Scarlett Johansson) has been back in the news of late, after ChatGPT had to remove a voice option that sounded suspiciously like Johansson.

    Verdict? If you’re in Bristol you can come along and decide for yourself at our film night on Monday 17th June.

    Further utopian film suggestions and reviews are welcome in the comments below!

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