Saturday, 27 November 2010

Don't Look Up: Impostor and the Future

"There wasn't always a war with the Centauri, but in my lifetime it's all I've ever known. By the year 2050, six years after the first attack, we'd lost so many things. We'd lost the sky to electromagnetic domes, to shield the Earth from frequent air raids increasing in intensity. We'd lost the uncovered cities that the government forgot. We'd lost democracy to global leadership. We didn't expect peace anymore with the Centauri, because we came to see that peace wasn't their goal. Their goal was Earth. The ultimate land war, with no boundaries."
Gary Fleder's (2001) Philip K. Dick adaptation, Impostor, trots out merrily and seemingly without too much self-awareness all the old dystopian science fiction cliches: the violent, uncompromising homeland security agents with their baroque torture devices; the CGI-generated post-Metropolis, post-Blade Runner hypermodern city-scape; the scarred 'Zone' inhabited only by a brutalised underclass (including amongst their number, of course, one street-tough-but-still-scared cute little girl); on the bonus 'behind the scenes' documentary on the DVD the film-makers trot out the names of Kafka, Orwell, and so on, as though reciting an ecclesiastical litany; we even have the omnipresent propaganda posters with their Churchillian slogans - "Victory at Any Cost", "The Project is Your Future". But then, amongst the phrases familiar from 1984 and its imitators, we have one propaganda slogan familiar from another source, Thatcher's old mantra, increasingly also the motto of the Conservative-Liberal coalition: "There Is No Alternative."

Despite the association of the phrase with a PM deposed two decades ago, it is probably this one slogan, more than the smouldering iMacs and the ubiquitous iPads and the whizz-bang police technology, that makes this film (whose special effects, jerky camera moves and all over orange-and-teal-ness have otherwise aged very badly) feel like it still just might have something to say.

So, Spencer Olham and his wife (Gary Sinise and Madeleine Stowe) can still take a trip to the woode for a picnic and the national parks still look green and verdant just like they always did - until, that is, you look up and notice the vast electromagnetic dome which shields the sky from attack. And Olham can get in the shower and use his voice-activated music software system to play some tunes while he washes, but he can quickly get rid of that frenetic drum and bass which comes on first and replace it with John Lee Hooker with a simple voice command.

Slavoj Zizek is fond of saying that at the end of the 1980s many of the communist leaders in Easter Europe resembled those Warner Brothers cartoon characters who had run off the edge of the cliff but not yet looked down. Today perhaps we are in the reverse position. It is not the past, down there, which has unexpectedly caught up with us, but maybe the future is here, already, up there in the sky, but we consistently refuse to look up and see it. And perhaps iTunes, iPods and all the other tools that are supposedly making music, in Gerd Leonhard's words, "like water," are not so much "the future of music" but in fact the very things that are blinding us to a future already present, and maintaining the safe cushion of the old familiar classics around our ears.