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Film Review: Idiocracy

July 18, 2011

Idiocracy, directed by Mike Judge (King Of The Hill, Office Space) depicts a world in which evolution no longer values human intelligence and where brands and corporations have come to dominate society.

Luke Wilson plays disgruntled US army librarian Joe Bauers, who is chosen in 2005 as the guinea pig for a secret human hibernation project, designed to preserve the army’s best soldiers for the times when they are most needed in battle. Following the indictment of the staff responsible on charges of running a prostitution ring, the hibernation capsules are abandoned until they are rediscovered during a garbage mountain avalanche in the year 2505.

We are provided with a brief summary of what took place during the preceding 500 years. As the less intelligent in society reproduced at ever faster rates and the dwindling numbers of academics were forced to focus on prolonging erections and preventing hair loss, the education system breaks down entirely, with the city hospital relying on a largely ineffective automated computer to diagnose their patients and collapsing skyscrapers crudely tied together to prevent them from falling down.

Residents of the city speak a dumbed down version of English and sit in over sized chairs devouring buckets of sugary yellow mush and watching obscene television shows such as Ow My Balls – a future incarnation of MTV’s Jackass – where a man is repeatedly kicked in his testicles in a variety of different social situations.

The damage wrecked by corporate domination is a recurring theme throughout the film, with water having been largely replaced with a Mountain-Dew style energy drink, Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator. The reliance on which is now causing the nation’s crops to fail. The owners of the drink had evidently seen the abundance of water as a major threat to their profit margins and had simply purchased the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with water now restricted to toilet use only.

Every possible utility seems to have been taken over and privatised, with the phone service for example provided simultaneously by AOL, Time Warner and Taco Bell. Some aspects of the popular culture are only marginally exaggerated versions of what we have today, with the current affairs magazine, Hot Naked Chicks & World Report simply exclaiming Shit Sucks! 

Advertising too is only marginally more offensive than in 2011, with a tobacco ad depicting a macho middle-aged gentleman exhaling on a cigarette, with the slogan: If you don’t smoke Tarrlyton… Fuck you! In addition, the clothing most residents wear is provided free, as it arrives plastered with advertisements.

One interesting aspect of the film for me is that misogyny appears to be rife, with Starbucks now providing hand jobs, full body lattes and women almost exclusively treated as objects. Masculinity is also fiercely policed, with Joe being relentlessly mocked for his perceived effeminate voice. All males in this fictional 2505 are expected to immediately resort to petty name calling and violence to assert themselves in the presence of other men, or else be labeled as a fag.

Politics – conducted in the House of Representin’ – involves US President Camacho delivering expletive laden speeches and firing his machine gun wildly into the air, to the wild appreciation of the members. Again, corporate dominance shines though, with the Secretary of State following each pronouncement with the words brought to you by Carl’s Jr as part of a sponsorship agreement. Outside the Capitol building, where the Washington Monument imitates the leaning tower of Pisa, the shallow pool is being utilised as a jet-ski area.

Eventually, Joe’s comparatively high IQ is discovered and he is made a secretary of state, charged with rescuing the economy and the dwindling food supplies. Joe and his fellow time traveler Rita are simultaneously in search of a time machine in an attempt to return to 2005. The plot isn’t necessarily the film’s strongest point, but it remains thoroughly entertaining and contains plenty of laugh out loud moments.

There were some elements of the film I wasn’t quite so comfortable with: the depiction of a feral underclass reproducing en masse was deeply stereotypical, as were the uptight middle class couples continually putting off having children. Overuse of the terms fag and retard is another worrisome inclusion. However, given the film is rather extreme satire, I suppose this mustn’t be taken too seriously in the context.

If you’ve reached this point of the review, you might well be wondering why you haven’t heard of Idiocracy before. The film was released in a relatively small number of cinemas across the US, just 130 compared to a standard release of 600. A small release in the UK followed. Marketing was almost non-existent, with no trailer released, no advertising campaign was introduced and Fox even refused to release promotional photography to journalists wishing to review it.

However, despite all this the film scored a respectable 73% on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes. Compare this to the latest blockbuster films such as Transformers 4 and Pirates of the Caribbean, which although released worldwide in conjunction with massive advertising campaigns scored disappointingly, with 37% and 33% respectively.

Various theories exist about why this might be, with many blaming the film’s overt anti-corporate messages as provoking an extreme reaction within Fox or News Corporation itself, with pressure perhaps being put on the distributors by the brands satirized within the film.

Ryan Pearson of AP proposed a few additional theories, but suggested the most plausible possibility being that Judge and Fox had experienced a deep, painful disagreement of some kind which prompted a deal to be reached whereby Fox would fulfill the bare minimum of their contract and Judge agreeing to keep quiet on the whole affair.

Ultimately the true reasons will remain unknown, possibly forever, but it does provide a fascinating insight into the behind the scenes relationship between director and film studio.

Despite this, the film seems to have become a cult hit based almost solely on DVD sales, with many praising the amusing, thought-provoking satire. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Idiocracy is certainly well worth a watch if politics, sociology and anti-commercialism are your kind of thing. Feel free to leave your own views and reviews below.

3 Responses to Film Review: Idiocracy

  1. Rif on July 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I watched this film two years ago, it was on Film four and I was surprised at how good it was. I then asked the same question you did, “how did I miss this at the cinema?”. But I guess you pretty much covered the reason why in the last bit!

    Very well written! Enjoyed reading it and I might buy the DVD to watch it again 🙂

  2. » Blogging and Studying on August 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

    […] have continued to write articles for Passing Nightmare, with pieces on the war in Libya, two film reviews, an analysis of the dodgy media reporting on ESA claimants and a discussion on the recent UK […]

  3. Longrider » Past its Sell-by Date on September 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    […] I mean, if you pick up a bag of potatoes in the supermarket there is a sell-by date. However, I’ve happily pulled spuds form the garden and stored them over winter for the next spring and they didn’t turn to poison. I wonder, sometimes, how our ancestors actually managed to survive this long. We are rapidly de-evolving into an idiocracy. […]

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