My oldest son has asked me many times why I like dystopian movies and I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. It seems weird to enjoy movies about a bleak, horrible future where life is awful and we are all living under the shadow of alien/robot overlords, or a catastrophic natural disaster, or some other extremely unpleasant state of affairs. Isn’t there enough horrible stuff in real life already that I should not enjoy watching movies about horrible stuff too? But it finally occurred to me what the attraction is, at least for me, and perhaps for others as well.
I like dystopian movies not because they are bleak and hopeless but because they are usually stories of hope and redemption in the midst of tragedy. Most dystopian movies don’t end with the world being just as horrible as when the movie began. Through the course of the movie, a bold protagonist or group of underdog survivors discover some forgotten knowledge or secret key or weapon to regain what they lost or to restart the world again with the hope of a better future. Dystopian movies are often stories of a phoenix rising from the ashes of a broken world, providing beauty and hope where there was nothing but desolation. Does that sound like any other plotline you’ve heard? To me, that sounds like the Gospel.
Is not the grand narrative of Scripture somewhat like a dystopian movie? All was perfect in the Garden of Eden and then through the stupid short-sightedness and evil of man, paradise was lost. People tried to get on the best they could but they were still hampered by their own evil and the world was bleak, despite fleeting pleasures here and there, especially for the powerful elite who squeezed the people below for their own gain. But in the midst of this dystopian world comes the promise of “the One”, an anointed One that will regain what was lost and restore this broken world. That is Jesus Christ breaking into history, conquering sin, death, and the devil, winning the key battle against all of these in the cross and resurrection. The complete redemption of the world is still future but the redemption has begun through Christ and a small band of people who have seen the Hope and the Future of what will be.
Dystopian movies don’t usually end with the world being restored again but more often they end with the metaphorical single green plant poking up through the barren, scorched earth, assuring the viewer that all will be okay eventually. Humanity’s future has been secured. That is what Christ has done. He is the green plant, the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10) that has poked up through the ashes and shown us that there is hope for the future.
Any old movie can feature alien, robots, or futuristic people dressing strangely while walking through the ruins of New York. Those things on their own are just eye candy and superficial novelties. But a dystopian movie done well is a story of hope that should remind us of the hope of Christ who is redeeming us and his world, saving us from the spiritual dystopia that passes for the world today. The world isn’t how it should be but Christ is changing all of that.