Existentialism In Dystopian Modern Sci-Fi
The Modern young-adult literary adventure movies, such as The Hunger Games, The Divergent series, The Maze Runner and The Lord of the Flies, have a recurring influence of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society situated in a futuristic time. The society which is ‘panopticonic’ in certain ways is a totalitarian society that forces the adolescent boys and girls to either take part in a deadly game (The Hunger Games, 2008) being broadcast for the entertainment of the dwellers of the panopticonic society, or to map the puzzle of the maze in order to carry out an “experiment” (The Maze Runner, 2009), or by forcing the youths to choose a particular faction and become the part of “survival of the fittest” struggle or become faction-less (The Divergent Series, 2011).
The recurrent philosophical themes in these movies can be read as the media-obsessed hedonistic culture of the society or an extension of the religious existential ideological consciousness. The children’s science fiction, “The City of Embers (2003)” written by Jeanne DuPrau, “The City Under Ground (1963) written by Suzanne Martel and “The Time of Darkness (1980)” by Helen Mary Hoover, are stories that have a similar kind of post-apocalyptic society in which the citizens lead a life completely unaware of the outside world, and in their ignorant state they accept their world as the ultimate reality and the only way of survival.
Sartre and Nietzsche were the front-runners in devising the philosophy of existentialism (although they did not use the term ‘Existentialism’ themselves). Nietzsche was the one who coined the term “God is dead”, understanding the implication of a world where God does not exist, or in describing a kind of society where the reality of the existence of God is disparaged from a cultural perspective. Although he was an atheist and did not believe in the existence of God, this term is an indication that the “Idea of God” is required in a society for it to operate in a moral way. And obliterating the “idea” of God from the whole picture would make the existence of Man as meaningless. Constantly ridden by the questions of the ‘Existence’ and the futile search of Man to find some meaning, clarity and unity in a milieu of a chaotic and an obscure world, which requires the ‘Idea’ of God to lead a meaningful life, are the reasons the movement was called as “Existentialism”.
However, with the advent of the idea of a “Panopticon Society” in the present Sci-fi literature and movie culture, where the inmates are constantly made aware that they are being watched, indicates to the evolution of a social consciousness from the earlier “God is dead” and “Life is meaningless” ideology, to an awareness that “We are not alone” or that “there is something beyond” the ‘Walls’.
In the movie “The hunger Games” based on the book written by Suzanne Collins, this existential philosophy is vividly manifested. The protagonist of the story (Katniss) is chosen as one of the 2 “Tributes” to represent her district in the annual hunger games, where each of the tribute has to fight for survival and kill the others in order to win the game and come out alive. Two tributes from the 12 districts are offered in the games and sent to the “Capital” for their training. Each of the tribute is offered the best provisions and lodging, in complete contrast to the sparse sustenance back in the district. The torturing and killing of the tributes becomes a mode of entertainment for the city-dwellers of the Capital, indicative of the mindset devoid of mercy or any morals. A kind of society which is a replica of Nietzsche’s ‘godless world’, untouched by the moral reality, where the people are slaughtered for fun, without the fear of heaven or hell, and the only power that exists, is in the hands of those who control the resources.
“The Divergent series”, written by Veronica Roth and “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner portray a similar kind of walled city or ‘Panopticon’. The Dwellers of the walled city are ignorant of the “experiment” that they are a part of. They accept and believe the enclosed space to be the only way of survival. However, the protagonists do not accept this and despite knowing that they would “disrupt the peace (of ignorance)” of the existence of every dweller of the society by seeking what is beyond the “towering Wall”, taking a leap of faith they ‘dauntlessly’ triumph over the obstacles directed at them and get to the other side symbolic of the process of ascension from the mortal realm to the spirit realm, only to realize, that which is beyond the wall is perhaps their arch-nemesis.
The idea of the ‘Panopticon’ is metaphorical with our ‘enclosed and monitored’ existence in the world. And in contrast to the previous ideology of a “Godless World”, perhaps we are drifting towards a ‘homogenized’ social consciousness that there is “something beyond” and that we are not confined in this “Earthy Panopticon”. However, the people being “the product of the society” that they are, perhaps formulate that which is beyond, as something which is not a friend but a foe.