The Problem of the Real and THX 1138

By Telotte, J. P. | Film Criticism, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

The Problem of the Real and THX 1138


Telotte, J. P., Film Criticism


It is ... our common destiny to become film.--Paul Virilio ("The Last Vehicle 115)

In an essay comparing the functions of ideology and utopias, Paul Ricoeur sets out to describe some fundamental similarities in these two ways of thinking. He begins on a negative note, suggesting that both ideology and utopia represent "deviant attitudes toward social reality" (107) and that utopian thinking especially is a kind of "escapism," concealing "under its traits of futurism the nostalgia for some paradise lost" (122). In so doing he addresses a common criticism of most utopian thinking, the sense that our visions of utopias--or dystopias, for that matter(1)--produce a problematic relationship to our world because of their "eclipse of praxis" (121). That is, such fantastic constructions, much like any culture's dominant ideology, can easily distract us from what might be done.

Ricoeur does not really want to dismiss utopian thinking. Rather, he suggests that the nostalgic escapism of utopian/dystopian narratives is useful if it helps us to interrogate the prevailing conditions of our culture. Yet the very difficulty of trying to determine how a text, and especially a film, might encourage such interrogation points to another, deeper difficulty with which Ricoeur and others have typically struggled in recent times: the difficulty of gauging that other world against a "social reality," and even of locating what he terms "the real" in a world that has become thoroughly mediated by various forms of representation, particularly the cinematic and electronic. At the base of this problem is the widespread postmodern belief that reality itself has disappeared into a variety of cultural constructs, that the real "exists" only as we construct it from experience, or as it is constructed for us by the many cinematic and electronic media that permeate our world. The pervasive sense that Paul Virilio describes, that our world is inexorably becoming "film," has simply made the possibility of utopian/dystopian commentary a far more difficult and complex proposition.

The problem involved in using the imagined world as a possible critique of contemporary society surfaces rather obviously in our utopian and dystopian films, those which powerfully visualize what could be in a fully imagined and convincing diegetic world, yet in the process, potentially undermine the critical effect of such a vision by dislocating this distinctly imagined world from our own. A film like Metropolis (1926), for example, offers a thorough critique of futuristic life, one extrapolated from twentieth-century capitalism pushed to a logical and self-destructive extreme, yet symptomatically it shades that image in a starkly expressionist scheme: heavy shadows, angular images, stylized character motions, a symbolic dominance of things over people, etc.--all elements that detach this cinematic world from appearing to have any immediate connection to our own. Similarly, a later work like the British Things to Come (1936) extrapolates from the very real international tensions of its day and looming threats of another world war to describe a decades-long conflict that reduces most of civilization to rubble but opens the way for a new world order, one modeled on the social vision of the film's writer, H.G. Wells. Its vision of this new order, though, is a starkly monumentalist one,(2) marked at every turn by an outsized and imposing relationship between that reconstructed world and the human. In framing their futuristic visions in these stylized ways, such films always risk the kind of escapism Ricoeur notes, for their stylizations unhinge their imagined worlds from our own. In the process, they leave the spectator with the difficult task of understanding that the distinctiveness of those worlds derives from a comparison and contrast to our own. Such films can thereby lose the opportunity of pointing out the ideological function of representations of "lived experience"--utopian, dystopian, or otherwise. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Problem of the Real and THX 1138
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.