Thursday, March 17, 2011

Living the Prequel to Logan's Run

There are things going on today that simply seem unreal.  Dream-like, or nightmarish depending on your view.  Maybe, as some have noted, like a movie.  Something with a great catastrophe that changes the way man thinks and lives.  In most of those catastrophe movies, it is something terrible that man does that forces him to realize the error of his ways and how it is better to have returned to a "state of grace", like Adam and Eve living in the Garden of Eden, without knowledge or technology.  Except for the knowledge that, if humanity survives, they must learn to live within the bounds of nature, lest man finally, once and for all, brings about humanity's final destruction having finally messed with nature one too many times.  

Those movies are interesting, but, for all of the modern movie's great explosions, heart stopping images of giant tsunamis and sky scrapers falling into the sea, the moral of the story is usually short, sweet and without a scrap of agency that makes the viewer think.  

You, mankind, are bad.  You messed with mother nature and now a tsunami must wipe you out.  End of story.  It is the pet theory of every global warming enthusiast and end of mankind prophet.

One of my favorite movies, slightly campy and cheaply made, is Logan's Run.  The movie is different than the book, but stays with the premise: what if all those young people marching in the streets, demanding peace, living in communes, going to concerts, drinking, drugging, etc, got their wish and got rid of all the "old men" they thought were driving them towards the brink of disaster?  What would their world look like? 

Logan's Run is set in that post apocalyptic world.  SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAS HAPPENED.  We don't know what it is, man made nuclear war or natural catastrophe, but it was bad enough that the survivors had to flee to the underground.  There they built a great city, covered in a dome.  The air is filtered and purified.  Resources are scarce so everyone is fed at the communal mess just exactly what they need to live a healthy life.  

To maintain those resources, the population must be controlled.  The founders of the city had instituted cult like religion that claimed that anyone reaching the age of thirty must join "the carousel" and be ritually killed in order to insure the survival of the rest.  Not that the people believe they are being killed.  It is all made glamorous and acceptable by telling them they will be "renewed."  

Everyone would know their time was up by a small, red crystal in their palm that would start to blink when when it was their "last days".  Most submit, but there are those who try to run to a place that people call "sanctuary".  If they run, they are hunted down and terminated with prejudice by special police who are called "sandmen" because they put the runners into the "deep sleep".  

In the mean time, everyone is free to enjoy anything else they might take a hankering too.  Drugs, multiple sex partners, music, you name it.  They can order it up via remote on their "television" and have it delivered to their rooms.  They are all extremely healthy, with no defects, provided by free medical care and careful cloning of the best citizens.  Any perceived defects are fixed through free modification surgery with lasers.  

Life, death, population replacement, food, entertainment and even drugs and sexual partners are provided by the BIG COMPUTER that selects all through complicated algorithms without an ounce of human input or compassion.  Of course, everyone accepts it because it is how it has always been and hasn't it kept them safe all these years from the "SOMETHING TERRIBLE" that happened in the outside world.  

Then one day a "sandman" is assigned to catch a runner.  He hunts him down, but discovers that there is an entire underground that helps runners get to this mysterious place called "sanctuary".  When he reports it's existence, the computer orders him to find this "sanctuary" and destroy it because it will destroy their way of life and, according to the all knowing, destroy man kind.  Logan 5, a sandman, is assigned the task.  

To help him accomplish the task, Logan's crystal is made to blink four years ahead of his scheduled thirty year "deep  sleep".  He infiltrates the underground railroad and tries to find "sanctuary", but nobody actually knows where it is because everybody who seeks it does not return.  Of course, Logan meets a girl and falls in love.  This is unacceptable, so the computer puts him on the "list" to be terminated and sends other sandmen after him.

He decides to try to escape, taking Jessica 6 with him as they try to find their way out of the city and into "sanctuary".  After many twists and turns, they end up in a cave where they discover that all of those who tried to escape before were lined up like frozen slabs of beef.  The creators of the city had created a robot that patrolled the caves shooting the runners with his freeze ray, insuring no one makes it outside to "sanctuary".  

After some more action and a bizarre battle with the robot, Logan and Jessica finally make it outside where they see the sun for the first time though they don't really know what it is.  Except, it is warm.  The computer is not ready to concede defeat.  Neither is Logan's once best friend and Sandman who is so ideologically invested in their "way of life" and the "new religion", that he is willing to even go outside of the city and risk "contamination" in order to kill his friend and save their world.

Jessica and Logan see a city in the distance and run all the way, only to discover the city in ruins.  They see the statue of Abraham Lincoln and read it's words.  They marvel at such construction.  However, the sandman is still after them and they need to find sanctuary so they run into a great building where they find cats and an old man.  Neither things they had ever seen before.  

The man tells them what the place used to be and they begin to read the books and papers.  One of them is the Declaration of Independence. 

All men are created equal...endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...among these are the right to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness".  

Life.  An old man.  Air to breath, a sunset to see, running water and all manner of creatures.  They didn't have to die.  There was plenty of room for everyone to live, work, eat and grow old.  Men used to live by other rules that made them free.  

They ask the old man what happened.  He didn't really know, but he had been living there for over sixty years after everybody abandoned the place.  Free, but lonely.  Except for his cats.  That is when reality sets in.  There was no TERRIBLE SOMETHING that forced them all into the underground commune.  Just the dream of utopia to save mankind from something that everyone feared, but had as yet to occur.

That is the point in the movie when you realize that this isn't your typical rant against government trying to take over everybody's lives, but what happens when that government falls into the hands of those who want to "save the world" by isolating themselves from all things "terrible", regulating everything from birth to death, creating utopia.  What good is all that free medical care that keeps you healthy if some great unknown bureaucracy decides you've lived long enough?  When it decides who is a burden on society?  

They've been eating fish, plankton and seaweed because that is what was good for them when there was all this bounty on the outside. For all their "freedom" to enjoy all of these once societal taboos, they were more restricted than their predecessors.

Of course, the movie was created in the 70's at the height of the Cold War so most could be forgiven if they thought it was simply a low budget, futuristic movie about the perils of Communism and the dangers of the Free World disappearing.  Instead, it is a libertarian's dream/nightmare of the future.

In the end, Logan kills the Sandman pursuing them after trying hard to convince him that there is no sanctuary, just this outside world, this "freedom", that those in the city didn't want them to know about.  He and Jessica run back to the city to tell the others, shouting to the latest batch of 29.99 somethings that the carousel is a lie and they don't have to die; there is no "renewal".

They are captured and Logan is sent to be interrogated by THE COMPUTER.  The program is like a giant, futuristic lie detector (why a completely controlled, happy populace needs this police force of "sandmen" to make them comply to the rules or this lie detector, is left for the viewer to comprehend).  The computer keeps asking Logan, "Where is Sanctuary?" His reply, "There is no Sanctuary" it's just a bunch of ruins, an old man and some words about freedom.  The computer cannot accept this answer, going further and further until the computer self-implodes.  

In the end, the city collapses and all of the residents are forced to run outside.  A world that is full of threats and no longer supplies their every need, but a world where they are all now free.  Free to grow old, free to be who they want to be.  It's a savage world where they will now have to work to survive, but no one will be able to say that today they die.  For the greater good or whatever other nonsense the Great Computer has been telling them. 

Now we return to our present, the future after this movie was produced, the "past" according to the dates in the movie.  We discover that all those students marching in the streets in the early seventies, wanting to live in communes allegedly free, throw off the constraints of morality and overthrow their government to install their version have all grown up now.  

They have written the books and told the stories over and over again.   At every turn they have pronounced some new TERRIBLE SOMETHING that they insist demands we sacrifice freedom for the greater good.  Nuclear war, global warming, take your pick.  If neither of these come to pass, it will be something new, and, even if it did, are either of those or any other future TERRIBLE SOMETHING, reason enough to sacrifice freedom?

Today I woke up and thought: I'm living the prequel to Logan's Run.  That time before the TERRIBLE SOMETHING that turns out to be the EMPTY NOTHING, but which is supposed to make us all forget that there is NOTHING worth giving up FREEDOM.  Not free food, free health care, free shelter, free love or free from any sense of morality.  None of those things makes us free, they make us slaves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said.