loaded question: what movies can give us hope for a better future?

Today is Independence Day in the United States, my homeland, but I don’t feel much like celebrating — everything in America is too grim these days. My adopted home of the United Kingdom seems hellbent on following in the US’s footsteps, so things aren’t much cheerier here, either. It’s difficult to find much hope for the future on either side of the Atlantic at the moment.

Movies aren’t much help. Our pop culture is very good at imagining the worst that can happen: dystopias and apocalypses prevail in our collective imagination. It’s almost impossible to think of a movie (or a TV show) that is uniformly optimistic: even the Star Trek franchise has taken a dark turn in recent years. Just about the only movie of recent vintage that even tries to embody a spirit of genuine optimism about human possibilities going forward is Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland (aka in some regions Tomorrowland: A World Beyond), from 2015.

Are there others? What movies can give us hope for a better future? I vehemently believe that positive visions are essential for helping us imagine better for ourselves. Where are they?

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film buff
Tue, Jul 05, 2022 3:17am

I have to admit I’m coming up short at the moment. Dystopian stories are easy (even if some of them are well-made). Many utopian stories turn out to be about how they’re not utopias after all — they’re Omelases of one sort or another. Or else if it’s a far-flung positive future, a la Star Trek, we’re shown a world in which our current problems have been overcome — but we’re not shown how we actually did it. (Caveat: I’m not fully immersed in Trekworld, so if I’m wrong about that, let me know.) I can’t think of many movies about the PROCESS of painstakingly and collectively making things better.

Well, okay, I can think of a couple: the film Oslo streaming on HBO Max is a great dramatization of how the Oslo Accords wrangled the two bitterly divided parties of the Israel/Palestine conflict to an agreement. The tragedy, of course, is that it all fell apart later. But if we need an example and a blueprint of how people CAN rise above bloody war-waging (if momentarily) and somehow reason and argue their way towards peace, this story may shine a light on how to go about it, and perhaps offer lessons on how to do it better next time.

And, not a movie, but an animated series that consistently and forthrightly offers a positive vision of how people can relate to each other: Steven Universe. Episodes are only about 10 minutes long, but packed with story and character; and although it starts out very much as kiddie fare, it becomes clear very early on that the show is building out a world where all genders and all relationships are accepted, and where compassion, empathy, and self-care (and absolutely endearing music!) are the keys to rehabilitating even the most evil-seeming of villains, as well as figuring out and healing one’s own traumas. I would live in a world ruled by Steven Universe‘s guiding principles, without hesitation.

Jess Haskins
Jess Haskins
reply to  Bluejay
Tue, Jul 05, 2022 7:19pm

We’re for the most part not shown how it happened in Trek, but in bits and pieces we’re told: eugenics and genetic engineering leading to a race of genetic “supermen” dictators, and a bloody war to overthrow them in the 90s; World War III (possibly the same war?) and the “post-atomic horror,” with brutal inequality, starvation, ecological disaster, and fascist dictators again; and the inflection point was the Bell Riots, happening any time now in the 2020s, where the disenfranchised, jobless and homeless majority revolted in their internment camps and polite society was shocked enough to take notice and agitate for change. Then in the 2060s, a bunch of scrappy rejects and refugees in the Montana wilderness built the first warp drive, and the Vulcans noticed and came to welcome Earth to the warp-capable community and gave us replicators and helped us fix all our pesky resource distribution problems.

Fully automated luxury space communism ahoy!

Tue, Jul 05, 2022 5:59pm

i love the movie Tomorrowland, although i came to it late, on cable tv…. but lately i haven’t seen anything that has a generalized hope for the future… the only thing i can think of is my recent rewatch (for the thousandth time) of Casablanca. Grownup people who are willing to sacrifice a lot of their own desires to try and make the world a better place. it came out just as the US was into WWII, and before any major victories in battle, but the ending says that it is people in the fight against tyranny that make the difference. still my favorite movie… maybe now more than ever.’