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Idiocracy (2006)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“The Future Is A No Brainer”

As a truly funny comedy which also delivers both extremely relevant and deeply insightful social and political commentary, this film belongs to a fairly small class of movies. Producer, director and screenwriter: Mike Judge has outdone himself with this satirical romp through a pessimistically projected future. Although the basic premise may not be completely original with this movie, if it has been used in film before I have not seen or even heard of it.

Generally, projections of the future in film follow one of two paths: either the highly positive -- in which a future world has wonders available to everyone which far exceed the expectations of today's common man; or the extremely negative -- in which some form of oppressive power dominates a dystopian landscape that subjects ordinary people to indignities beyond what they suffer today. This movie's storyline fits neither of these types. Instead, it takes a perceived trend in today's world and extrapolates that tendency 500 years into the future.

What trend does this film extrapolate? Often today's commentators note the dearth of offspring from some demographic group they favor and compare it to a swell in output of progeny from an opposing demographic. The two groups contrasted in Idiocracy differ in IQ. The film begins with a narration outlining the past of human evolution through “natural selection.” It also points out the contrast between the increasingly more civilized worlds of science fiction, and our time: the early 21st century, which often appears to be losing levels of civilization compared to the fairly recent past.

The evolutionary process favors those who pass on their genetic material. In the past, intelligent survivors produced progeny. Those lacking intelligence usually produced fewer children which survived. Today, that situation may seem reversed. The film's narrator discusses a “case study” involving a “Yuppie” couple: Trevor (Patrick Fischler) and Carol (Darlene Hunt); compared with the intellectually less impressive Clevon (Ryan Ransdell). The high IQ couple: Trevor and Carol, put off having children until they feel better prepared. On the other hand, the low IQ Clevon has many children with several different women. This process, one perhaps substantially different from that which has operated for the last few centuries, favors Clevon and those like him.

This basic premise -- that instead of mankind climbing ever higher rungs of civilization, people may devolve into less advanced sub-humans -- also fed the imagination of the short-lived SF master C.M. Kornbluth. Kornbluth wrote many short stories, but his offering on this theme became a classic: “The Marching Morons.” Although most details differ between Idiocracy and “The Marching Morons” the premise remains basically the same: contemporary human(s) undergo suspended animation to awake in a world in which the bulk of humanity has become much stupider.

In Idiocracy the “contemporary humans” partake in an Army experiment testing “human hibernation.” As a stereotypically average person, Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) receives orders to participate for a year. The Army does not find such an “average” female in its ranks and instead “contracts” with a private procurer for a female subject: Rita (Maya Rudolph). Joe and Rita undergo hibernation, but through comedic misadventures become forgotten and misplaced. After 500 years pass other comedic misadventures wake them from their slumber. Their subsequent adventures with Frito (Dax Shepard), President Camacho (Terry Alan Crews) and other denizens of a pessimistic future comprise the body of the movie.

I can not think of a movie which has many similarities to this one. However, other hilarious comedies have attempted the same level of scathing commentary. The Marx Brothers '30s era classic: Duck Soup also has the physical comedy along with social / political commentary. Terry Gilliam's more modern classic: Brazil has a bit of the negative progress theme in a dystopian setting. However, neither film has quite the same level of pessimism about modern humanity as this movie; which, even with its attitudes, still manages to “pull out a happy ending.” I am aware of no other film which poses such a strangely ironic problem but still manages to both entertain with laughter and provide deep insight into the problems of today's world. I give Idiocracy my highest recommendation.

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