Most of us love a great science fiction movie. We can sit in the cinema for 2 hours and totally forget about the reality that awaits us outside. For these two hours, we are in a world of the unbelievable & unimaginable.
As exhilarating as these films are, even more exciting is thinking of the possibility that anything we are seeing could potentially be real. Flying cars, light sabres, and aliens bursting from characters stomachs have kept us on the edge of our seats for decades and are inarguably slightly far fetched. But what about those sci-fi flicks that stay relatively close to the possible? For some films, the answer to the “what if this was real?” remains: It could be.
Here is a look at ten films that dance along the line between science fiction and science fact:
1. Metropolis (1927)
Metropolis is a 1927 silent film directed by Fritz Lang and is set in 2026. Unlike many other films of it’s time, Metropolis has not been forgotten, but has become more and more relevant. Artists like Beyonce and Janellle Monáe have made reference to the film and it is often referred to as one of the very few science fiction films that accurately predicted the future.
So what is it about Metropolis that blurs the lines between fact and fantasy? The movie depicts a new world order: the elite live in high rise buildings and are often referred to as the “thinkers”. The workers live as cogs in a machine: they live and work underground and are sheep: they have no free thought but their only purpose is to work until they are fed to the machine. The machine they operate ensures that the thinkers can survive: these two entities feed one another. All of this is owned by one man who is seen as the ‘creator of the Metropolis’.
This metaphor for our current society may be a little on the extreme side, but it has often been highlighted as a frighteningly obvious premonition about the rise of the 1% over the 99% who work to their deaths for very little reward. At one point one of our protagonists, Maria, notes “one man’s hymns of praise became the other man’s curse”. Of course this could refer directly to a holy war, but also speaks volumes about the sacrifices that the lower class cultures and nations of today make for their wealthy and powerful counterparts.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released one year before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The film follows a voyage to Jupiter to investigate an unidentified black monolith which is having dire affect on humans. The spacecraft is operated by HAL, a computer system capable of communicating with the astronauts on best practices through the journey. 2001: A Space Odyssey has often been called one of the most culturally significant films ever made, and made some startling predictions about the future of interplanetary travel.
One of the most important is the world in which the story is set. Space Tourism is commonplace. The US has an outpost on the moon and a space station which orbits Earth serves as a layover station. While we do not currently engage in Space Tourism, it certainly is coming. Perhaps the most publicly known and notable pioneer in this industry is Richard Branson, whose company Virgin Galactic has sold tickets to the moon for an undisclosed (and still to be decided) date. Perhaps before moon landings happen, though, one can pay $200,000 for a trip into space.
Interplanetary tourism was not the only thing that Kubrick accurately portrayed. After the release of the film, astronauts and scientists remarked on how close to life the spacecraft technology was. Having characters in a cryogenic hibernation during the trip was an under explored technology at the time, and the character of HAL not only realizes advanced robotic technology, but it has been revered as inspiring many modern day techs too! Think of Apple’s Siri as a prime example!
3. Gattaca (1997)
Andrew Niccol’s 1997 film Gattaca explores a number of technologies which are only just coming into use today. This film details a future society where children are conceived through genetic manipulation and parents can handpick the features, talents, and personality traits of their potential children.
The film is widely cited and used in studies of ethics and morality and has been subject to quite bit of debate about whether using genetic manipulation for selecting certain features or genders is right. While genetic enhancement is not currently available for household use there have certainly been trends that elude to this technology being available in the future: the advancements in in-vitro technology have allowed parents to fundamentally ‘shop for a child’; picking out the genetic characteristics of a person which could positively alter their child’s life.
When choosing an embryo for implantation through in-vitro, geneticists can actually see everything within that embryo that could cause a potential problem: from a propensity to certain cancers, to a susceptibility to asthma or even debilitating diseases such as Huntington’s disease which is passed down genetically.
While these technologies are not at the level demonstrated within Gattaca just yet, the alarming rate at which they’re growing and developing leaves no shadow of a doubt that the technology will be available to us in the near future. What this means for society ethically is still up for debate.
4. The Matrix (1999)
Written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers, The Matrix is hailed as one of science fiction’s greatest achievements and the film grossed over $450 million worldwide. It spawned two sequels, video games & comic books and sits on the shelves of most movie lovers. But what is it about The Matrix that is so real? How does this cleverly crafted dystopian fantasy blend into reality?
The Matrix paints a picture of a future where humans are living in a simulated reality: what they are seeing and experiencing isn’t real. Their reality is that they are used as an energy source to power the world. Virtual reality is one of the most talked about technologies of the last two years and major tech companies such as Google have been very quick to try and cash in on the trend. Oculus Rift is something that immediately comes to mind when re-watching The Matrix.
Michael Abrash is the Chief Programmer for Oculus Rift, and he actually made tribute to The Matrix when speaking about the technology. He quoted one of the main characters Morpheus by saying: “If you are talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
Most likely this virtual reality will be used for menial activities such as learning to drive or incident simulations however it is exciting nonetheless.
5. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
Thinking about Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, one might wonder how Charlie Kaufman could manage to write this story instead of actually wondering “how could this be real ?” The fact behind the fiction is that it probably could be real and it could be real within our lifetime. The film tells the story of a couple who after a bad break up decide to erase one another from their memories. The movie not only examines the effects of ending a relationship on someone emotionally but it also looks at the nature of memory and how it can serve to alter our perception of romantic love.
There has been a lot of research done on the potential of memory erasure being a very real technology. The reason for this is that it could be used to treat people that suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse. Within the last 24 months particularly there have been a number of studies that have shown that altering a person’s perception of the way that they feel when using a particular substance can alter their dependence on that substance.
Memory erasure has been tested and is showing to be possible through using drug induced amnesia, selective memory suppression, and introduction of memory. Of course the potential use this technology has elicited many ethical questions and the technology itself is considered to be very underdeveloped. Having said this the ability to manipulate, re-create, or even erase memory is very real and its medical application could exist in a very mainstream way within a matter of 20 to 30 years.