Metropolis | Things To Come | The Time Machine | 2001 A Space Odyssey | Blade Runner | The Matrix

This section features summaries that I have written of influential science fiction movies and a brief exploration of their central themes.


Released in 1927, the movie Metropolis was directed by Fritz Lang and takes place in a dystopian future urban society. While the ruling class live in comfort above ground, within modernist high rise buildings, the working class endure oppressive lives beneath them. Freder, the son of the cities oppressive ruler, meets a young woman named Maria, who calls for better conditions for the workers. Spending time among the working class, Freder witnesses the harsh conditions under which they live, but he is inspired by Maria’s hope that people can come together for the greater good. A scientist creates a robot in the image of Maria, in an attempt to mislead the workers and cause a violent uprising. However Freder and the real Maria find a peaceful resolution, bringing together the two sides, representing the hope for a better future.

Influenced by the consequences of the Industrial Revolution, Metropolis explores themes such as dehumanisation, contrasting the lives of the working class with the wealthier ruling classes. The movie reflects concerns related to automation, human identity, justice, ethics and the human condition, which remain relevant today. A remarkable product of early cinema, the movies depiction of a possible future society influenced film makers in general and science fiction in particular during subsequent decades. The special effects and visuals used to tell the story have been cited by directors including George Lucas and Ridley Scott as having influenced their work. Social, cultural, psychological and philosophical ideas within the movie still resonate with modern audiences, as the world today struggles with many of the same issues.

Things To Come

The 1936 movie Things To Come was based on the novel The Shape of Things to Come, written by H.G. Wells. The events depicted take place between 1940 and 2036 and the story opens in a city called Everytown, at the beginning of a decades long global war. The world descends into violence and destruction, that leads to the collapse of civilisation, made worse by the emergence of a plague. In the year 1970 a warlord rules over Everytown, but he is removed from power by Wings Over the World, a global organisation that ushers in a period of peace and progress. The story moves forward to the year 2026. The city of Everytown has become a technology driven utopia. While some people question the impact of technology upon humanity, others look to the stars. The movie ends with a rocket being launched to the moon.

The movie explores the chaos caused by war and the role of science and rational thought in rebuilding civilisation. This reflects the optimism found among many people during the early twentieth century that science, technology and rational policies could raise humanity out of ignorance and brutality. Concepts explored in Things To Come and its vision of the future have influenced generations of film makers. Themes such as global action to deal with global challenges and the contrast of techno optimists with more cautious voices are reflected in the discussions which continue to this day. Although the product of a society that was yet to experience the devastation of world war two, or rapid changes that followed, the ideals and values explored still resonate with modern audiences.

The Time Machine

Based upon a novel written by H.G. Wells, the movie The Time Machine was released in 1960. The story begins in Victorian era England. An inventor named George has built a time machine, which he uses to travel into the future. Initially travelling ahead by a few decades, he sees changing fashions and technology, but then moving further into the future the destruction caused by nuclear war. George then travels hundreds of thousands of years into the future, where he finds the gentle and passive Eloi, who live above ground. They are preyed upon by the violent Morlocks, who live beneath the ground. After helping the Eloi to rise up against the Morlocks, George returns to his own time, but then returns to the future to continue helping the Eloi.

Themes explored within The Time Machine include curiosity about the future, the drive to learn, understand and progress, along with the survival instinct. The Eloi and the Morlocks reflect aspects of human nature, which can be peaceful or violent, civilised or primal. The movie was filmed during the period of the Cold War, when people feared the consequences of nuclear war. It also reflects both the optimism and pessimism surrounding advanced in science and technology, which could bring great benefits, but also brought with it many dangers. The use of time travel as a device within books and movies remains popular in science fiction. Concepts within the narrative of The Time Machine, such as the human response to change, the impact of our decisions upon future generations and the rise and fall of civilisations still resonate with modern audiences.

2001 A Space Odyssey

The screenplay for the 1968 movie 2001 A Space Odyssey was written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, who directed the movie. Clarke also wrote the novel, which made clearer some of the concepts in the movie. The narrative is in four parts. It begins with hominid ancestors of modern humans encountering a monolith, that appears to advance their evolution. The story moves to the year 2001. Humans find a monolith on the moon, which transmits a signal to planet Jupiter. A spaceship is sent to Jupiter, carrying a human crew and an artificial intelligence HAL 9000, which following a malfunction tries to eliminate the crew, in an attempt to prevent them removing its control over the ship. Near Jupiter, the surviving crew member encounters a monolith and he appears to be transported through space and time, evolving into a more advanced form of human being.

The movie and the novel have influenced many science fiction writers and film makers, particularly due to its visual effects. They have also inspired real world scientists, engineers and philosophers. Among themes explored in the movie are causes of human evolution, potential benefits and risks of artificial intelligence, human curiosity and the drive to explore. The movie prompts discussion of the nature of consciousness and the meaning and purpose of life, within a universe that appears to be indifferent to our existence. Science and technology depicted within 2001 A Space Odyssey, reflects Kubrick’s commitment to grounding the narrative within a believable reality. The movie was released the year before the first lunar landing, at a time when there was considerable world interest in space exploration and a belief that humans would soon begin establishing colonies on the moon and elsewhere in our solar system.

Blade Runner

Directed by Ridley Scott and released in 1982, Blade Runner is based upon the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, written by Philip K. Dick. The movie is set in a dystopian version of Los Angeles, in the year 2019. The visual style of Blade Runner has influenced many writers, artists, designers and film makers. The central character Rick Deckard is a blade runner, required to locate and eliminate escaped artificially engineered humans, called replicants. Deckard begins to find and kill the replicants, who are seeking freedom and to increase their limited lifespan. Deckard meets and begins to form a relationship with a woman called Rachel, who he learns is a more advanced replicant, who believes she is human. Deckard confronts Roy Batty, last of the replicants he was hunting, who allows Deckard to live and expresses his own thoughts on life and death, before he dies.

Themes central to Blade Runner’s narrative resonated with audiences during the nineteen eighties and continue to be relevant today. Fake memories implanted within the mind of each replicant form the foundation of their sense of identity, raising questions around identity, meaning and purpose. Emotions expressed by the replicants, force us to consider the morality of how we might treat artificially intelligent machines. The polluted city in which Blade Runner is set reflects contemporary concerns about the environment and the existence of off world colonies parallels current ambitions to make humans an interplanetary species. The movie infers that Deckard might be a replicant, leaving audiences to consider the nature of human consciousness and how we might co-exist with self-aware machines. Recent advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are making such questions increasingly relevant, as we might soon be forced to answer them in the real world.

The Matrix

The Matrix was released in cinemas in 1999. The movie begins with computer programmer Thomas Anderson, who uses the alias Neo, learning that the world is not what he thought it was. Morpheus offers Neo the choice to take a pill that will allow him to continue living in an illusion, or a pill that will reveal reality. Neo chooses the latter and wakes up in a pod, surrounded by other humans in pods. Neo escapes and meets other humans, including a woman named Trinity. He learns he was living within a virtual world called the matrix, created by machines that use humans as an energy source. Neo is believed to be the one destined to free humanity. After being trained he learns to control reality within the matrix. Neo and his crew are pursued by computer agents, led by Agent Smith, but Neo fulfils his potential and defeats them.

The visual effects, style and narrative within the Matrix have influenced writers, artists, designers, film makers and games developers. Terminology used in the movie have entered into the cultural mainstream. The dystopian reality outside the Matrix, reflects concerns about the environment that remain relevant, as do issues related to the Internet, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Themes in the movie challenge ideas about the perception of reality, whether people would prefer to live within a grim reality or a pleasant simulation and consequences of the decisions they make. Consciousness, free will and the nature of reality are of growing concern, in a world of rapidly changing technology, where many people exist in an increasingly virtual reality and we confront an uncertain future. Neo takes the more difficult path, reflecting the heroes journey, in which he acquires knowledge and skills, overcomes challenges and forms good alliances, leading to enlightenment and freedom.