Robocop (1987, directed by Paul Verhoeven)
As a kid, I thought movies like Robocop and Total Recall were cool for the special effects. As an adult, I’ve learned how subversive the pictures were on so many levels. There’s the over plot about OCP and its take over of the Detroit PD turning them into a private army. But there are some more nuanced points being presented in the film. Robocop represents the changes in industrialization. Once you have humans doing jobs like building cars in factories. Now robots do them more efficiently and at a faster pace. Robocop’s existence is a threat to the human police. However, he is also prophetic in his representation of the police’s militarization, and his counterpart ED-209 shows how this goes even more extreme. The world of Verhoeven’s future Detroit is chock full of commercials that represent different ideas that were present in 1980s America. There’s an advertisement for Nukem, a family board game where everyone engages in playing a nuclear war scenario and has a blast. The energy of these spots is so manic that it reflects the anxiety that comes with mass consumerism and a society moving inhumanely fast.
Fight Club (1999, directed by David Fincher)
Fight Club is an overrated movie. I was right in the wheelhouse of the typical Fight Club dude. I was 18 when the film came out, a freshman in college. I definitely gave way too much praise to the picture. If you want to see Fincher’s best film, check out Zodiac. However, Fight Club is all about the emptiness of living life as a perpetual consumer. The unnamed main character drones on about the stuff he owns, and this ultimately gets cast aside for a grimy alternative lifestyle. The problem though, is that the people who are drawn to him and the svengali Tyler Durden become just another subset of the consumer class. What they do as part of Project Mayhem is without real thought or meaning. It is pure reaction without contemplation. Fight Club is ultimately a nihilistic film about tearing the system down but not having anywhere to go after the fact.
American Psycho (2000, directed by Mary Harron)
Patrick Bateman may be the most shallow protagonist I’ve ever seen in a film; that is what makes him both terrifying and hilarious. There is a constant drive to show-up his peers in clothing, business cards, and the ability to order food at overpriced restaurants. People literally cannot tell the difference between others because they have bought into a lifestyle that makes them completely homogenous. Batemen is mistaken for the wrong man throughout the picture, which gives him an advantage when he gives in to his homicidal impulses. For how similar he is to everyone else, there is a deep rot inside of Bateman that he tries to hide, but eventually, it gets exposed. The big question at the end of the film is if he’s any different from the other shallow people in his life.
Spring Breakers (2012, directed by Harmony Korine)
If you are annoyed by this movie, then it has done its job. Harmony Korine composed a college girls crime film oversoaked in neon at night and blasted sunlight in the day. Everything the quartet of bikini-clad young women does is centered around consumption. They drink, smoke weed, snort coke, but are continually bored. They dance, have sex, and even put on ski masks and rob drug dealers, but still ennui sets in. They befriend a grotesque white boy rapper, Alien, who brings them to his pad and talks about all the stuff he has, and they giggle in glee. Life has become emotionally distant for these women, and the crimes they commit don’t feel like they happen to them; it’s like a video game one girl says. Eventually, they terrifying Alien with their actions, forcing him to fellate the barrel of a handgun. Life is unreal to them, and therefore consequences feel imaginary.
Okja (2017, directed by Bong Joon-Ho)
Before making the brilliant Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho made this Netflix original film about the meat industry. An American corporation genetically engineers a hippo-pig that is meant to solve all the world’s meat problems. The animals are sent off to be raised around the world, and one ends up in the care of Mija and her grandfather in South Korea. When the day comes to take Okja back to the States for butchering, Mija fights to save her friend. She joins up with an animal rights group and makes her away across the world. Okja is such a powerful film even though it’s fantastic, over the top presentation. My wife actually became a vegetarian as a result of watching this movie. You will definitely walk away, asking lots of questions about how your meat is produced and whether it is right for humans to allow factory farming. Plus, Bong is such a master director; he puts so many brilliant shots and easter eggs into the film. Keep an eye out for the recreation of the Obama Administration photo from the night they killed Osama bin Laden.
Sorry To Bother You (2018, directed by Boots Riley)
Cassius Green is elated when he gets a job as a telemarketer for RegalView. He has some trouble, though, while trying to sell leatherbound books of nonsense nobody needs. An older coworker explains that Cassius needs to use his “white voice,” that voice white people think they are supposed to sound like; that voice with an air of relaxation and no worries. Suddenly Cassius becomes a power caller rocketing to a significant promotion. Meanwhile, his friends and fellow telemarketers fight to form a union and demand better pay. Cassius begins selling contracts for WorryFree, a program that offers struggling families help with “lifetime labor contracts,” essentially slavery. As Cassius climbs higher and higher, he comes in contact with dangerously influential figures and learns the dark secrets planned for humanity.