Netflix if famous for the plethora of sub-categories it assigns to movies and TV shows. It reminds me of the “Friends” episode where Joey and Chandler are squaring off against Monica and Rachel, answering trivia questions about the other pair as part of a bet. One of the questions Ross asks of the guys is how many categories of towels Monica has, the answer being seven, including “guest,” “fancy guest” and others.
Based on a few of its recent original films it seems Netflix not only has a “Earth is running out of resources” sub-category but it’s trying to corner the market on that particular story.
In Whatever Happened to Monday? strict rules have been put in place restricting families from having more than one child. Any additional siblings are taken away to be put into deep cryo-sleep (but not really), saved for a day when the food crisis has been alleviated. The drama centers around a group of septuplets (all played by Rooney Mara) who swap in and out of one identity each day and who wind up taking the whole system down.
In The Cloverfield Paradox a group of scientists has been sent into space to search for “the God particle,” a new element that would provide endless clean energy for the entire planet. Such a tool is necessary because natural resources have been depleted to the point of warfare over what remains. That scientific quest is successful but has the unfortunate side effect – predicted by a conspiracy theorist – of tearing open the fabric of the universe and unleashing all manner of monsters on Earth.
In The Titan, Sam Worthington plays a soldier who volunteers to participate in an experimental program designed to change him and others into something more than human, a forced evolution necessary if humanity is going to colonize other planets. That exodus and expansion is necessary because we’ve used up Earth and need to find other homes.
These certainly aren’t the first films to explore the idea that great societal upheaval will result from Earth being uninhabitable because of climate change, war or lack of food and other natural resources. Wall-E, The Omega Man, Downsizing and a number of others have all tackled with those issues in some manner. Even “Firefly” and its cinematic continuation Serenity are based on the premise that colonization is necessary because Earth “got all used up.”
This seems to be a consistent theme for the kind of mid-grade sci-fi Netflix is using to bolster its lineup of original genre films. The pace of such films, both on Netflix and in theaters, seems to have picked up recently because…well…we’re more and more aware of the impact climate change is having and will have on our environment and resources. Art reflects society, after all, and we’re having an awful lot of real-world conversations about climate refugees, warming oceans, non-fossil fuel energy sources and other topics. It’s on a lot of people’s minds, so it’s natural we’re seeing more movies tackle it.
More interesting is that very few of these stories wind up turning out well. Not that the movies aren’t good, but happy endings are few and far between. Wall-E is the exception, but even there the Earth isn’t repaired through the hard work of human beings. We just leave long enough not to make the damage worse and come back when the planet has already begun its own healing process. Monday tries to sell its ending as “happy” but it’s hard to shake the reality that while the remaining sisters did indeed expose the terrible things the government was doing it also simply reintroduced the problem of a population that can’t be supported by the available resources.
That betrays a cynical point of view about how the real world situation is going to turn out. Basically, no one is looking at the problems facing humanity and thinking “Yeah, we’ll be fine.” Instead the nearly universal mindset seems to be “One way or the other we’re screwed.” Maybe that’s because filmmakers are looking at the actions of politicians and corporations and seeing a complete unwillingness to address any of the pressing issues, sometimes even reversing the corrective actions taken by others in the name of profits.
Contrast that with the kinds of films that are being adapted from young adult novels and other stories. The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent and other stories may take place in futuristic dystopian societies ruled over by oppressive and manipulative regimes, but the stories usually involve optimistic members of the population – usually teens and young adults – fighting back and trying to fix things.
Maybe the lesson here is that it’s easier to imagine kids saving us than adults, that the future of humanity relies on idealistic youth and not cynical, desperate grownups. Maybe it’s that right now we’re just not seeing the light at the end of this particular tunnel and need to vent a bit before a solution is arrived at.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.