These films do not have the recognizable esthetics of sci-fi, but they will show you the new possibilities of the genre.
If you had to write a science fiction story as fast as possible, what would be the first thing you’d think about? Where would you start? Probably a future where things seem to go well, but then it all goes terribly wrong. There would probably be some kind of drastic technological advance where humanity doesn’t know how to properly handle. Maybe there would be some robots with hidden intentions. Then you would add some space or time travel, and a bleak scenario where human greed and stupidity destroys the planet as we know it. What about aliens? It has to have aliens too, right?
We all know how science fiction is supposed to look like, but the genre has luckily expanded throughout the years, transcending its initial tropes. Its essence doesn’t lie in the clever technology or the special effects, but in characters’ possible reactions in front of situations that challenge what they previously considered normal or real. The next films, which do not have the recognizable esthetics of sci-fi, will show you the new possibilities of the genre.
The Lobster (2015)
One of the most interesting tropes of science fiction is definitely dystopia. Historically, sci-fi authors have been interested in analyzing society’s norms and dynamics through their stories. The particular purpose of these kinds of stories about oppressive societies is showing the effects they have on individual characters, their minds and their behavior, and how they deal with their situation: facing it, rebelling against it, or passively accepting it. An incredible film like The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, turns this subgenre around by adding the unusual tones of comedy with his dark sense of humor. In the beginning of the movie, the protagonist is asked what animal would he like to be turned into if he fails to fall in love with someone and have that love reciprocated in less than 45 days. Is the mysterious procedure that turns single people into animals what makes this a sci-fi movie? Not really. It’s the insightful exploration of society’s obsession with romantic love and monogamy through its hilarious exaggeration.
The One I Love (2014)
The first time I watched this movie, I had no idea what it was about. I generally avoid watching trailers because I want movies to surprise me from the beginning, and this one definitely did that. I just expected to see an unusual romantic comedy about a couple that’s desperate to save their marriage. But instead, I experienced a fascinating story about identity, and the conflicting versions of who we are and who we might be. I don’t want to spoil anything, but when a couple decides to take a therapeutic weekend retreat in a beautiful estate, they encounter a strange phenomenon that changes them abruptly. From beginning to end, the movie is tensely hilarious and baffling, and thanks to the expansion of reality’s limits that characterizes science fiction, it shows us what any other movie would be unable to show us about the dynamics of marriage.
Take Shelter (2011)
Don’t you think that Michael Shannon’s face is just the best face ever? He’s an incredible actor, and his big eyes perfectly transmit the internal struggles of a conflicted mind. If you don’t admire him yet, this unusual sci-fi film will change that. Traditional science fiction is frequently concerned with the aftereffects of apocalypse and catastrophe, but this movie is about the uneasy and dreadful feeling of its premonition. Curtis LaForche, played by Shannon, starts having strange, eerie, and disturbingly vivid dreams that warn him about the future: a looming storm that will destroy everything he loves. He’s nearly convinced that the destructive black clouds will come, but his family’s history of mental illness makes him doubt and examine his thoughts. After watching this film, you’ll know that science fiction doesn’t have to deal with an entire civilization to be totally epic.
If any screenwriter is able to use the possibilities of science fiction to explore the human mind in a more intimate way, it’s Charlie Kaufman. An inaccurate idea about science fiction is that it provides a cold and distant perspective, that it only deals with the broad problems of society and the perils of science. However, one of the main features of science fiction is that it works as a "social experiment" for us to understand our own humanity, and films like Anomalisa prove that point. This movie is about depression, loneliness, and longing. How does it feel like when we’re unable to connect with people? Like everyone’s the same? Like nobody truly communicates because they decide to hide their unique voice and individuality? This movie turns that feeling into something literal by giving every character, except the protagonist and the woman he suddenly falls in love with, the same voice. If you’ve ever felt something like that, this movie will hit a nerve.
Everyone has their personal definition of science fiction and what it’s supposed to do, but some of those definitions might exclude these movies from the category. Isn’t it ironic to restrict a genre that has the purpose of expanding limits and exploring new possibilities? Traditional science fiction is still awesome, but the genre will grow old if we don’t continue to reinvent it. Hopefully, movies like the ones on this list will inspire more of that.
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