Y2k. No one born after 1991 will have any concept of what the new millennium meant. It was the threshold of science fiction, when the 20th Century’s struggle against humanity’s social injustices would be overshadowed by new technological marvels. We’d be entering another steam age, though on the nanoscopic scale. Promised to us were interstellar travel, instant teleportation, fully-articulated artificial limbs, and pocket-sized Pizza Hut pizzas that could be enlarged in seconds. But before we could reach another Edwardian era, we’d have to wait and see if the world would end on the stroke of midnight, January 1st, 2000.
No one film captures the vestiges of 20th-Century social strife, the ushering in of rapidly developing, ubiquitous, and wireless technology, and the paranoia inherent of that night we said goodbye to the 1900s greater than Kathryn Bigelow’s direction of James Cameron’s script Strange Days. And though it is connected to a specific date now twelve years outmoded, it remains far more prescient and current than people give it credit for.
The millennium has come and gone, and my children will not know the significance of this date, but were they born today, they’d be part of a world that remains one step away from the militia-patrolled streets of Los Angeles in Strange Days. Cameron and co-writer Jay Cocks steered clear of the histrionic dystopias common in current pop culture, dour stories of omnipotent, faceless autocracies that have robbed its people of all freedoms. Instead, they created a more digestible and mature view of the coming years (4 at the time of release) where we are the only ones to blame for the way the world has become. We are Lenny Nero, good-hearted but turning a blind eye to the wrongs around us.
As Lenny drives from his opening meeting with Tick to his next score, a call-in to a local radio station sounds eerily similar to the rantings on any AM conservative show. “…gas near $5 a gallon… kids shooting each other at school…” In 2008, when gas was at its historical highest, I stared at the pump, wide-eyed as to how much it would cost to fill my car. And though Strange Days preceded Columbine by 4 years, we asked ourselves “how much worse can it get?” as we watched the events unfold on CNN. Less than a month ago, as reports came in that twenty first graders were slain as they sat at their desks, we asked ourselves again, “how much worse can it get?” As horrors such as these unfold, we can’t even begin to imagine how horrific the next one will be.
Cameron and Cocks display their shrewdness in the calculations they make of what the nation would look like in 4 years. They don’t make Regan-era fantasy predictions of dictatorial governments. They move the ball slightly downfield, just enough that, 17 years after its release, we can see the future from where we sit, thankful that it costs $60 to fill our cars instead of $100.
- Joshua Clarke