The Movies Tell Us: In the Future We’re Doomed to Be Dumb

By  · Published on October 23rd, 2014

Twentieth Century Fox

The longtime attempt at making a movie out of Arthur Herzog’s “IQ 83” is finally seeing some real progress at Paramount, where Charlie Kaufman has been tapped for a full rewrite and Steve Carell has been cast in the lead. The premise of the sci-fi novel is rather simple: an outbreak of a virus that doesn’t wipe out the population, just lowers its IQ substantially. Firstly, this plot seems quite relevant to anyone frustrated with the idiocy of fear going around concerning Ebola when only one person in the US has died from the disease and only two others diagnosed as having contracted it here. Secondly, it just seems quite familiar to anyone who has enjoyed science fiction set in the future. It didn’t take very long for someone to comment on Deadline’s news posting with the obvious comparison that it sounds like Idiocracy.

As far as the parallel that both IQ 83 and Idiocracy are (or will be) movies focused on humanity getting dumber, and both have a satirical intention regarding the idea that we are already proving to be heading in that direction, that’s a foundational element they share. But there are plenty of other movies – many of them based on sci-fi books – that also involve a future that comes off as being collectively of a depreciated intelligence. This is particularly noteworthy now as we await Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and its apparent attention to be smart about the prospects of human progress in the years ahead. We’ll see. Some movies seem to be set in an advanced future only to be populated by characters who do the stupidest things, a la certain scientists in Prometheus.

Below are common or standout aspects of future-set sci-fi movies that indicate Hollywood expects a lowering of our species, intellectually.

We Won’t Read Books

This may sound like a given now that we now do a lot of reading on electronic devices rather than with paper-based items, but when we see the Eloi in The Time Machine neglecting libraries or the Firemen of Fahrenheit 451 destroy all literature the material isn’t the point. The simple-minded Eloi aren’t reading from tablets either – of course they’re not watching bad TV and playing video games on them either. As for the latter, maybe the next adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s story should rename it to whatever the burning point is for the metals and glass of an iPad to catch fire. In the 2072 of Equilibrium, culture is even worse off, destroying not just literature but also music and art, anything that makes people feel.

We Will Enjoy the Most Lowbrow Entertainment

It probably won’t ever come to Oscar-winning films being 90-minute shots of a butt, often farting, like in Idiocracy. Television, however, is sure to continue in the direction of stuff like Ow My Balls, also from that same movie, as well as the deadly or just plain violent competition entertainments of The Running Man, Deathrace 2000, Rollerball, The Hunger Games, etc. We could lump lowbrow events, too, such as in The Purge. There’s also the ethically questionable programming a la The Truman Show and the prediction in Back to the Future Part II that we will have lowered attention spans and need to watch multiple channels at once – or maybe that’s a positive sign of our future brains’ ability to multitask?

We Will Conform and Follow Without Question

A staple of dystopian sci-fi in general, in literature it’s an imaginable yet less fully illustrated idea than in the movies. You can see just how mindless the population is in the visible extras on screen moving about in that idea. The blank, uncaring faces on the people in anything from Metropolis to The Time Machine to Logan’s Run to 1984 to Equilibrium are more comprehensible to an audience than is a novel where we accept these sheep as described, in our brain. The scene in Brazil where everyone is unbothered by terrorist attacks and the whole concept of The Matrix and that even some conscious of the situation are okay just enjoying the steak are among the more interesting extreme displays of stupidity. Fortunately for the people in these movies at least one person out of millions or billions turns out to be smart enough to question, confront and lead against the ruling system.

We Will Eat the Worst Food

In spite of all the documentaries on how we should be eating better, the future of food and diet is probably not health-positive, unfortunately. We are very likely to wind up looking like the lazy, blob people of Wall-E. And maybe that’s because, the movies tell us, we are going to allow fast food to dominate the field of options even more. In Demolition Man, all restaurants are Taco Bell. In Idiocracy, everyone orders “Extra Big Ass” size fries and tacos while natural crops don’t grow because we don’t get that plants need water. The dumbest bad food idea, though, might be anything involving cannibalism, i.e. Soylent Green. Eating other humans is not only immoral, but it’s also likely to give us brain-damaging disease, especially in the quantity consumed if it were our only food available.

We Won’t Have Sex

If there is anything most evident of a society without intelligence, it’s not a lack of appreciation of the arts, improper diet, uniform conformity or poor entertainment tastes. It’s a disinterest in or a ban on sexual intercourse (aka “liquid exchange”), the most natural and wonderful thing we have as humans. Sure, we can “intelligently” procreate without the physical act, and sure we can even have orgasms without it, as per the machines in Sleeper and Demolition Man, but carnal pleasure is the smartest way to stay in tune with our animal side, to keep us from simply becoming fleshy robots. And that just leads to us not caring for our souls or bodies and stupidly staying on track for the other four situations on this list.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.