As the resident bearded Canadian on staff, I spend a lot of time examining and sometimes criticizing my fellow writers various governments (and hygiene), despite the fact that my own government (and hygiene) is probably just as bad, if not worse than those I attack with conspiracy theories and kindness (I am Canadian, after all). While most of our banter is good-humored and based off of a need to verbally attack each other, sometimes relevant facts do make it into the conversations.
Some of these relevant facts are usually discussed and related to using the films that feature some of the same issues governments of the world are dealing with every day, and it opened our eyes to the many different versions that evil governments take on film. With some recent public (and not so public) demonstrations against select governments of the world, it may be time to take a look (with some help from Kronner) at some of the films that feature the best ‘Evil’ Governments.
In the made-for-TV movie The Stand, the US government is responsible for the creation and eventual outbreak of the Captain Trips virus that devastates the country, leaving around 1% of the population alive. These survivors split into two camps and form distinctly separate forms of government; Boulder houses the ‘good’ democratic government, While Las Vegas is home to the ‘evil’ dictatorship. God and the Devil may have a hand in things as well, but that’s an article for another time.
“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there…and still on your feet.”
Enemy of the State
A recurring theme of the list is an increased loss of privacy due to enhanced surveillance methods. In this case, the invasive methods of the NSA. Their ability to bug, track, listen in, and completely invade the lives of anyone they choose is a scary concept that is based on a real-world fear of the same. While Will Smith and Gene Hackman successfully outwit the NSA (with some final help from the FBI) and manage to stop a privacy bill that would legalize even more surveillance techniques, the happy-ish ending comes knowing that while this battle is won, the war is still being waged.
“Oh, well there goes the Fourth Amendment… what’s left of it.”
Editors Note – Hackman’s character here so closely resembles an older version of Harry Caul, the character he played in 1974’s The Conversation, that some people consider this film an unofficial sequel to the Francis Ford Coppola classic. If you’ve not seen it, and you’re a fan of Enemy of the State, it’s worth a watch. Check it out, and you’ll be rewarded not only with a Pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford, but also with a Young Frankenstein-era (read: hot) Teri Garr to boot! – B. Kronner
Planet of the Apes
The forbidden zone! This is the perfect example of an oppressive government lying to its people…or apes rather. The orangutans who make up the controlling body of the ape civilization featured in the 1968 Charlton Heston classic know the truth about the evolution of their species and that their planet once belonged to we the people. They keep this secret by quarantining sections of the terrain that still contain relics of the human rule. They do this all to create a facade of lies, so they can more easily control their citizens and further endocrine them to the beliefs of the council. If the average ape was made to believe the humans were their equals, the whole corrupt government would start to crumble. – BK
“You damned dirty apes!”
What makes for a really scary government is how they can affect the little guy. In Eagle Eye, we see a manipulative game of Simon Says played out by a number of normal citizens, all at the command of an artificial intelligence that was clearly programmed by SkyNet and Hal 9000 known as ARIIA (Autonomous Reconnaissance Intelligence Integration Analyst). ARIIA showcased frightening ease in almost taking over the American government, which is itself pretty terrifying. Really, all that needed to be said was EVIL ROBOT GOVERNMENT, and it earns a place on the list.
“We are everywhere.”
Oh Stanley Kubrick, you really hit nail on the head with this one. One of the greatest political satires ever made, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, showed us the Cold War doomsday scenario that could have resulted in the end of life as we know. Now, these governments weren’t evil per say but showed us how government itself could get too big for its own good. If you haven’t seen it, this is the story of an unfortunate series of events, that put into place certain safeguards that take control of the government out of the hands of the people in charge, and effectively destroy us all. This was a commentary on the idea of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ and how fear mongering and hate of one another (the Americans and the Russians) could turn the lights out for everyone. And this was all the result of a couple of whack-jobs getting the ear of the frightened world leaders, which further exemplifies the ease and ridiculousness of our ultimate destruction. Can Kubrick do comedy or what!?!? – BK
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”
The Manchurian Candidate
This one combines a number of ‘evil’ elements from various governments, with Communist China being the most notable. Along with a few Communist believers secreted in the US government, the plot to brainwash American POW’s in order to assassinate members of the American political touches on a number of real fears the US had after the Korean War. This has been felt in the real world with conspiracies that believe brainwashing techniques were used on Sirhan Sirhan, who would famously assassinate Robert F. Kennedy.
“I’m sure you’ve all heard the old wives’ tale that no hypnotized subject may be forced to do that which is repellent to his moral nature, whatever that may be. Nonsense, of course.”
George Orwell’s tale of the totalitarian dystopian future features the population of Airstrip One (formerly the area known as England), led by the enigmatic Big Brother and kept in line by the Thought Police. The film successfully scared viewers with its frighteningly accurate prediction of the state of a government’s involvement with its society. Surveillance techniques, ‘mind control’, and the complete loss of individualism and privacy mark this government as not only evil but terrifyingly possible.
“Power is tearing human minds apart and putting them back together in new shapes of your own choosing.”
Battle Royale tells the story of Japan’s need for population control, as well as their affinity for strange forms of entertainment. What they do is trick a class of 9th-graders into a field trip, then gas the busload of them. When they awaken, they are all wearing collars reminiscent of the prison yard in The Running Man, and find themselves on an island. They are informed they will need to kill each other to survive, and the last man standing will receive a sweet vacation and stuff. It’s basically The Hunger Games for adults (and clearly where Suzanne Collins took the idea from). – BK
“The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…”
The Cabin in the Woods
While Cabin in the Woods may not exclusively feature a known government, the worldwide organization that controls the various rituals around the world is a great analog of a shadow government running everything from behind the curtain. This organized, rich, untouchable company has the world’s entire future in its hands, and manipulates, influences, and controls all kinds of citizenry to carry out its frightful and horrendous schemes. Sounds like a pretty terrifying government to me, especially considering who the real monsters of the film are.
“You’ve seen horrible things: an army of nightmare creatures. And they are real. But they are nothing compared to what lies beneath us. There is a greater good, and for that you must be sacrificed. Forgive us… and let us end it quickly.”
V for Vendetta
While the graphic novel does paint the totalitarian regime of the British government in a darker light than the film, V for Vendetta still delivers a frighteningly evil government that cares little for its citizens and fights to retain power at all costs. Civil liberties are a thing of the past, and the few heroes of the film who stand up against the government generally meet a tragic demise, until V manages to finally spur the citizens into action.
“Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?”
Oliver Stone’s brilliant film about the conspiracy behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy makes the list easily and points a finger at what is apparently the scariest of ‘evil governments’; the United States of America. Not only do we see a number of brilliant performances from the cast (no way your lip doesn’t quiver a little during Costner’s closing arguments), but the true mystery and questions left after one of the most tragic moments in American history will remain with you long after the film ends.
“Treason doth never prosper,” wrote an English poet, “What’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
The ultimate in evil governments comes from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The Empire ruled over the known universe after systematically wiping out the Jedi, defenders of the good and servants of the former Republic. Led by the Emperor, this evil dictatorship struck fear into the hearts of viewers everywhere and has remained a dark example of a government gone bad. Luckily this universe is not without its heroes and the Empire eventually fell to the Rebellion, though we’ve seen in later installments that the First Order rises again to continue the evil mandates started with the Empire.
“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times… before the Empire.”
Those are all definitely some frightening examples of evil governments, shady agencies, and manipulative political robots. What are some of your favorite evil governments from the film world? Sound off in the comments section below!
Images: Lucasfilm, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, Toei Company, 20th Century Fox, United Artists, Columbia Pictures, Dreamworks Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, ABC