Idiocracy

D. Mike Judge, 2006

Screenwriters Judge and Etan Cohen offer us a satire on the egotism, consumerism, and dumbing down of American society while their clever writing, with occasional brilliant moments and a good grasp of psychology throughout, elevates the movie into a thoughtful social statement.

The conceit that drives the film is very simple, and quickly established by a voiceover. It is so safe to be dumb in our society that rapidly breeding fools ("with no natural predators to thin the herd") vastly outnumber the more intelligent, who, for various (falsely prudential) reasons put off or avoid reproducing. The result, by A.D. 2505, when the main events of the film take place, is a society so dumbed down that, for example, standard English is scarcely understood by the common people who speak "a hybrid of hillbilly, valley girl, inner-city slang and various grunts".

An evolving 'Fuddruckers' restaurant sign sketches the linguistic and, by extension, intellectual breakdown of society. Already a thinly-veiled spoonerism, we see it morph behind the establishing voiceover through stops along the way such as 'Ruddfuckers' until we end up with a 2505 'Buttfuckers' storefront. The change is funny to watch, but sobering when one considers that 'Fuddruckers' already fails pretty badly to be sly (or funny).

To get the film, you must understand that the idea of diminishing IQ and the suspended animation pods which take the protagonists into the future are merely devices to put an everyman into the position of being an observer of the society Judge and Cohen posit; a close analogy could be drawn with a more famous satire, Gulliver's Travels. The audience can sympathize with an average Joe (literally: the protagonist's name is Joe Bauer), and the satire is the sharper for the fact that we watch the film through both our eyes and Joe's. The future in the film, taken at face value, is unrealistic and could never be remotely plausible; it is merely a pastiche of various subadult trends in our society taken to absurd extremes. The fun lies in seeing the writers' minds at work and identifying the elements of our society under attack.

This is the essence of satire, and must be borne in mind. Otherwise we will perhaps be apt to mistakenly interpret the presence of (e.g.) fat people in the movie as a slur. What Judge and Cohen are doing in this instance (and it's obvious once you look closely at the film) is to critique the giant portions of lousy fast foods we Americans increasingly eat. The various living quarters depicted in the film are filled with giant buckets of what is clearly really bad processed food (watch Frito eating, and see the tubs behind Joe in the White House).

In fact, I am tempted to say that the main theme of the movie is a satirical exploration of the process of our surrender to our appetitive instincts. What do we want, and how do we get it? How can we get those things more easily? The answer is that we want food and sex (and shelter, though that is not addressed in the film), and, once we have those, we want things like entertainment. You can obtain these things with some panache, using effort, individuality, and cleverness; or you can get them cheaply mass produced and delivered according to the economies of scale. You can also mix your pleasures (hence the special offerings at Starbucks and H&R Block).

In the film, for example, the vast tubs of food, and 'EXTRA BIG ASS FRIES' from Carl's Jr. (with 'monster monster monster trucks trucks trucks' intonation) quickly suggest the future extremes of supersizing food portions, and the very funny scenes at the Costco, which is the size of a small city, carry the logic of the economies of scale further. It's just like a current Costco (or Walmart or Sam's or Price Club) but carried to extremes. When I first watched the movie I was so busy following the plot that I missed the fact that the Costco has a football-field-sized furniture section with hundreds of couches on display. They're all red. The building is so large that it is scarcely bothered by an airliner that has crashed into it. The greeter at the door goes Walmart one further by saying 'Welcome to Costco. I love you' to all who enter.

My favorite joke is an extended parody of the Cops tv show. On the principle that anything introduced in the first minutes of a film will be important later, we're given warning in the first scene when Joe, still in the present, is surreptitiously watching it while working. Cops is an example of the worse sort of entertainment in our society, focusing as it does on dumb people getting themselves into trouble. Also notable is the way in which some policemen fall into euphemistic officialese when on camera. Judge and Cohen pick up on this. For example, all the police in the film amusingly use the phrase 'particular individual' (used ironically in Cops) as a technical term meaning 'criminal' or 'suspect', and the prison is called the 'home for particular individuals'.

The President is named Dwayne Elizondro Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. There is the obvious joke in this of the 'product placement' (as it were) of 'Mountain Dew', but I also see subtle irony in implicitly comparing the professional wrestler and ex-porn star Camacho with the patrician George Herbert Walker Bush. Little touches such as the light board display (as in a baseball stadium or Times Square) in the 'House of Representin'' abound, and hillbilly judge Hank "the hangman" BMW is quite funny as well.

I read on IMDB that Fox did a bad job of publicizing the movie, perhaps on the grounds that they thought it would fail after test screenings. As with all satire, there is some danger of it being taken seriously and literally, and the potential for offense in that, coupled with a plot line irrelevant to the movie's message, probably predisposed some people not to like the film. I recommend it as a very clever, occasionally brilliant satire.

I am informed that Idiocracy owes the basic plot devices of overbreeding fools and suspended animation to the 1951 C.M. Kornbluth short story 'The Marching Morons'. The Kornbluth story posited a hyperintelligent elite who were hanging on by their fingernails trying to manage society, while the man from the past, a con-man, cynically engineers the fools' mass destruction; in Idiocracy, satire of contemporary society is the real point of the film, no one in the whole world is supposed to be intelligent in the future, and the man from the past is a positive character who takes modest steps to improve the world. See the Wikipedia article for details, and The Marching Morons node for commentary.


Bibliography
IMDB
Wikipedia (A typically earnest effort which overlooks what's important about the movie.)
Rotten Tomatoes

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.