Forget the popularized dystopian worlds in recent cinema. Instead, imagine one in which authors attend the same dystopian-fiction writing convention. This isn’t difficult to believe when you analyze this phenomena of dystopian films and filter out the similarities. As if a writing template was copied and pasted across the board, not only are said films like “Insurgent,” “The Maze Runner” (2014) and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013) comparable in theme, they also parallel in plot twist – like, on a molecular level.
If you haven’t seen any of the aforementioned films and plan to (which I highly discourage), beware – the following contains major spoilers.
In the grand finale – if we can call it that – of “Insurgent,” Tris Prior unlocks the mysterious box found in her parents’ home by completing a series of “Inception”-esque missions. The box suddenly displays a holographic message from a woman detailing the truth behind the factions, the surrounding walls and the divergents. The message – everything they know is wrong.
Audiences are expected to fall off the edge of their seat as they realize there is a community outside of the faction walls, previously assumed to be nonexistent. The entire faction thing was an experiment to filter out the divergents, who are supposed to be the apparent saviors for something ambiguous happening outside the mysterious walls.
Okay, back it up a year. Now let’s peek at the ending of “The Maze Runner.” If you remember, a small group of boys finally escape, only to realize they were planted in the maze as an experiment to filter out young men (and a single woman) who could potentially save the world from another ambiguous threat outside their walls.
Rewind one more time to the end of the “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” where Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, rawr) discovers District 13 exists. They plan to save the world by uniting the districts of Panem and stopping the evil forces of the Capitol. And they want Everdeen, survivor of the Hunger Games, to help them do it.
You see where I’m going.
Innovation in film has seen its dry spells. Take 2011, for example, where many of the top grossing films were either sequels or remakes. Even 2014 barely made it out alive with some pioneering titles. But what we’re seeing now is a clear indication that the film industry is recycling old ideas.
This leads me to the No Original Thought Theory (NOTT) which suggests every possible and conceivable thought has already been thought. Even this article couldn’t be considered original, given its subject matter has been discussed before. In the words of Mark Twain:
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
Take a look at how classic films like “Psycho” (1960) and “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) have impacted modern film. We can even see an influence from current directors like Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder. Ever since “Batman Begins,” (2005) DC films have explored darker universes.
This recurring concept of influence can also be observed elsewhere in the art world. Country music, anyone? Nostalgia, trucks, cowboys, honky tonkin’, Jesus — all repetitive subject matter. A more popular and historic example is Édouard Manet’s painting “Olympia” (1867) which shares a clear resemblance to Tiziano Vecelli’s “Venus of Urbino” (1538). It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Maybe this all has to do with our natural inclination to the familiar.
NOTT thus seems to be fundamentally built on the imitative behavior theory, the idea that humans (especially children) mimic the performance of others. Through this social development, humans develop communal cognition. This learning directly impacts culture and traditions, as exemplified through different means of art.
It would be unfair, however, to deem these works plagiaristic, especially considering so many renowned artists and film directors have done likewise. While we may never see an original film hit theater again, despair not! It’s not entirely about originality. It’s also about presentation.
Think about it — the English alphabet consists of only 26 letters and 14 punctuation marks. I could scribble every character onto a finger. But rearrange the letters, and we have a dictionary. Organize the words and we have a story. Reimagine the story and its themes, and we have innovation. That’s how we are able to to consistently enjoy films like “Noah” (2014) and “The Artist” (2011). Just look at how many times Cinderella’s story was retold in film history — “The Glass Slipper” (1955), “Cinderfella” (1960), “Another Cinderella Story” (2008) and Disney’s latest release “Cinderella” (2015).
Old ideas, (sometimes only slightly) new perspective.
I truly believe everything that can be conceptualized has been. Not a single idea has gone unthought. But twist the kaleidoscope a few degrees, and we can certainly experience an exciting approach on the matter.
Was “Insurgent” a bad film? Absolutely. Horrible, considering its exhausted theme and poor execution of innovative presentation. Disappointingly, the film follows a formulaic and clichéd approach. But what if it was the first of its kind? What if on a timeline of events it preceded “The Hunger Games” or any other film that popularized the unsurpassable usage of platitudes the film showcased? Who knows? Unfortunately, as it stands, “Insurgent” cripples under the weight of phenomenal stories that entered the scene a long time ago.
Christian Herrera is the Arts and Entertainment editor of The Huntingtonian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.