The end of WWII drastically changed the lifestyles of American people. After witnessing the new advances in machines, weaponry and transportation, people were simultaneously fascinated and horrified by new technologies. Aerodynamic trains and cars, sleek and modern appliances all designed to quench the thirst for new invention. But where would all this power of innovation lead?
In the 1950s, the science fiction genre of film and literature took a closer look at the rapidly evolving areas of invention, exploration and technology. "[Sci-fi films] often portray the dangerous and sinister nature of knowledge and vital issues about the nature of mankind and our place in the whole scheme of things" ("Science Fiction"). They included story lines based in both fantasy--alien invasion, monsters and mad scientists, etc.--and reality--nuclear warfare, plagues, and Armageddon.
What gave sci-fi films such a boost in popularity were their roots in real life and current politics. Characteristically they contain an element of truth somewhere within the plot. The paranoia instilled in people because of the Cold War was a veritable breeding ground for films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), directed by Don Siegel, with its undertones of Communist takeover. The fact that these movies could hit so close to home during that time period was more effective than all the special effects a director could muster up. It took little imagination to make people believe "It could happen to me!"
One theme that seems to reign supreme in the sci-fi genre is the "existential loss of personal individuality" ("Science Fiction"). To have stolen from us the very thing that makes us human is frightening territory. In Metropolis (1927) the table has been turned, and people are living underground as slaves and working like robotic machines under the ironic authority of a female robot named Maria. It is a classic concept of our technology rising up against us; our own industrialization becoming our downfall.
The Stepford Wives (1975), directed by Byron Forbes, is about the impact of man playing God and deciding whose lives are important and whose are expendable. It is decided that the human qualities of the women in town are undesirable and that they would serve a better purpose as mechanized robots. In a historical sense, it is a backlash against all the progress for Women's Liberation made at the time. It puts women's humanity on a lower tier than men's and makes the revolting comment that a woman's identity is defined by only by stereotypical abilities such as cooking and cleaning.
A recent topic popular in the industry and also closely connected to loss of identity is genetic engineering or cloning. In the past, movies like Coma (1978), directed by Michael Chrichton, focused loosely on these ideas. Coma was about the harvest of organs for experimental transplants and to make a quick buck. A literal form of identity theft, it was all about the possibility of humans being utilized as spare parts and then discarded.
But now that the technology has been reasonably successful, movies like Gattaca (1997), directed by Andrew Niccol, and The Island (2005), directed by Michael Bay, have reached an uncomfortable level of realism. They describe a world in which all the little pieces of your personality; the things that make up one's very being, are not enough to make a person unique. They can be duplicated and copied to the point that individuality all but disappears. These films prey upon the idea that maybe we really are nothing more than our organs, that humanity is nothing special.
There are no boundaries to science fiction, and as history advances on, new material is constantly arising from invention. Sci-fi combines our most primitive fears with the most modern technologies; factual science with fictional details to create illusions so real that we sometimes forget that it is all just smoke and mirrors. Or is it?
"Science Fiction Films." Film Site " 9 May 2006 (http://www.filmsite.org/sci-fifilms.html).