In one of the essays in the Weight of Glory collection, CS Lewis interrupts himself to break the “fourth wall” of literature and confront the reader with this question: (And I paraphrase,) “Do you think I am trying to charm you? Even so, remember that there is black magic, and there is also white magic, whose purpose is to undo the spells that have kept you in slavery.”
Mike Judge‘s latest film, Idiocrasy, is a scathing satire of modern American culture, and an excellent example of just such white magic. It is an insightful, outrageously funny and incisively clear reductio ad absurdem, akin to Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos. We are continually being charmed as a culture, and intentionally so, by large groups of intelligent men and women who wish to make a buck. Idiocrasy will likewise charm you — but to wake you up.
Or, if you dislike the analogy from fairy tales, consider the fact that there is some beautiful music which tends to lull one to sleep, and some awkward or dissonant music which startles one awake. This movie, whose title puns on Idiocy, Hypocrisy, and Democracy, is art of the latter sort.
Rather than go into the details of the satirical razz (what better way of ruining a joke than by explaining it?), I’ll just tell you the premise. If you think it sounds funny, rent it. (If it does not, then you probably need to see it even more than the first person, so rent it anyway, and take notes.)
The premise: Private Joe Bauer, the ultimate mediocre ARMY soldier whose life motto is, “When you either gotta lead, follow, or get out of the way, then get out of the way” is chosen for a highly dangerous and top-secret military experiment having to do with Carbon freezing. He and a randomly chosen “lady of the night” are successfully frozen, but before their resurrection, the operation is shut down and the two guinea pigs are forgotten. They awaken 500 years in the future. Now, through a series of comical misadventures, Joe discovers that, since smart people have stopped having kids and dumb people have bred like rabbits, he the smartest human being on the planet. Without giving too much away, they discover that in the future all water-fountains now run with rivers of Brawndo, an electrolyte-enriched sports drink (Brawndo the Thirst Mutilator — “It’s got what people crave!”). He discovers that the best lawyers go to Law School at Costco, and that the president of the United States is also the three-time World Wrestling Federation champion.
If you missed Idiocrasy in theatres, that’s because it received only a limited release. But it is now on DVD, where I predict it will make the rounds via word of mouth and achieve success as a cult-classic. Etan Cohen of Cohen Brothers fame (Academy Award Winner Fargo, Untolerable Cruelty) co-wrote the script with Judge (Office Space).
A fair warning: The vulgarity of the content is fairly prodigal throughout. In this film, however, it is excusable. What is not assumed is not satirized. And much of what is being satirized is moral and intellectual degradation in many of our favorite forms. Even so, if you strongly dislike long strings of dirty words (the Presidential speech scene is hilarious) and sexual innuendo (nothing explicitly imaged, thankfully), then Idiocrasy will be bitter medicine.
I laughed loud and often throughout the 84 minutes of Idiocrasy, which is the main point, but I also enjoyed the utterly predictable yet mildly satisfying B-movie plot. And, somehow, it has caused me to think a great deal about the state of modern culture, which is an amazing feat for any Hollywood film.
To close, a quotation from the narration early in the film: “The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections.”