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Holland Festival: 4 ways to look to the future

In 2026, we will be using the (landline) videophone, still reading paper newspapers, but creaking when our machines fail. Thus predicts Metropolis, Fritz Lang's film taken into production a hundred years before, now screened at the Holland Festival in preparation for future theatre M.U.R.S..

Always fascinating to see how thinking about the future takes shape - meaning more than tech gadgets that may or may not come out. That future thinking is Patrick van der Duyn's field of research. His introduction to Metropolis - the first great science fiction film - provided the material for these comments on looking to the future.

1. The future is now

Many fantasies of the future mainly reflect the time in which they were conceived. This was already the case with Jules Verne, and no different with Fritz Lang. His City of the Future is designed in Art Deco style. Lang's way of filming reflects the expressionism and other experiments of the cinema of the time. The many Bible quotes are striking. The heroine who inspires the oppressed workers is called Mary. There is talk of the return of a 'mediator' and the headquarters of the city's powerful boss is modelled on the Tower of Babel.

2. Lure or scare

In a utopia, the future is paradise, but terrifying dystopias are far outnumbered. Think of all those action films, including the Mad Max series, in which the world is ruled by violent gangs after an apocalyptic disaster. Think also of Kubrick's Clockwork Orange or the Hunger Games, popular with teenagers.

Some form of class struggle - rulers versus slaves - is a common theme, including in Metropolis.

A recent film with utopian overtones is the Disney production Tomorrowland (released here as Project T).

Metropolis is known as dystopian, which with those workers in their subterranean world is justified, but there is also another side to it, Van der Duyn noted. The motto of the whole show is that the heart must mediate between head and hands.

3. Technology as a driving force

Technological progress as a promising yet frightening development is what most of the science fiction genre is based on. In Metropolis, that is linked to primal human drives. It is not the human-modelled robot, presented here as a modern-day whore of Babylon, that is the source of all the chaos, but the vindictiveness of the chief engineer Rotwang, controlled by intense grief.

Thinking about this is shifting. In the 1950s and 1960s, the technology of the future was seen as a promise; today it is rather the opposite. The question "can we do what we want?" has changed to "do we want what we can do?", Van der Duyn summarised.

Our heavy reliance on technological infrastructure is something Metropolis also alludes to.

A contemporary science fiction example is the satirical BBC series Black Mirror, about the unwanted side effects of our addiction to technology.

4. The robot becomes human

With a robot taking on human form, Metropolis is still right up to date even now. See Ex_Machina. Philosophers are also thinking about it: what happens when robots become more and more like humans, and perhaps better/smarter? The computer Watson is already bossing us around with the game Jeopardy. Should robots be given human rights?

In the Swedish series Real Humans, someone is amazed that under the skin of such a human-like robot you only find wires and electronics. To which a girl states: if you open up a human you also only find bones and intestines.

Ultimately, the ultimate question is: what makes us human?

Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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