A great movie you never had the chance to see.
April 2, 2007
A little while ago, Mike Judge’s latest film, Idiocracy, was released to DVD after a short, extremely limited theatrical run accompanied by less than a squeak of publicity. Given the enduring popularity of Judge’s last live-action venture, Office Space (clips of which were recently used in a marketing campaign for World of Warcraft), and the near ubiquity of his early-90’s animated works, such as Beavis and Butt-Head, it would seem that stifling any new work of his would be a financial gaffe of epic proportions. Having watched Idiocracy last night, I can guarantee that it is a remarkably funny movie that would have surely made many millions of dollars. But I can also guarantee that if it had been put into full release, the ensuing P.R. nightmare would have been catastrophic.
Idiocracy manages to deliver incredibly vicious social satire through low-brow humor. In the film, Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), an unusually average army recruit, is selected for a suspended-animation experiment in which he is to hibernate for one year. Thanks to a Futurama-like, but unusually ridiculous plot device (needless to say, it involves a conspiracy centered around a pimp named “Upgrayedd”), his pod is instead closed for a millennium. When he wakes, he finds society filled with troglodytes who speak only a jargon of ghetto-slang, valley-girl, and hillbilly, and comes to the grim realization that he is now the smartest man on the planet.
While the time-traveler-cum-smartest-man-alive premise has been done before (e.g. Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee…, Well’s The Time Machine), Idiocracy’s supplies a unique rationale: dysgenics. As Joe sleeps peaceably toward the future, the narrator explains that the tendency of stupid people to reproduce with little regard for the consequences to themselves or their other children, coupled with the general decline of learning, culture, et al., sent humanity down into an irrecoverable slump. Aiding and abetting this vast slide, Idiocracy fingers much of red-state America’s corporate sponsorship, setting much of the film in a city-sized Costco.
Were this the sole focus of the film, it could be easily written off as a classist screed. Yet, while the main target Idiocracy’s satire might be NASCAR dads, Judge manages to savage well-to-do blue-staters as well. The film’s prologue follows a young professional couple, who continually explain that they’re waiting to have kids until “the market is just right,” right until they die of old age. As the situation grows more desperate, America’s scientists aimed for solutions to improve the fertility gap and improve education, but as the narrator explains, they became sidetracked in researching improvements to their own lifestyles, until all that remained were chimpanzees who kept full heads of hair and vigorous erections well into old age.
Thus, although Idiocracy manages to heap considerable (and well-deserved) abuse on pretty much every strata of American society, what probably killed it was the considerable brio with which it lampooned Costco and other retailers, who hold far more influence over the industry than the people of red and blue states combined. Then again, with all the film’s satiric barbs against corporate America aside, it’s entirely possible that widespread distribution of the film was barred on account of the fact that it would have spoiled Carl’s Jr.‘s new “Fuck you, I’m eating!” campaign.