Every once in a while, a really smart movie comes along that shows you just how stupid modern society is by shoving it in your face. "Idiocracy" is precisely such a film. Filled with purposeful profanity (it actually drives the storyline) and brilliant parody, Idiocracy manages to cough up nearly 90 minutes of hilarious commentary on just how stupid modern society has become today.
The storyline is simple: A career military desk jockey of average intelligence is cocooned in an experimental hibernation machine for 500 years. (By accident, of course. It's the military we're talking about here.) When he awakens, he finds himself in a world populated and run by complete idiots -- the result of 500 years of reverse natural selection, where the stupid people fornicate the most, and the smart people stop having children. (Sound familiar, anyone?) The result of it all? A tabloid quality, corporate-controlled world of idiot consumers whose thought processes are limited to the three-word phrases pounded into their heads by relentless advertising campaigns. Phrases like, "Money is good" or "Plants need electrolytes."
What's so great about Idiocracy is not merely how funny it is, but rather how accurate it is at constructing a future society extrapolated from the real trends of modern-day America. Today, for example, corporations have taken over control of the Food and Drug Administration. In Idiocracy, a sports drink company simply BUYS the FDA and replaced the entire Food Guide Pyramid with sports drink ads.
Water is no longer consumed at all in the Idiocracy world -- consumers have been taught that water is only for toilets -- and sports drink liquid is used to water the crops (which are mysteriously dying). This is much like modern medicine today, where doctors, sunscreen manufacturers and even the American Cancer Society insists that sunlight is bad for your health, and that what you really need are expensive prescription medications to solve your health problems. Or they think that "Restless Legs Syndrome" is some mysterious musculo-chemical disorder rather than simply a deficiency in dietary magnesium.
But the best part about Idiocracy is the creative use of language. It's loaded with profanity, but it's not gratuitous profanity. It actually has a purpose: it describes the linguistic framework into which all communication and thought processes have devolved. The most popular TV show, for example, is on the "Violence Channel" and called, "Ow! My Balls!" (Think YouTube.com with five hundred years of juvenile videos.) Fast food products are named, "Big Ass Fries!" and the court system operates as a name-calling contest where people are deemed guilty because they, "talk like fags" by using intelligent-sounding words.
This is actually not that far from the state of affairs today in the United States. Political elections are won on rehearsed sound bites and acting skills, TV news has devolved into a violence-dominated ratings game hosted by supermodels with surgically-enhanced lips, and the population is so drugged up on medication that they can't think straight, drive straight or even vote straight. In fact, I think Idiocracy is overly optimistic about the future of western culture: I think it will only take a hundred years, not five hundred, to reach the level of widespread stupidity depicted in the film. Sometimes I think we're half-way there already.
Consider this: In the movie, words used in signage or advertising are spelled using precisely the same spelling found on the internet today in chat rooms, bulletin boards and gaming sites. And the zombie-like consumerism depicted in Idiocracy is only a slight exaggeration of the behavior of consumers today who actually guzzle down gallons of Gatorade, thinking it's good for them because it contains "electrolytes." (Gatorade is mostly just salt water with artificial coloring additives). Sports drink? Guess again.
In fact, all you have to do is walk into any Wal-Greens store and you get a full preview of the world shown in Idiocracy: In my opinion, the products are junk, most of the food is loaded with harmful additives and the medications are anchored at the back of the store to encourage consumers to buy more candy bars and soda while they pick up their medications for diabetes and heart disease. Wal-Greens is so much like the world of Idiocracy that they should have sponsored the whole film.
I also appreciate the in-your-face style of Mike Judge (also the creator of Office Space) who pulls no punches in showing the future Starbucks as a place where you can get a latte AND a hand job for one low price. Fuddruckers becomes Buttf****rs, and hospitals are run by idiot staffers who punch large icon buttons that visually depict whatever health emergency the patient seems to be having at the moment. This has actually been put in place at fast food restaurants in modern times, where employees punch the icons of food items rather than keying in prices (because most of today's youth are too mathematically inept to handle money anyway, utterly lacking the ability to count back fifty-six cents in change, for example, or even calculate a ten percent discount in their heads).
What really struck me about Idiocracy, though, is how familiar the main character's observations are to me personally. When I walk around certain areas of a U.S. city today, such as a Blockbuster video rental store, I often feel just like the main (smart) character strolling through the idiot future world shown in the movie. I don't claim to be genetically gifted with massive intelligence, but I do follow excellent nutritional practices, I take no medications or drugs, and I watch no television. As a result, I often find myself surrounded by people of such low functional intelligence that they seem like characters ripped right out of the movie. (And I'm not talking about retarded people or mentally handicapped individuals. I'm talking about people who SHOULD be smarter, but aren't.)
So who's stupid in society today? People who buy the $29 warranty plan on a $150 DVD player at Best Buy. People who buy the car rental insurance coverage at $10 / day even though they already have insurance. People who habitually play the state lottery and characterize it as an "investment plan." People who have a $50 deductible on their car insurance because they can't afford more than $50 out of pocket if there's an accident. People who think vitamins are too expensive but pharmaceuticals are a bargain because they get a 10 percent discount on some hare-brained Medicare plan. People who spend more on their credit cards to get more "miles" or "cash rewards," not realizing that the interest they pay on those cards far outweighs any such benefits. People who refinance their homes to pay their credit card debt, and then rack up new credit card debt, thinking their home is some kind of limitless cash-dispensing ATM machine. The fact is, most people just don't have the IQ to handle living in modern society, at least not when there are financial decisions that need to be made.
So thumbs up to Mike Judge for showing us the way our world really is by depicting a future world that might actually come to pass. You may or may not find the movie funny, depending on your tolerance for ass jokes, but if you can get past the toilet humor and see the real message about how stupid modern society really is, you'll probably laugh your head off.
The acting is great (especially Terry Crews, who gives an energetic and appropriately outrageous performance as President), the CG work is outstanding (the indoors shots of Costco are mind-blowing), and the script is smart and tight. Idiocracy is at least as much fun as Office Space, but with a far more ambitious message. It's not a movie for everyone, but critical thinkers who also have a sense of humor will absolutely love it.