From politics to pop culture, the present feels more like a grim sci-fi version of reality than ever before. Welcome to Dystopia Now!, a collection of stories about our darkest timelines.
Dystopian films have long been the playground for a very specific type of director: white, male, depressive, fascinated by his own depths. It's a niche, occasionally repetitive corner of the filmmaking world, one that you can pretty easily avoid if you'd rather not know that babies taste best. But as our reality inches ever closer to those imagined by the likes of Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick and Fritz Lang and Michael Anderson and Mike Judge and John Carpenter and Terry Gilliam (... you guys get it), it's possible that all films, by nature of reflecting the world we live in, will begin to verge on the dystopian.
Imagine, if you will, a film industry that exclusively churns out interminably grim nightmarescapes — where every rom-com is Equals, where buddy comedies become buddy bomb-edies (I'm so sorry), where A Dog's Purpose is to eat insubordinate citizens. Imagine a Hollywood in which Nancy Meyers can no longer create kitchen erotica, Wes Anderson is forced to stop making everything fucking adorable, and Garry Marshall's ghost cannot group a bunch of thin and disparate nonsense under the umbrella of "holiday." But what will they make instead?
Nancy Meyers's Explosive Love
Diane (Diane Keaton) is a successful bomb defuser and mother of three adult daughters: Caitlyn (Zooey Deschanel), Harriet (Zoe Kazan), and Zoe (Zoë Kravitz). Her longtime and devoted husband, Jeffrey (Alec Baldwin), died in The Great Reckoning, when Trump expanded the definition of "immigrant" to include "people who have criticized me and people who look like people who have criticized me," and everyone who looked like Alec Baldwin was hurled from a single cliff. The four remaining family members now live together in an empty model home, replete with marble countertops and stainless-steel appliances and one floating island in every single room. The women use these islands as beds (mattresses look too much like Trump).
Every night, the four of them cook old veggie burgers left over from Normal America (1776–2018) outside on top of a single barbecue grill, the only appliance that still works. It is always raining and they're always hungry afterward, but they still end every dinner doing a kick line to Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry ’Bout a Thing."
Each morning, Diane heads to work in her bomb suit after fumbling with the helmet for several minutes. "Mom," laughs Zoe each time, "the clear part goes in the front." Diane kookily smacks the top of her helmet and rolls her eyes at herself. When Diane leaves, the sisters gather in the living room (electric fireplace with no electricity, a single piece of plywood that they have nailed to the floor and use as a couch) and talk about who they can set their mom up with. "She's so lonely," says Caitlyn. "I'm worried about her."
Harriet nods. "What about that cute ICE agent?" she suggests.
"He's dead," says Zoe. All three sisters consider this for a moment. "Oh, yes," says Harriet. "He did look kind of like Alec Baldwin."
One morning, Diane is called in to defuse a bomb at the home of Peter (Alec Baldwin), a widower whose wife put on an Alec Baldwin mask and tricked everybody into killing her instead. Peter answers the door wearing a bomb suit. Diane is stunned at his likeness to her dead love, but says nothing. He and Diane try to shake hands and accidentally clack bomb helmets. Both giggle. "Look at us," says Peter, motioning to the shattered mirror in his foyer. Diane does, shyly. They meet eyes through the clear parts of their bomb helmets. "I'm glad my daughter helped me put this bomb helmet on the right way," says Diane, awkwardly. Peter laughs. "I am, too."
The bomb goes off in Peter's kitchen. Both race to assess the damage. There is a hole in the floor, and Peter's stove collapses into it. "Diane," says Peter, smiling, "I think I'm going to need a new kitchen." Diane puts her hand on Peter's arm, which is surrounded by 16 pounds of density foam and plastic. "Good news, Peter," she says with a wink. "I used to be a kitchen designer." Peter breathes a sigh of relief. "Me too," he says. "I miss it."
Montage: Diane, Peter, and all three sisters rebuilding Peter's kitchen to the sounds of Natalie Cole's "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)." Someone knocks on the door. It's the ICE agent, who faked his own death, he explains quickly, so that he could be a more effective ICE agent. He drags Peter away, screaming. The sisters look at each other and sigh. "Back to the drawing board!!!" they all yell at once. Diane rolls her eyes and throws a chunk of moldy insulation at them.
Garry Marshall's Russia Day
Yuri (Ben Affleck) is late for work, again. "Idiot," he says out loud as he watches the last express tram into the city pass him by. "Today of all days," he says to the woman next to him (Jennifer Garner), a stranger dressed like a Matryoshka doll, whose tiny daughter (Jacob Tremblay in a small wig) is dressed identically. "Happy Russia Day," says the woman, automatically. "May God, who is Russian, forever smile down upon the United States of Russia, and upon our very sexy ruler, Vladimir Putin, the only man I will ever allow to make love to me. May we create a nation full of Putins. Amen."
Yuri stares pointedly at the woman's daughter, who has very normal ears. "She's a Putin?" he asks, skeptical. The woman blushes. "Sorry, I'm Kseniya. This is Nadezhda, my daughter from my first marriage to a man who refused to claim his Russian name and was smushed by a bridge 'by accident.' But, like, moving forward, I won't have sex with anyone else until Putin visits me. This is actually my year. Which is why I'm dressed like this. I mean, you get it. Sorry, I'm rambling." Yuri nods. "Congrats," he says. Both eye each other as they wait for the next tram.
Across town, Olga (Jennifer Aniston), a top journalist, is rushing to finish a story about Putin's favorite candles. "Our very sexy ruler loves pine scents in particular, because they remind him of all those trips he took to the forest, where he oversaw many contract killings of those who dared disobey him," she types frantically. "Perfect!" she says aloud. She emails the piece to her editor, Vladimir (Eddie Murphy). There's a knock on the door; it's Yuri, her WikiLeaker. Yuri bows. "Whose brain should I hack today, Madame Olga?" he asks.
Olga thinks for a moment. "There's a woman named Kseniya who has been thinking about sleeping with men who are not Putin," she says. "Get me her entire thought history." Yuri swallows hard.
Across town, Kseniya is helping Nadezhda with her family tree. "There's me, and you, and draw a dotted line to Vladimir Putin, and that's it," she explains. Nadezhda looks up at her, confused. "What about Daddy?" she asks. Kseniya shakes her head. "I told you, Daddy was smushed, and now Putin is your father."
Nadezhda shrugs, and draws the tree. Kseniya checks her watch. "He should be here any minute now," she says. Distracted, she doodles "Yuri" on a spare piece of paper, then crumples it up in her hands and, panicked, eats it. Nadezhda giggles.
Across town, Vladimir Putin (Vladimir Putin) is readying himself for Russia Day at the White Russian House. "Trump!" he barks. "Bring me my virility candle." Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin), who is dangling from the ceiling by his wrists, picks up the pine-scented candle from Putin's desk with his toes and carefully holds it out for Putin to accept. Putin laughs. "Trump, your toes have gotten so dexterous," he says. Trump thanks him. Putin heads out the door with Melania (Melania Trump), his favorite secretary, who will keep track of all the impregnations today. "See you tomorrow!" he screams at Trump.
Vladimir (not Putin, Eddie Murphy) listens as Olga tells him about Kseniya's thought history. "On the tram this morning, she dreamed about 'plowing Yuri,'" reads Olga from her WikiLeak printout. "I think this is our Yuri."
Vladimir considers this. "OK, let's not do the story," he says. "I like Yuri, and I don't want him to die before we finish that candle story." Olga nods. She hands the piece of paper back to Yuri, who has been standing in the corner.
Putin has arrived at Kseniya's. "I am here!!!" he screams into her intercom. Kseniya rushes to let him in, having just finished putting Nadezhda down for her daily Russian nap (she tells the story of Putin's ascendancy to U.S. power while Nadezhda cuddles a photo of Putin). "Happy Russia Day," Kseniya says automatically upon answering the door. "May God, who is Russian, forever smile down upon the United States of Russia, and upon our very sexy ruler, Vladimir Putin, the only man I will ever allow to make love to me. May we create a nation full of Putins. Amen."
Putin nods, impatient. "I have 200 more houses to get to today," he says. "Let's get on with it."
Suddenly, Yuri bursts through the door. He grabs Kseniya by the arm. "Kseniya, I love you," he says. Kseniya gasps. "Same! But it is forbidden!" Putin watches, bored. "I am going to kill both of you for treason," he says. Everyone freezes.
Putin starts to laugh. "I'm kidding. Maybe. I don't know. This whole Putin Nation policy is very new, to be honest with you, and I'm still trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. Like, what about all the kids being related when they grow up? Didn't anybody think about that? We'll have a nation full of mutants!" Kseniya and Yuri and Nadezhda all begin laughing. The camera twirls upward, and One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" starts to play.
Wes Anderson's The Sky Scrubber Diaries
Tina (Tilda Swinton) is a one-armed dog sitter. She spends her days petting the 13 dogs (this takes a bit longer than it used to, with her one arm) that arrive at her home each morning, feeding them from tin cans of tuna she has canned herself (Tina's Tuna, her relatively lucrative side business), walking them in circles beneath the LED sun, and napping next to them on her small patch of Astroturf beneath the artificial light of the plastic sky.
Tina, like everyone else on Earth, has lived underground now for nearly five years, ever since Rex Tillerson found out how to turn water into oil, drained the oceans, and incidentally destroyed the planet. She's almost gotten used to the smell — it's sort of like, well, she laughs to think of it, wet dog — the constant chill, the lack of vitamin D that she contradicts with handfuls of vitamins daily, the food (tuna, mostly). "How do you have so much tuna, Tina?" she jokes to Ed, her favorite dog, mimicking her new customers.
Ed's ears perk up. "Ed, I've told you this before," she says, laughing and rubbing his head. "I collected tuna cans for my entire life, in hopes of building a tuna-can tower to the sky once I had enough." She turns gloomy, imagining what might've been. "Now I'll never see the sky again."
Ed's owner, Big Ed (Bruce Willis), sits in his own home down the street, staring at the clock. It ticks so slowly, so painfully, that he feels it is mocking him. Big Ed's had trouble filling his days ever since he lost his job as a Sky Scrubber, having scrubbed the patch of sky over Tina's house one too many times and, in the process, neglecting the other billions of miles of sky patch. But he daren't tell Tina he's lost his job; he knows Tina loves Ed, and he loves seeing Tina every day. Big Ed listens to Tupac's "Changes" for the 187th time that day. He stirs a pot of tuna that's simmering on the stove. He looks at himself in the mirror and says, "Stop — hammer time!" over and over again until he's helpless with laughter. He does a headstand while watching The Bridges of Madison County. He thinks, suddenly, of something beautiful, something that he knows is going to change his life, and Tina's. He begins to weep.
Finally, it's 3 p.m. He composes himself and walks to Tina's, staring cheerfully at a flower made out of pipes.
Tina answers the door looking beautiful as usual, her pale flesh made paler from the LED sun, which has shined relentlessly ever since Tillerson's team stopped making dry-ice clouds. Ed briefly flashes back to when the clouds were canceled, when Tina tried to climb into the sky, reached into one of the clouds, and her arm fell off. "How's your arm?" asks Big Ed. He immediately hates himself.
Tina smiles. "It's OK, Ed. My arm is feeling a little shy today, you might say." They both chuckle. "Ed's been missing you," says Tina. Big Ed takes a deep breath. "I've been thinking," he says, "that we should start working on your tuna tower."
Tina steps back. "Ed," she says, "I can already reach the plastic sky with a couple of stepladders stacked on top of each other. Plus, I have to save the tuna to sell."
Big Ed shakes his head. "The real sky," he says.
Tina gasps. "Ed, the real sky is dead," she says. "It's not there anymore."
Big Ed shakes his head again. "Tina, I'm a Sky Scrubber," he says. "Well, I was."
Tina touches his arm. "I know," she says. "Thank you for scrubbing my sky."
Big Ed clears his throat. "Anyway, us Sky Scrubbers were let in on a secret: The real sky isn't dead. It's just, like, extremely fucked up. There are secret doors inside the plastic sky that lead outside. We can go there, and we can work on your tower."
Tina is thrilled, but hesitant. "Ed, won't we die out there?"
Big Ed smiles. "Not in these." He hands her two bomb suits that he's been hiding behind his back. One of them has only one arm. "I made these myself over the past few weeks, after watching that Nancy Meyers classic, Explosive Love."
Tina begins to cry, and throws herself into Big Ed's arms. They fall backward onto a pile of empty tuna cans with sharp lids. "Careful," says Big Ed. "You need at least one arm to climb to the sky." Tina laughs and laughs and laughs as the scene dissolves into a pure blue to the sounds of "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard."