Monday, September 20, 2021

“Why Does the Barrier Keep Us In and Them Not?” - Dark Future (1994) - Film #213

We have never covered Greydon Clark's films on Senseless Cinema, a blind spot that we will not remedy as we discuss Mr. Clark's 1994 post-apocalypse film Dark Future.

As usual, your universe's top critics fail to understand the visionary film that is Dark Future. Reviewer bensonmum2 writes, "Dark Future is complete and utter garbage. Everything imaginable is about as bad as you'll find in a movie." Reviewer Aaron1375 writes, "So, it is not very good, just goes all over the place." And reviewer Mike-336 writes, "The directing, acting, production quality, and overall feel is not one of quality."

Read on for an informed opinion about Greydon Clark's masterful science fiction film...

A man runs through a post apocalyptic  urban wasteland dotted with flaming trash cans, chased by two men in padded orange uniforms. He dodges their laser beams and runs to a novelty electric lamp where an electronic voice says, “You have entered the Forbidden Zone.” He places his hand on the lamp and is zapped with electricity, apparently killing him.

Elsewhere, a horse pulls a cart up to a rotunda, which is the entrance to a subway escalator. Two orange-clad soldiers take the escalator down to the Forbidden Zone, where they are allowed through rather than being zapped by a lamp. They are teleported to the urban setting (a theme park a la the original Westworld, only apocalyptic) where the man from the opening was zapped, then they find a brothel that looks like a speakeasy. The bartender (played by Greydon Clark regular Darby Hinton) pours then drinks called Pep-Ups. “Good for what ails you,” he says.

“I’m not ill,” says one of the soldiers. Then he comments about the decor, “16th century.”

The bartender corrects him. “1930s, actually. Chicago.”

“Whatever. Argentina. My favorite.”

“United States,” the bartender says. “That was a different world. A different time. We thought that era had—“

The soldier shoots a yellow beam at a silver disc on the bartender’s chest, which reveals who the man is and his history of employment. After threatening the bartender with demotion, the soldier sees a beautiful prostitute named, for some reason, Birch.

Minutes (apparently) later, in an abrupt transition, the two soldiers run through a building searching for the sound of a crying baby. They break into an apartment and see a woman sick in bed next to a 10-year-old boy. Of course, as anyone would, one of the soldiers lifts the boy over his head as if they are in a wrestling ring and throws the boy into a coffee table.

He finds the crying baby next to the woman and he moves to kill the woman.

“Easy, easy, easy,” warns the other soldier.


“Because a child needs it’s…um…” Clearly the man has forgotten the word.

“Mother,” the first soldier says. “The word is mother. Are you sure the child needs its mother?”

“I’m not completely sure.”

The soldier kills the mother by twisting her neck, and the two men carry the baby in a crate out of the building and back to the barrier to the Forbidden Zone. They are attacked by residents of the zone, however, and in the process one of the soldiers loses his hand, revealing they are androids.

The bartender, Kendall, arrives and shoots one soldier with a laser, but he is unable to retrieve the baby. He tries reasoning with the surviving soldier, and helpfully providing some backstory. “You were like me too, once. Can’t you remember it? You were human too. How long ago was it? Thirty, forty years?”

“The whole park will pay for your rebellion.”

“We’re through lying down for you and your kind!” the bartender says defiantly. “Before the Black Death, the world was full of humans. You know that as well as I do.” He adds, “Beyond the barrier, there are still humans there. Why don’t you join us? Think what we could accomplish together out there.”

The soldier throws a punch, but unfortunately for him he connects with a power junction box and electrocutes himself.

Just as unfortunately, Kendall quips, “Shocking, wasn’t it?” before picking up the baby’s crate and running off.

At the humans’ hideout, Birch the prostitute gives the baby milk from a bottle while Kendall reminds her, for some reason, that the android he killed used to be his best friend (a situation never alluded to before or after this moment). Kendall gives further backstory to a tuxedoed man named Perrine. “In the 2050s, there were a lot of people with power. They weren’t in the government, they just owned a lot of things. My father said it used to be because of something called money.”

“Never heard of it.”

“I think it was a drug or an aphrodisiac or something.” He adds, “These people with lots of money started to band together for self-preservation. Violence was very dominant in the society.” Babies were taken from parents and trained to be a security army; the wealthy people created cyborgs by replacing body parts with implants.

Kendall takes a random piece from inside one of the murdered androids and assumes it’s the power source, which he confirms by moving close to a power box, causing lights to flicker.

Kendall and Birch name the baby Robin after a picture of a bluebird in a book, for some reason. Meanwhile, a group of androids (who look like the murdered androids) enters the Forbidden Zone/theme park looking for Kendall. They interrogate him at the bar, a scene that devolves into a fracas leading to a gunfight that kills many prostitutes and androids. 

Only one android survives, and he returns to the outside world.

Later, in what appears to be an abandoned roller disco, Kendall gives a pep talk to the surviving humans. He says they can take control, but the crowd believes they will die without the patrons. Kendall holds up a wafer. “These nutrients are not food. Food is what our parents grew, and prepared with love. Food does more than keep your body going. It’s something you eat around the table. It brings you joy.”

He proposes to lead the humans through the barrier and outside the theme park to find more humans. Eloquently, he asks, “Why does the barrier keep us in and them not?”

His pep talk is completely unsuccessful, even after he shows the other humans the baby Robin. He tells them to go hide in the park because the androids will kill everybody, then he takes the baby with Birch and Perrine through other areas of the theme park styled like France and India until they finally reach a hidden underground room. “I didn’t even know this room existed,” Kendall says.

“Yeah,” Perrine replies. “I found it as a boy.”

Leaving Birch and Robin in the hidden room without food or water, Kendall leads an ambush of the next group of androids coming through the portal into the Forbidden Zone. Unfortunately for the rebels, the androids now have a force field that blocks the humans’ laser beams but allows the androids to shoot the humans. Kendall calls for a retreat (“All right, everybody! Go back! Go back!”) and then he and Perrine lure them away from the force field. There follows an extended sequence during which humans kill a few androids and androids kill a few humans throughout the park, including a suspenseful sequence in which a random android strangles a human we’ve never seen before.

In a turn of events intended to be shocking, Perrine leads two androids to the secret room where the baby is hidden. When the three reach the room, they have a bizarrely difficult time moving the small wooden panel covering the entrance, and in the time it takes to clumsily enter, Birch and baby Robin have escaped through a massive ventilation conduit. This results in the androids, and eventually Kendall, trying to track them through the ventilation ducts, which involves each group walking back and forth through the luxurious room simulating France several times. Eventually, the villains find Birch, prompting her to threaten them and prompting one of the androids to say with great exasperation, “Shut up.”

They take Birch and the baby to the Forbidden Zone portal back to the outside world. Kendall shoots one android but the other one takes Birch and Robin through the portal to the escalator. 

Up in the outside world, Birch sees the sun for the first time. “Kendall was right,” she says. The android forces her and the baby onto the old man’s horse cart, where he tells them the baby won’t be harmed.

Meanwhile, in the theme park, Kendall blows up the novelty electric lamp marking the portal, which allows him and Perrine (whom Kendall doesn’t suspect as a traitor) to walk through to the escalator (though for some reason it doesn’t move automatically for them, forcing them to climb up to the outside world).

They find a large palace, which for some reason Kendall assumes is where Congress used to rule the world. 

After Birch is imprisoned in a room of the palace, a group of hooded “patrons” (all old, white males, incidentally) decides what to do with the baby. “We’ll remove all the brain cells and clone them immediately. Each day the child ages makes her less valuable for us.” They estimate the child’s brain cells will give them all 50 more years of life. The android takes Robin to a surgical room with instruments that look like they are designed to, say, transfer the mind of a full-grown human into the body of an ape, and then possibly shoot the ape with a laser of some kind.

Kendall and Perrine find Birch, but Perrine reveals he is a traitor. He reveals his motivation is for the patrons to allow him to run the whole theme park just in time for Kendall to punch him, resulting eventually in Perrine impaling himself on the leg of a broken chair.

Kendall and Birch find all seven of the androids that apparently rule the outside world sitting in front of a movie screen showing a training/inspirational film telling the androids (all white males, incidentally) that they rule the world and they cannot be contradicted. Kendall sets his gun on a control panel, which forces the training film to loop so the androids will remain in the movie theatre, though of course Kendall can’t remove the gun.

He and Birch find the surgery and shoot the android before he can extract the baby’s brain cells, though the android survives. While Kendall attacks the android with a cane he stole from one of the old patrons, Birch tries to rescue the baby, but she doesn’t even get out of the room. In the climax, Kendall shoots the extraction laser at the android, finally killing him.

Kendall confronts the old men. “Your day is done, old man,” he says. “We’re free.”

In the end, Kendall and Birch stand on a balcony overlooking the dozen or so remaining humans, one or two of whom wear their theme park costumes.

“It’s over,” he tells them, and then he repeats, “We’re all free” before he kisses Birch. 

Perhaps inspired by the success of Terminator 2 (1991), but more indebted to Westworld (1973) and Logan's Run (1976), Dark Future is one of several films Greydon Clark directed in Russia in the early 1990s. One of the film's most fascinating aspects is the reversal of Westworld's basic concept: In Dark Future, the androids visit the theme park staffed by humans who exist only for the pleasure of the androids. Some audiences might question why the dozen or so androids do nothing but visit a theme park staffed by a dozen or so humans, and how this post-apocalyptic world works economically, politically, and socially, but the connoisseur of visionary cinema will realize that this is one of the most realistic of all depictions of the apocalypse. Resources such as food, water, and opulent costumes will not be scarce when there are only a few dozen people inhabiting the earth, so creating a theme park that looks like the basement of a warehouse complex to entertain androids is quite realistic. These nit-picking hypothetical audiences might also complain about the fact that the androids' weapons, called neutralizes, are clearly plastic toys, but who can really know what laser technology will be like in the late 21st century?

In the end, Dark Future the film is like its own theme park (which might or might not be called the Forbidden Zone). It is highly entertaining, a place to forget the cares and stresses of being an android in a post-apocalyptic world and simply relax for 88 minutes. And extract brain cells from the first human baby born in 40 years. What could be more entertaining?

Not a heck of a lot, I say.