The "breakdown of society" is a popular theme in film. The standard trope is "this is the year 2xxx; humankind has nearly destroyed the planet with war/environmental degradation; these are the survivors." We have seen this in Brazil (1985), the Planet of the Apes and Mad Max franchises, and so many more.

For this assignment you should pick one film you have seen (or that you view for this assignment) and then describe one component of "social order" that the story's creators have taken away to produce the "breakdown of society." Using this as your starting point, write a brief essay (1-2 pages) that describes what "social stuff" is missing or damaged in this case of social order breakdown.

Try NOT write about the consequences of the breakdown of the social order (lack of education system or housing falling into disrepair or no running water) and you should NOT write about the causes (nuclear war, global warming, biological catastrophe). What we want to zero in on is what breaks down when social order breaks down.


In the German film "The Lives of Others" an East German STASI agent listens to others in apartments in which surveillance microphones have been placed. The film shows the effects of the incapacity to presume one is in private when alone and the effects on an individual of doing the surveillance. Does social order "break down" in the film? Not in the sense of chaos or anarchy, but people have to go to extraordinary lengths to do ordinary things so it seems like society as a whole gets held back: it should be easier for people to do things and it would be if they were not deprived of the capacity to do some things in private.

One might think about this in terms of trust - if it looks like no one is listening one has to be able to trust that no one is listening.

I suggest, then, that there is an element of social order is this sort of "trust in privacy" - not the same as privacy per se, just the fact that things need to be what they appear to be.

Some Possible Films

1984 A Boy and His Dog (1975) A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) Akira Blade Runner (1982, 1992, 2007) Book of Eli Brazil (1985) Children of Men (2006) Clockwork Orange Das Millionenspiel Delicatessen Equilibrium Escape from L.A. (1996) Escape from New York (1981) Gattaca Handmaid's Tale The Hunger Games I Am Legend (2007) I, Robot (2004) Idiocracy The Island (2005) Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America The Lives of Others Logan's Run (1976) Mad Max series (beginning 1979, new one currently playing) Matrix series (1999, 2003) Metropolis (1926) The Omega Man (1971) Planet of the Apes (1968, etc.) The Postman (1995) Princes Mononoke The Road Robocop Rollerball (1975) Snow Piercer Soylent Green Stoszek Werner Herzog The Terminator films (beginning 1984, new one this summer) THX 1138 (1971) Total Recall (1990) Twelve Monkeys (1995) Warriors Zardoz (1974) The Maze Runner (2014) Of Mice and Men (1992,1939) Divergent


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