Originally created 06/03/04

Human quest for Utopia inspires cinematic themes



It's human nature to peer over the fence and think "Dang, that guy sure does have a nice lawn." Something about our physiological and psychological makeup leads us to believe that things are brighter and better around the next bend and that if we keep rounding bend after bend we'll end up in Utopia.

The search for earthly paradise, the perfect combination of location and situation, drives us all a little bit. Who hasn't quit a job in favor of something finer, or moved across the state, city or street, believing that location, location, location is the cure to all ills?

Certainly it's an impulse that has proved cinematically inspiring.

Here are a few fine examples of films about the all-too-often vain search for the Promised Land:

THE MOSQUITO COAST (1986): Believing that American society is a doomed proposition, inventor Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) packs up his not-altogether-happy family and moves it to a Central American rain forest with visions of a brave new world dancing in his head. Needless to say, things do not go as planned. An exotic and inventive movie that deserved a bigger audience.

LOST HORIZON (1937): This now-incomplete movie (25 minutes excised from the original cut have disappeared or deteriorated beyond repair) asks life's eternal questions: What is civilization? What defines a civilized life? Is perfection possible, or is the journey the point? Whether those queries can be answered in little more than two hours is up for debate, but Lost Horizon can't be faulted for trying.

OUR MAN FLINT (1966): A sly, satiric response to the success of the James Bond movies, the film featured James Coburn as a superspy unleashed against a cadre of villains intent on creating their version of Utopia with an earthquake machine. Although it's true that Our Man Flint answers no big questions, it sure is fun.

PLEASANTVILLE (1998): The thing about Utopia is, it's always in the eye of the beholder. This technical marvel places two modern teens in the imagined world of Pleasantville, a 1950s sitcom city where a pasteurized past and present are slowly discarded in favor of a Technicolor future. The movie features Reese Witherspoon and Toby Maguire in breakout roles.

BLACK NARCISSUS (1947): Most visions of Utopia are gardens of earthly delight, because, well, who isn't a fan of the milk-and-honey scenario? But this film takes a different approach. The story of an order of Anglican nuns looking to escape temptation high in the Himalayas, Narcissus operates on the idea that society is carried within each of us, making escape to an invented Utopia a fool's folly.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.