TIFF Bell Lightbox Presents The Rise of Beefcake Cinema: ‘Demolition Man’ destroys Aldous Huxley’s magnum opus

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Demolition Man

Directed by Marco Brambilla

Written by Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau and Peter M. Lenkov

USA, 1993

When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, he wanted to warn the present of an impending dystopia. Filled with ignorance, ostentation, and a blatant disregard for humanity, Huxley foresaw the future as being grim, and if he ever lived to see Marco Brambilla’s Demolition Man, he surely would’ve felt vindicated, if not prophetic.

Loud, kitsch, and surprisingly empty, Demolition Man aimed to use Brave New World as a foundation for its statement against executive abuses of power, but instead, it destroys Aldous Huxley’s magnum opus by becoming the exact thing it warned of.

Set in 1996, Sergeant John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) is one of Los Angeles’ most prolific and notorious cops. Dubbed the ‘Demolition Man’, Spartan is renown for getting the job done, and causing a fiery cataclysm while doing so.

However, his modus operandi backfires on him when, while trying to apprehend the psychopathic Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), he is charged with the deaths of innocent civilians. As punishment, he and Phoenix are both arrested and are cryogenically frozen, removing their violent influence from the world.

Fast-forward to the year 2032. The world is now a “pussy-whipped, Brady Bunch version of itself run by a bunch of robed sissies”. When Phoenix is mysteriously released back into it, he begins to create havoc and upheaval. Unequipped and ill prepared by decades of non-violence, the police liberate Spartan from his state of suspended animation, hoping to “catch a maniac with a maniac”.

From the very start, the film practically oozes with redolence, especially to the aforementioned Brave New World. The world is one where the government controls everything, from reproduction, to character trait assignments, and choices of food. All of this to create a ‘safer’, more ‘perfect’ society. In fact, there’s one character played by Sandra Bullock, named Lenina Huxley, an obvious allusion to both the books author and to one of its main characters.

The rest of it, however, points to the contrary. Whereas the book uses the future as a cautionary tale against the potentially apocalyptic peccadilloes of the present, Demolition Man is more than content to use it as shtick to make corny ‘anachronistic’ jokes and antediluvian pop-culture references (like Taco Bell). There’s also a recurring joke about not being able to swear that’s mildly amusing and initially pertinent, but it eventually becomes obnoxious and trite by its over usage.

Demolition Man also betrays the spirit of the novel by glorifying the spirit of the times, meaning the late 80’s and mid-90’s. The film will repeatedly mock the absurdity of its envisioned caricature of a 21stcentury society, while extolling the benefits of a modern, 20th century one.

The Reaganesque accentuation that ‘there’s nothing wrong with contemporary society’ and we shouldn’t ‘fix what isn’t broke’ feels more like an attack on progress than an injunction of possible problems in the future. This flippant way of thinking, embodied in Demolition Man (especially in its frivolous conclusion), is exactly what Huxley warned us about.

– Justin Li

For tickets and more information, please visit the TIFF website.

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