The International Writers Magazine: Dystopic

Douglas Coupland v P.D. James
Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland
Children of Men written by P.D. James and directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Claire Murray

ou’ve all been allowed to see what your lives would be like in the absence of the world’ (Coupland, p.253) and this is what successful dystopia should do for us all. Successful dystopia makes us step away from ourselves and reveals to us our innermost destructive capabilities, our desire to control and manipulate. We never learn that control is followed by chaos, dystopia should remind us. We are forever in need of learning exactly what equilibrium is.

Dystopia offers a view of extremes, in Girlfriend in a Coma we are presented with our greatest innate fear, our own death. Coupland culls us all in a cruel and abrupt permanent sleep, frequently symbolising spiritual stagnation through his use of comatose states within the novel. Children of Men plays upon the idea of sterility possibly caused by our chemical modern world. There is less of a deeper level to this story than that of Girlfriend in a Coma although it does make interesting parallels with the nativity story. There is also a poignant Tate Gallery scene in which we are shown salvaged artwork. This creates a terrible irony because of course there will be no-one left to admire these pieces. Human expression and therefore life itself has been rendered futile. Both forms of self destruction are particularly haunting to a species genetically programmed with a desire to survive.

Dystopia should have an element of reality since it is our own fears manifested in their extremes. For instance Children of Men projects immigration and chemical issues straight into the not so far off future. In one of the war scenes we are subjected to a shocking splatter of blood on the camera lens. This serves to transform the filming itself into a reality, hinting at a live news report. Thus Cuaron takes us even further into the film and yet paradoxically reminds us we are on the outside looking in. Similarly Coupland uses a very accessible narration studded with references to our time He sets up a very clever interaction with reality in using the title Girlfriend in a Coma which is taken from a Morrissey song. If you have any clue about Morrissey you’ll be very well informed as to what this book is about before you even open the cover. In both novel and film we are led by sensitive characters into a world that is essentially still our own. Love proves to be an invaluable technique in drawing us in and with Julian’s (Julianne Moore) untimely death and Karen’s abrupt coma we are eased into the tragedy of it all.

Dystopia should not just plunge you into a world of despair and abandon you. There must be some glimmer of hope and as a reader or viewer you didactically fulfil this role. Coupland points out that the ‘Future does not exist yet. Fate is for losers’ (Coupland, p.5) and there is hope in this alone. Coupland’s future world is somewhat of a Caliban dystopia, both extremely ugly and profoundly poetic. Cuaron’s cold future world is a world of war and painful destruction. Although there is hope in rebirth there is also a shocking wild beauty in the silent slow motion imagery of the deer running around the corridors of a deserted school. Ironically solace seems to lie with our destruction.
 © Claire Murray November 2006

Claire is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
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