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KURT VONNEGUT'S HARRISON BERGERON


STARRING: Sean Astin, Miranda de Pencier, Buck Henry, Eugene Levy, Howie Mandel, Andrea Martin, Christopher Plummer, John Atin

1995, 105 Minutes, Directed by: Bruce Pittman


Description: In a society of the future after a Second American Revolution, the United States has followed a course towards human equality by making everyone into the lowest common denominator. This dark future United States achieves this equality by a program of directed breeding and where directed breeding doesn't work, citizens wear special mind control collars that handicap their intelligences to a point where everyone has about the same level of brain power. In this dark future, students are encouraged to be average and seek "C" grades. Predictably, Harrison Bergeron has such a high IQ that his mind control collar cannot effectively inhibit his intelligence and he must make a choice between a surgery similar to a lobotomy or disappear from society. Amazon.com

Imagine a future America which has reverted back to the 1950s, intellectualism is not merely frowned upon but actively discouraged; there are also non-stop executions for petty crimes such as shoplifting, jaywalking and parking violations. Nope, it's not America under George W. Bush, but the dystopia foreseen in this adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut short story of the same name.

Now, to be fair, pretty much like in Ray Bradbury's cautionary tale Fahrenheit 451, all of this is done in the pursuit of egalitarianism and equality. It's as if political correctness has gone berserk and on rampage, intent on wiping out all differences between people and enforcing mediocrity. Citizens are made to wear special head-bands that disrupt their thought processes whenever they might become cleverer than the guy next door - I won't be surprised that if Dubya wished that his opponent Al Gore wore one during the presidential debates in the States! Into this scenario steps the title character played by Sean (The Goonies) Astin, who does badly in school (i.e., he gets straight A's all the way!) and soon becomes a threat to this dumbed down society.

"At times the plot may drift aimlessly, but stick with it: the rewards are worth it . . ."

Kurt Vonnegut's novels have always translated poorly to the screen - take the confused muddle that was the George Roy Hill adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five in 1972. However, this made-for-cable movie merely takes the basic concept and spirit of satirist Vonnegut's 1961 six-page story and expands upon it tremendously. It may be that I've watched too many poor TV movies like Shadow Men and straight-to-video crud such as The Second Arrival and Fortress 2: Re-entry lately, but Harrison Bergeron is a real gem. It is a latter-day Dark Star that illustrates how the imagination can be allowed to be set free under a low budget and a truly original, witty and thoughtful screenplay.

At times the plot may drift aimlessly, but stick with it: the rewards are worth it and will have you talking about its surprising ending afterwards. More pure science fiction than most of this year's big screen offerings like Mission to Mars, Battlefield Earth, it is worth a rental or setting the VCR for a late-night screening on television. Or, alternatively, if you are a hard sci-fi fan and you ever happen to be in South Africa for some reason, drop by and we can watch my tape of it . . .

(The original story was published in Welcome to the Monkey House, a collection of Vonnegut's early sci-fi short stories or you can check it out here. Well-worth reading. Kilgore Trout would have been proud . . .)


 



 

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