Frederica Matthewes-Green on “Idiocracy”

Here’s Frederica Matthewes-Green on one of those DVDs you might not want to miss.

But then again, you might.

How to describe Idiocracy? It is the most thought-provoking bad movie I’ve ever seen. But, stand warned, it really is bad. The plot is flimsy, the characters are flat, and the minutes fly like hours. You’ll be desperate for it to end, long before the 87 minutes run their course.

And yet it lingers in the mind. The day after you see it, you’ll see it everywhere. As the months go by, you’ll be more and more impressed by its accuracy. In the last century, World’s Fairs often set aside space to show what life would be like in the future, displays with names like “Temple of Progress.” You could say that Idiocracy renders an unnerving Temple of Regress.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • vjmorton

    I don’t know how to react to Federica’s review. She nails all the obvious ways that IDIOCRACY is a near-great movie, but doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion.

    For example, she correctly notes that it’s the gags and throwaway details that stick in the memory. That they do this is my idea of proof that a comedy is at least good. She explains why the line “welcome to Costco, I love you” is brilliant — it’s the last clause that amps up the current tone of meaninglessly chipper friendliness. I would add the delivery of the line — not a scap of conviction, from being said a thousand times a day.

    Her principal negative criticisms don’t stick in my opinion. They are that the plot is flimsy (kinda, but that’s true of most comic-satires. We don’t go to them for the story per se); that the characters are flat (no … they are empty-souled. Big difference.); and that audiences might react wrongly to gags like the movie ASS and the show “OW, MY BALLS” (who cares? And I’d argue that the humor anyway is precisely in the gap between on-screen and in-theater audience reactions).

    Shameless self-promotion — I’ve seen the film twice and written about it three times. I think Federica gets a couple of things wrong. I explain it all there, but I deny firmly that IDIOCRACY has a happy ending or that Judge embraces eugenics (to argue that he does is to fall for the surface appearance that his film has a happy ending). And while ultimately I really don’t care for “message criticism” or judging a movie by its “message,” I also think it’s quite obvious that the dysgenic collapse of society is just a metaphor to radicalize for satirical purposes a society that has embraced stupidity. A commie-atheist friend compared it to Allan Bloom’s CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND and called it “a political movie without a constituency,” and I’ve never since seen a better comparison.

  • scandalon

    Yes, it’s very preachy, particularly near the end. But just like what Matthewes-Green said, “it lingers in the mind.” Similar to Office Space, it captures some stereotypes, personalities, and trends amazingly well. I rather enjoyed it, despite the poor plot and performances.

    On a related side note, I thought that opening sequence was quite brilliant.

  • i4detail

    I’ve been known to describe it as great propaganda; terrible art. I know so many people who love this movie, but I found it difficult to watch. However, I do find myself referencing it a fair bit.

  • josephmcbee

    I watched this movie. Yes it was thought provoking, but in a totally obvious way.

    One of the great critcisms of artists who are also people of faith is that they tend to get “preachy” in their work. They hit people over the head with the message instead of just telling a story and allowing the message to speak for itself. IDIOCRACY, although not “Cristian” that I know of, is nonethless VERY preachy.