KURT VONNEGUT'S HARRISON BERGERON
Sean Astin, Miranda de Pencier, Buck Henry, Eugene Levy, Howie Mandel,
Andrea Martin, Christopher Plummer, John Atin
1995, 105 Minutes, Directed by: Bruce Pittman
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. —
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 . . ."
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 . . .)