Future Imperfect: The Uncanny in Science Fiction

Jul 17–Aug 31, 2017


Ex Machina. 2015. Great Britain. Directed by Alex Garland. Courtesy Universal Pictures/Photofest. © Universal Pictures

Imagine a science-fiction film series with no space travel, no alien invasions or monsters, and no visions of the distant future. Imagine instead a dazzling array of science-fiction films entirely taking place on Earth and in the present (or near present).

Science fiction, at least in the movies, essentially boils down to two questions: Are “they” coming to kill us or to save us? And, what does it mean to be human? Presented in association with the Berlinale and the Deutsche Kinemathek-Museum für Film und Fernsehen, this exhibition of 70 science-fiction films from all over the world—22 countries including the United States, the Soviet Union, China, India, Cameroon, Mexico, and beyond—explores the second question: our humanity in all its miraculous, uncanny, and perhaps ultimately unknowable aspects. Since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers as diverse as Kathryn Bigelow, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kinji Fukasaku, Jean-Luc Godard, Barry Jenkins, Georges Méliès, Michael Snow, Alexander Sokurov, and Steven Spielberg have explored ideas of memory and consciousness; thought, sensation, and desire; self and other; nature and nurture; time and space; and love and death. Their films, lying at the nexus of art, philosophy, and science, occupy a twilight zone bounded only by the imagination, where “humanness” remains an enchanting enigma.

Future Imperfect spans the entire history of cinema, from Walter R. Booth’s The Over-Incubated Baby (1901) to Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime (2017). The breadth of the series is also reflected in The Fantastic Adventures of Georges Méliès, Buster Keaton, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a special program of silent films from the past 100 years that includes Georges Méliès’s The Conquest of the Pole (1912), Buster Keaton’s The Electric House (1922), and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Vapour (2015). Noted science-fiction authors are brought to the screen, from Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, and Stanislaw Lem to Subdoh Ghosh and Jules Verne.

These films represent diverse forms of science fiction, a strange and heady mix of the knowable and the speculative. Are we the sum of our genes, culture, and technology? How do we regard, interpret, and alter our past, present, and future? How have filmmakers from the 20th century and into the new millennium grappled with some of the most fascinating, terrifying, and hopeful questions of our time—questions of cybernetics, cyborgs, body hacking and artificial intelligence; human evolution and fate; the transhuman and the posthuman; global warming and environmental catastrophe; the prehistoric, the Anthropocene, and the postapocalyptic; synesthesia and other altered states of perception and consciousness; mutations and modifications of the human genome; culturally determined notions of racial and gender identity and the reinvention of the self? These questions, as demonstrated in Future Imperfect, are as aesthetic as they are moral.

Guest presenters include Michael Almereyda, Larry Fessenden, Lynn Hershman Leeson, John Sayles, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and others.

Organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.



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