A town of scavengers in The Book of Eli
In today’s age of excess, it’s hard to imagine a time when procuring things didn’t involve walking down to the local mall and buying them – or simply shopping online. If you live in the developed world and have the money, virtually anything can be yours. But this certainly hasn’t been the case in the past, and it may not be the way of the future, either. More than a few filmmakers have imagined an approaching age in which resources become increasingly scarce and people are reduced to foraging and scavenging for their needs. Here’s a list of seven cinematic visions of what society might be like if that time ever comes.
Remnants of civilization in The Book of Eli
The Book of Eli, released in 2010, may have had its failings as far as great cinema goes, but it did create a compelling picture of post-apocalyptic society. The events of the movie take place after a great war, and much of the landscape is ravaged and empty. Eli himself, played by Denzel Washington, is a Bible-toting wanderer who hunts for food – cats included – and scavenges from abandoned buildings. Others are less peaceful in replenishing their needs: gangs roam the land, murdering, robbing and even cannibalizing.
Even in a town, scavenging is the main way to acquire goods, which are then used or bartered. And those with more resources naturally have more power. In depicting a broken-down society, the movie trails off into some more mystical territory, but it doesn’t stray too far from exploring the realities of this potentially dismal future.
A lot of scavenging would have been required to find this many studs.
Few movies have contributed as much to the popularity of the low-tech post-apocalyptic dystopia film genre as the Mad Max series. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, in particular, struck a chord, with its rugged outback scenery, punk-influenced leather costumes and DIY armored vehicles. The characters’ clothes and the objects they utilize all reflect the scavenging element of the society in which they live.
We are told that the world has been plunged into this state of anarchy by dwindling petroleum supplies. The 1981 movie centers around Max – a young Mel Gibson – and his involvement with a group of settlers who, because they have an oil refinery in their compound, are besieged by a vicious gang of marauders. In this harsh and violent world, it’s clear that only the strongest – or those living under their protection – will survive.
Tank Girl in some protective desert gear
When it was released in 1995, Tank Girl performed miserably at the box office, but it did have a few redeeming qualities. For one, the cyberpunk look of the movie – drawing on its comic book heritage – is worth at least a quick look. And the film provides plenty of fodder for fans of the quirky and bizarre, too.
Living in a water-depleted future, communities seem to survive by scavenging what they can. This includes stealing water from the evil conglomerate that controls the supply – something at which Lori Petty’s Tank Girl and her resistance group are fairly adept. Of course, this puts her at odds with the water company, which has her kidnapped and tortured in the desert. Oh, and there are some aggressive mutant kangaroos in the mix, too. But never fear: with the help of her sidekick, Jet Girl, our heroine prevails in the end.
Looks like scanning the universe is no longer a priority in Terminator Salvation
In a list of grim futures, the world of 2009’s Terminator Salvation still presents one of the bleakest. The machines have risen, most of the world’s population has been killed off, and only a few groups of survivors live to fight on.
Many of these stragglers – including, of course, John Connor, played by Christian Bale – have organized themselves into a resistance movement. These human soldiers combat the machines with what seems to be salvaged military equipment. In fact, judging by their clothing and weapons, there must have been quite a few army bases from which to scavenge. Not all humans are part of the resistance, however; in the movie we encounter a group of peaceful survivors just trying to stay alive by keeping their heads down. The machines, of course, hunt all humans, regardless of what they do.
Kevin Costner and co-stars model the patched-together outfits of Waterworld.
Waterworld may be best known, incorrectly, as Hollywood’s biggest flop, but the 1995 film actually did break even – eventually. Either way, the idea of a world in which sea levels have risen to cover virtually all dry land is an intriguing one, particularly given today’s concerns about global warming. Without solid earth, the inhabitants of this watery planet Earth are forced to live on raft islands made out of scavenged sheets of metal. Weapons have likewise been salvaged from an earlier time.
Naturally, with the scarcity of resources, pirates prowl the oceans in search of loot – with Dennis Hopper’s “the Deacon” leading the charge. More unexpectedly, some humans, like Kevin Costner’s Mariner, have adapted by evolving gills. In the end, dry land is found, but unfortunately it’s likely to be the only island left on the planet, since the patch of earth is actually the top of Everest.
Image: YouTube/Harry Helheim
A Jugger (played by Joan Chen) with the dog’s skull that stands in for a ball
The low-budget 1989 movie Blood of Heroes takes place in a barren, harsh, post-apocalyptic world. The privileged have retreated underground to live in comfort with hoarded provisions. Meanwhile, those who survive on the surface are forced to eke out a living, either on basic farms or by trading whatever they can recover. In fact, matters are so bad that dog meat is a dietary staple. This being a scavenger society, nothing is wasted, and the impoverished citizens even use the dogs’ skulls as footballs of sorts.
The movie revolves around a violent sport called The Game, in which competing teams try to put their dog’s skull on the other side’s goal post. Sallow, played by Rutger Hauer, and Kidda, portrayed by Joan Chen, are part of a group of wandering teams called Juggers, who travel from town to town attempting to defeat local teams and surviving off the tribute paid to them when they win. The Game is brutal, with injuries like broken legs and bites from opponents commonplace – and despite what you may be thinking, Mike Tyson isn’t known to have ever played the sport himself.
The “Scavs” or scavengers of Oblivion
The alien scavengers, or “Scavs,” as they’re known, in 2013’s Oblivion live on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The Scavs and the nuclear weapons that were used against them have ravaged Earth, and the aliens continue to loot what is left of the planet’s power stations. Meanwhile, the remaining humans live on Titan.
Jack Harper, portrayed by Tom Cruise, is a technician who is tasked with maintaining the spherical robot drones that target the alien bandits. As an aside, Harper does some scavenging of his own, furnishing a small cabin with the things he finds in abandoned buildings. However, (*spoiler alert*) we eventually discover that the scavengers are not aliens at all, but humans. They’re the survivors of the alien attack, now living underground, and their bizarre-looking armor – including helmets made from repurposed stealth fighter tech – is, in fact, a disguise to protect them from the drones.