When I first learned of Google’s motto, “Don’t be evil,” I was very impressed. I found it simple and compelling. And what’s more, I believed it. I liked this notion of a company letting you know it is trying to avoid falling into the category of mainstream corporate America where, God bless our capitalist society, it’s all about profit at all costs. It was like the Google creators were saying, “Sure, we’d like to make a profit, but we’re not going to turn into monsters to do it.”
This post isn’t about whether Google has been successful in living up to its motto – or whether its aspiration is even attainable. But there is a lot of buzz about companies like Google, Facebook and other Web giants making moves that may not rise to the level of evil but easily reach the creepiness bar, particularly in terms of privacy issues. My book club is primed to read Dave Eggers’ new novel about these very concerns – “The Circle,” which I’m sure will generate even more discussion of these issues in the new media stratosphere. So I think it’s a good time to recommend some movies that address the Orwellian fears and manifestations that have existed or may yet come to pass in this wide world.
You can take these ideas as far as complete control of people’s lives as in the sci-fi action smash “The Matrix” (1999) or the horror genre staple “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956 and 1978). Or it can be the subtle infringements that start out seemingly harmless and mount slowly into an impenetrable web of “terms of agreement” people must sign off on just to live in a particular neighborhood, download a recipe, or share a photo with a friend as in the gothic novel rendering “Renaissance” (2006) and another sci-fi thriller, this one based on Philip K. Dick story, “Minority Report” (2002).
Here are a few I highly recommend. I was just as surprised as you might be that four out of the five I chose to highlight were released in 2005 or 2006.
The Lives of Others (2006)
A fantastic German thriller set in 1984 East Berlin. Two artistic lovers fall under the watchful eyes of the Stasi (secret police) by way of an officious, lonely officer who becomes a little too absorbed in their lives.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Natalie Portman joins a masked crusader named “V” in his fight for freedom against a totalitarian government in a not-so-distant future Great Britain.
A darkly animated 2054 Paris in which a company called Avalon relentlessly markets youth and beauty to an all-too-receptive public that seems oblivious to how Avalon influences everyday life. Daniel Craig voices a daredevil cop seeking a kidnapped Avalon wunderkind scientist.
Rear Window (1954)
“Do you think it’s OK to watch someone … even if you prove he didn’t commit a murder?” James Stewart poses this apt question to Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s voyeurism-fueled classic. I’m highlighting it as an example of how laws that exist to protect privacy can protect the guilty as well as the innocent (that’s part of democracy, people). Stewart suspects his neighbor is a murderer, and when he asks his detective buddy to investigate, the detective explains that he needs evidence before he can go poking into the private lives of citizens. Your tax dollars at work!
Red Road (2006)
The surveillance in this film is primarily by an individual using the resources of the government. She’s a CCTV operator in Glasgow, Scotland, who obviously has access to all the CCTV cameras in the area she canvases. When she spots an ex-con she never thought she’d see again, she becomes obsessed with taking his freedom away once again.
Other recommendations on privacy/surveillance
The Conversation (1974)
Other recommendations on government or corporate abuse of power
The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
The Ghost Writer (2010)