The rise of digital media, as discussed by theorists, is in many ways, breaking away from what is considered “cinema.” However, it is very contradictory to think about it in terms of the ways it also propels “film” forward (or away?) from what we are used to. Surely, there is usually a wish to return to “reality” or “nature” in films such as Strange Days (1995), but for the most part, there is an enjoyment that comes from encountering the digitally enhanced reality that presents us with never-ending choices. At the core, getting lost in a digital world in the premise of most movies involves the pairing or joining of human and machine in some form of way. As the 20th century approached its culmination, more and more of these movies seemed to surface as the Western world grew more and more dependent on computers and machines. In fact, one way to think about this anxiety is to reflect on the Y2K problem that plagued the minds of many companies at the end of the 1990’s.
Another peculiar aspect about films that deal with the merging of human and machine, is their compulsory need to locate themselves in time, mostly, if not always, in the future. For example, Blade Runner (1982), set in 2019, deals with “replicants” or human bioengineered beings that have been designed to live for short spans of time but eventually are overcome with human-like desire to live longer; the Terminator series also deals with an imminent, Armageddon-like future where machines have successfully overpowered humans and threaten the very existence of the race; the rather famous Avatar (2009) locates itself in 2154, once again, as if giving us a timeline. While some of the representations of digital-life/computer-life in these examples differ slightly from one another, there is a double-impetus of fear and desire that haunts the ontology of these themes: do we love these ideas because they teach us about the things we fear and should thus avoid (future)? Or do we love them because we fear that, in many ways, we are already irreversibly headed in that direction (lack of future)?
An interesting way to think about these films and their futuristic timelines is to look at other films and even novels whose “future” is now our “past.” Aside from the very obvious Strange Days, Orwell’s novel 1984 (1934), and later a film the same year of its title, is a gleaming example of a novel set fifty years into its future that is now almost thirty years into our past. The presence of media and what we have come to know as computers, cameras, and screens in 1984 is what is scary about 1984. Our fascination with the possibility of a future hijacked by computer use, surveillance, and embodiment is both attractive and scary and this is a perfect recipe for films released years leading up to and away from the Millennium.