The trailer of " Voyage en Chine " (Trip to China) is undoubtedly attractive : while it displays beautiful views of the Chinese countryside it sets against them the shapeless figure of an aging, limping, more uncomely than ever Yolande Moreau. The effect is that you can't help asking yourself what the Belgian comedian is doing in such an exotic place ? And the title is only half explicit about that, for this trip does not look like a sightseeing one. Well, for more information, there is no other solution than... to go and see the film. Which I did. I then found out what Yolande Moreau was doing in the Middle Kingdom. In the film she is in fact Liliane Rousseau, a fifty-odd-year-old nurse sharing her modest suburban house with a husband she does not seem to particularly care for. One night she learns by phone the death of her twenty-five-year-old son Philippe : the young man has just been killed in a car accident in China, his adopted homeland. Due to administrative complications, the grieving mother brings herself to go to China, in order to try and sort things out of course but also and above all to mourn her only child with dignity. Only she insists on going alone, certainly not in the company of her husband Richard, whom she blames for having misunderstood their son and caused his estrangement from them. And this is precisely what she does, landing first in Shanghai where Philippe lived and then in the province of Sichuan where he had his accident. Speaking a little English (which does not help very much in the countryside) but not a word of Chinese, this journey proves no pleasure cruise. However Liliane, like a brave little soldier, holds on and finally achieves her initiatory voyage - with a little help from local friends naturally. And just while she opens up to China and its people she gets closer to her son, even if it is too late for him. A profound theme combined with the discovery of another civilization, it looks like we are on track for a masterpiece... Unfortunately this is not really the case. The film is pleasant, yes. As expected, you discover many things about China, particularly about rural China, which is rarely shown in fiction cinema, the views are beautiful and Yolande Moreau is great. So, how come you leave the theater vaguely dissatisfied? One explanation may lie in its exceedingly slow pace. Too many scenes last too long and as they are not rich enough in meaning and/or emotions, a distancing effect (unwanted by the director, I suppose) sets in. With the result that instead of translating the meditative mood of his heroine, Zoltan Mayer inoculates a slight dose of boredom in the viewers' brains. A little more dynamic editing and scenes a little richer in content would have helped give "Voyage en Chine " more impact, which it deserved actually. Another weak point is the way the scenes connected with Philippe's death and funeral. Oddly enough, while the general tone of the film is subdued (even a little too much, as I mentioned before), this part of the film is presented in a melodramatic, if not whiny, fashion. An illustration of it is the (inappropriate) way Mayer directs the pretty Chinese actress Qu Jing Jing, who embodies the late son's former fiancée : she expresses grief too conventionally. So, when she finds herself face to Yolande Moreau, it is disturbing to see the former play while the latter lives. But don't get me wrong: even if I dwelt at some length on the film's imperfections these are only reservations. On the whole, as it is, " Voyage en Chine " remains a respectable work, at any rate worth seeing. Simply, it could have been even better. On the other hand, knowing that this is photographer Zoltan Mayer's first feature, such defects are understandable. So, if you feel like a trip to grassroots China, you can try this one. Just do not expect too many thrills and spills.
One of the most eccentric features of Erewhonian life is the interpretation of crime and punishment. Illness is treated as a crime. Sentences of varying degrees of severity are pronounced according to the nature and seriousness of the disease. There are no physicians in the country. Those actions which Europeans consider criminal — theft, fraud, embezzlement — are regarded as weaknesses of character deserving sympathy and help, help which is provided through the ministrations of "straighteners."
Men Like Gods (1923) by H. G. Wells – Men and women in an alternative universe without world government in a perfected state of anarchy ("Our education is our government," a Utopian named Lion says;) sectarian religion, like politics, has died away, and advanced scientific research flourishes; life is governed by "the Five Principles of Liberty," which are privacy, freedom of movement, unlimited knowledge, truthfulness, and freedom of discussion and criticism.
A serious dilemma presented itself as a result of this newfound devotion to the ancient sages because of the apparent conflict between pagan classicism and Christian doctrine. It became a matter of deepest concern for all Renaissance thinkers to find an accommodation of the two doctrines — the philosophy of Plato and the teachings of Christ. As a result of their dual allegiance, we get the term which describes the movement, "Christian humanism." The successful adaptation of double devotion is seldom better illustrated than in the works of Thomas More, especially in Utopia.
"Voyage centres on a young psychiatrist (played by Ryo van Kooten) who leaves Hong Kong to embark on a long lone voyage from Hong Kong along the coast of South-East Asia to try to overcome the emotional turmoil he has experienced in his relationships with former clients. While travelling, he tries to come to terms with his experiences by making a detailed record of their stories, and decides to visit those places himself.
The influence of More and of Plato, as well, are evident at many points. The tale is told by a sea captain who has visited an island called Taprobane (possibly Sumatra). In that land there is community property and no use of money. There is an equitable sharing of labor, with the result that all work is finished in a four-hour day. There is also a community of women, with a scientific control of breeding, a feature which reverts to Plato's arrangement rather than More's adherence to the plan of the Christian family. Like More, Campanella dwells at length on the subjects of justice, war, and religion.
The features of Erewhonian society that surprise the author are those that differ from the England that he knew. According to the early impressions of the travelers, the people all appear to be exceptionally healthy, exceedingly handsome, and altogether contented. Their life style is characterized by simplicity and gracious manners, best described as Arcadian. Gradually, however, oddities, or what appear to be oddities to the visitor, begin to surface. Duplicity pervades every aspect of thought and action. The natives habitually profess agreement to a proposition although they do not believe in it, and their friends are perfectly aware that they do not mean what they say. There are two separate banking systems in operation and two sets of religions. The people give lip service to what they call the Musical Banks, but they transact all serious business with the currency of the other chain of banks. Similarly they recognize a group of deities representing the personification of human qualities — justice, hope, love, fear — and erect statues to them; but their pragmatic morality is evidently dictated by a goddess — Ydgrun (Grundy). More and more they reveal themselves to the traveler as victims of self-deception and inverted logic. Their universities are called Colleges of Unreason, and the principal course of study is Hypothetics.
Still further afield from sailors' tales of island kingdoms but nevertheless enlightening in the broad study of man's aspirations toward a better world, one may consider some of the more sober expository documents such as: Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and his Social Contract, De Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Carlyle's Past and Present, Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto, and Engel's "On Authority" from Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.
Looking Backward (1888) by Edward Bellamy is the fictional utopian novel that first described the foundations of the socialist movement. In the book, main character becomes transported from the war filled nineteenth century to the peaceful utopian world of twenty-first century. After its release, it quickly became one of the biggest bestsellers of its time, and its influence shaped the works of many future philosophers, novelists, movements and utopian communities.
Sir Thomas More, Utopia. This 1516 work is the book that gave us the word ‘utopia’ – from the Greek meaning ‘no-place’, though with a pun on eu-topos, ‘good place’, implying that such an ideal society is too good to be true. More’s island utopia has variously been interpreted as a sincere description of the perfect world and as a satirical work poking fun at the world’s excessive idealists. Mind you, given that in Utopia adulterers are taken into slavery, and repeat offenders are executed, it makes you wonder whether More’s Utopia isn’t more dystopian than anything…
Thomas More lived from 1477 to 1535. He was convicted of treason and beheaded in 1535 for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. Utopia, written in Latin, was published in 1516. It was translated to English by Ralph Robinson in 1551. The translation by Clarence Miller was published by Yale University Press in 2001. [This review is based on the Miller translation.]
Utopia is placed in the New World and More links Raphael's travels in with Amerigo Vespucci's real life voyages of discovery. He suggests that Raphael is one of the 24 men Vespucci, in his Four Voyages of 1507, says he left for six months at Cabo Frio, Brazil. Raphael then travels further and finds the island of Utopia, where he spends five years observing the customs of the natives.
The reader, following the narrator's shifting attitude from admiration to surprise and finally to contempt, is led to believe that the author is bent on demonstrating the vast inferiority of the Erewhonians to his fellow Englishmen; but it gradually becomes clear that he attributes to Englishmen much of the irrationality and the ingenious equivocations that make the Erewhonians look foolish. The difference is only one of degree. The technique is close to that of Swiftian satire. In some places it is confused and inconsistent, but in other passages it is both clever and devastating, worthy of the master.
The history of utopian literature is extensive, even if we take the term in the strict sense of a detailed description of a nation or commonwealth ordered according to a system which the author proposes as a better way of life than any known to exist, a system that could be instituted if the present one could be cancelled and people could start over. Before More's 1516 Utopia, the number of elaborately designed utopian commonwealths is small. Most of the writings along these lines are brief and many are misty, nostalgic, backward glances at an imagined primitive life in the "Golden Age." There is, of course, no lack of earlier literature criticizing the status quo. The great outpouring of utopian literature, however, came after More; and it cannot be doubted that his work gave great impetus to the movement.
Gattaca is a science fiction film directed by Andrew Niccol, starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law. It depicts the life in the futuristic dystopian Earth society, in which quality genetic makeup controls the destiny of every person. The main protagonist Vincent was born in an old-fashioned way. He is seen as genetically inferior and is doomed to a life of servitude. He tries to change his destiny by buying identity of Jerome Eugene Morrow, a potential swimming star whose career ended in a car accident.
The new plan of society does not conform to many of the familiar features of classical utopias. Money is used in much the way it was used in the 20th century — for wages, for the purchase of goods and property, and for amusements and travel. Most radical of the anti-utopian features is the denial of equality. Mankind is classified in a caste system that is achieved through controlled genetics and that insures the society a supply of dull-witted, underdeveloped individuals to perform the less agreeable jobs and those demanding lesser skills.
Considerable emphasis is given to scientific experimentation, aimed at improving industry, health, and general living conditions. To that end a great laboratory for the natural sciences is operated, and an exhibition hall of science, industry, and the arts offers educational opportunities through scale models of machinery and mural paintings similar to those in the City of the Sun.
Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis. Although he never completed it, this utopian novel by one of the great philosophers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras is well worth reading. It was published posthumously in 1627 and outlines a perfect society, Bensalem (its name suggesting Jerusalem) founded on peace, enlightenment, and public spirit. Available in Three Early Modern Utopias Thomas More: Utopia / Francis Bacon: New Atlantis / Henry Neville: The Isle of Pines (Oxford World’s Classics) along with More’s Utopia and another early utopian novel, Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines.