Written & Directed by Chandler Tuttle
(From a short story by Kurt Vonnegut)
Review by John Fraim
One of the greatest short films ever produced – perhaps the greatest – is Chandler Tuttle’s 2081. The film under the Motion Picture Institute (MPI) banner scripts out a short story of Kurt Vonnegut from his famous short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House. The short story is “Harrison Bergeron” and it is about an underground hero in the year 2081 – Harrison Bergeron – who has escaped from being in custody for six years. The film’s perspective seen from the home of Harrison Bergeron’s parents who are watching a ballet on the television when news of the event comes on their television.
Through the voice over we learn that this is 2081 and everyone has been declared equal in the world. Harrison’s father is maybe 70 years old and sits in his living room easy chair wearing handicapping weights with electric current ready to shock him at any time. He is drinking a Coors and watching the ballet program on the television.
The programming is interrupted with a news bulletin about the escape of a prisoner popular to many in the nation. The greatest political prisoner in custody has just escaped. A smile breaks over the father of Harrison Bergeron.
* * *
Now, we are with Harrison as he takes over the opera where a performance is being broadcast out to the entire nation. He threatens to blow the entire opera house up with a bomb he has planted under the opera house. He controls the bomb with a device in his hand he tells the live TV audience across the nation. A number of brilliant scenes under the opera house in a rust-colored texture of film. Images underground of logos of the group Harrison represents in culture.
Those that defied being equal.
The only way for someone who defied equality to go was towards that second founding symbol of America besides equality. That is, the symbol of freedom. As I’ve repeatedly noted, America was founded at the paradoxical intersection of two founding symbols: Freedom and Equality. They just happened to be grand opposition symbols representing the male archetype of Freedom and the female archetype of Equality.
The two grand archetypes always represented or symbolized by the two great political parties in American: The Republican and Conservative Party. The Freedom symbol. And, the Democrat Party or Liberals. The Equality symbol.
* * *
Hasn’t the real battle in America always been the battle between these two co-founding symbols of America: Freedom and Equality. Perhaps the greatest challenge for America is being able to mix these symbols in a new way. To create some new, magic solution from these two symbols that forms the basis for a new nation, a new people. A new culture and society.
Perhaps this is the real destiny of America?
Not its technological success.
Rather, its spiritual success as being able to merge these two great historic symbols in some new way or manner. Could opposite symbols come together to create a new type of nation? In many ways, this has been the unseen, hidden history of America. The grand forces of the nation. So grand, they are unseen like all of the grand things in life.
Being somehow able to mix the symbols of equality and freedom in one container and create something new out of the mix. What grander destiny could America have than some magical process like this? In effect, perhaps the true destiny of America is to combine the oppositions in the world for the first grand time within one nation. The two grand opposition symbols in Freedom and Equality.
* * *
In 2081, these symbols clash in their grandest dramatic conflict. The brilliant film by Tuttle shows the two grand symbols of America in stark contrast. Giving preference as the “Hero” of the film in the character of Harrison Bergeron. Or, the symbol of freedom in the film. The world has become an equal world where those who promote freedom are imprisoned. Everyone is “handicapped” in some way to make everyone equal in society and culture. Harrison’s father, who watches the live event about his son on the TV is handicapped by wearing a heavy metal device on his chest as he sits in his easy chair watching TV with a beer. His wife knits nearby and chirps away nonsense.
The symbols clash in one of the most brilliantly designed films ever made. Much of this has to do with the background of Chandler Tuttle in design. The film is a gorgeously designed film. The black and white lighting placed in brilliant dramatic juxtapositions. A lesson in cinematic lighting in itself.
All against the superbly appropriate and beautiful music of the Kronos Quartet. A film that expresses the major conflict today as many see the conflict.
* * *
Watch this brilliant 26-minute film. One of the greatest short films ever made. Perhaps, one of the greatest films ever made. Chandler Tuttle learns much from films like Citizen Kane. I just re-watched Citizen Kane (maybe for the 10thtime) last week. Like Citizen Kane in many respects, 2081 is a brilliant modern experiment in cinematography beside being such a powerful film promoting one symbol in the battle between symbols over the other.
Promoting the symbol of Freedom over the symbol of Equality. The film pulls together the perfect cast to re-tell the Kurt Vonnegut story in a form I think that Vonnegut would really be proud of. Great filmmaking, lighting, sound, music. The grandest symbols. Brought together in a new short form of drama in 26 minutes.
The film represents an image of the future in the minds of many of those operating under the masculine archetype and the symbol of Freedom. The future if the Equality symbol comes to control life. This is the future based around a future of equality. The Equality symbol has become the dominant symbol in culture over the Freedom symbol and those who express the Freedom symbol are subject to actions by the government.
It is a brilliant and also an instructive film. It can help those controlled by the Equality symbol to understand more the mindset of those who believe in the Freedom symbol. Like Harrison Bergeron and his father. Perhaps in the end, this is the real value of this brilliant film. Or, one of the values: to help others outside the hero in this film understand this hero. Right now, the hero of this film is a villain to many in the nation. The purpose to see his actions in light of the symbolism of the time.
Watch 2081 at https://www.teaching2081.org/watch-the-film#form.