I haven’t done any film reviews, and I’m not about to start now. I’ve just watched What Still Remains on Netflix.
This is decent post-apocalyptic fare, some catalyst, societies, competing factions, good versus evil, at least in the eyes of the devout. But that’s not what I am going to be writing about.
What still remains contains good writing and strong character development. It does over-employ tropes, but this seems to be the norm these days: modular writing; rearranging the Lego pieces to make something that appears fresh. So what do I have to say?
This is a perfect depiction of the problems with property rights and social contract theory. There are apparently 3 factions—4 if you count independents.
Initially, there were the Changed, never seen on screen and perhaps not even contemporaneous to the current period, though they may reside in the unseen cities. Anna, the protagonist, and her family are among the independent. Peter, a preacher from the ordained, holier than thou faction. In the realm of ‘if you’re not with me (and our God), you’re against me, thence evil’, they are the arbiters of all that is good. And then there are the Berserkers, as named by the Ordained. To the Ordained, Berserkers aspire to be Changed, but the Berserkers view themselves more along the line of Spartans: Pain is good.
All scenes are shot in the wilderness, but the various factions have staked property claims with wide perimeters. The penalty for trespass appears to usually involve death of the offending party—or at least a hefty fee. This is Hobbes’ ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ life outside of society quip, though he didn’t exactly account for a class of societies despite this being common in his day.
So, these factions don’t actually have property rights; what they have is a notion of property, and they defend it with violence, as is a necessary condition for all property. In so-called modern societies, the violence is obfuscated much in the same manner that supermarkets obscure the carnage behind the meat. It’s still there; it’s just at arm’s length. Violate one of these ‘rights’, and you’ll see the violence inherent in the system.
And then there’s social contract theory—or the gaping flaw in the logic. Anna is an independent, but one can only be as independent as the ability to defend their independence. It’s sort of like contract law. If you can afford to defend a contract, you are entitled to having it enforced.
Redact intellectual property rant.
Anna doesn’t particularly want to belong to either faction, who have divided their world into two pieces in the same manner that, say, Britain and Scotland might have. If you happen to be born there through some loin lottery, you pretty much have to choose a side. Given Sartre’s no excuses policy, you can choose neither; it just won’t bode well for you. You’ve got no real choice.
In Anna’s eyes, upon the death of her mother and brother, she is persuaded with reluctance to return with Peter to his community, a God-fearing bunch. Her mum had indoctrinated her into this cult of God through bible readings, so she was primed for the eventuality. Some independent interlopers attempted to block their return journey by claiming trespass, so Peter summarily offed them rather than paying their ransom—a fee Anna has been willing to tender.
When the two finally reached the sanctuary, Anna quickly realised that she had no say in the matter: she was either a (good) member or (an evil) dead. To reiterate, this is an underlying problem with social contract theory. There is no exit clause.
Side Bar: Some have argued that the cost of coerced—though they’d never use this term—participation and compliance is owed to the greater good. There is no reason given why this is preferred or across which dimensions better is being assessed—or good for that matter—, so don’t ask. Long live Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill with a hat tip to David Hume.
“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.
From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau each approached social contracts from their own perspectives, but it may be interesting to note that each was a privileged white male of his day. Sure, Hobbes was a monarchist, and Rousseau was the Thoreau of his day, a nostalgist, but he like the others were beneficiaries of the status quo, save perhaps at the margins.
Anna thought she had sovereignty over her choices. In the end, the plot line prevailed, but then again, this was just a movie, so even her choices were scripted.