The Underground People
Updated: Feb 26, 2022
This is an old trope, and I’m going to discuss old sci-fi stories. Should I issue a spoiler alert? Let’s jump into our time machine (hint!) and analyze this segregated future. Prepare for a crazy ride because I’m going to talk about H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the movie Demolition Man, but also the Oscar-winning movie Parasite.
This is the science of fiction.
The South Korean movie Parasite, directed by Bong Joon Ho, won the 2019 Oscar in the category best movie, and it deserves this accolade. It is a brilliant story about class disparity and hypocrisy. The upper class in the film is portrayed as frivolous and alienated. In contrast, the underprivileged characters are witty and parasitic. More than that, to highlight the differences between the classes, the cinematography approach is genius. The elite is always placed in the upper half of the screen, and the working class in the half bottom.
The plot of Parasite revolves around a poor family that comes up with a scheme to get every member employed by a wealthy (and rather petty and easy to despise) family, exploiting their trust. Each member of the poor family poses as an unrelated, highly qualified person. As you can imagine, trouble ensues. But, trust me, you cannot imagine what kind of trouble. If you have not seen it yet, I highly recommend it!
I know, Parasite is not a science-fiction story. But the same ideas present in the movie are also featured in old sci-fi stories. An old trope, we can say. See if you can spot the similarities.
I will discuss the world and some plot points of The Time Machine and Demolition Man, so there will be mild SPOILER ahead. Be warned.
The time traveler in H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine tells us about a bizarre future. He travels hundreds of thousands of years into the future. Then, humans evolved into two species: the childlike Eloi and the savage Morlocks. The Eloi are a fair-skinned species, portrayed as innocent, curious, and carefree. They have a fruit-based diet and are somewhat sex-positive. Meanwhile, the Morlocks are described as ape-like, and they evolved to live in underground habitats. They are light-sensitive, and, most abhorrent, they furtively hunt and feed on Elois.
In the novel, the narrator speculates about the origin of those new species. In his view, the Eloi were the successors of a spoiled elite with no worries. The time traveler infers that intelligence is a result of fear. Thus, the Eloi evolved to be guileless, having no fears besides of the dark (when the Morlocks hunt them). Morlocks’ ancestors, on the other hand, were the working class, once explored for the comfort of a bourgeoisie. At one point, they were relegated to the subterranean. Most interestingly, the Morlocks eventually started to see those who once explored them as targets for them to explore... and eat.
This same trope also appears in a classic of action theater. Demolition Man, the 1993 movie directed by Marco Brambilla and starring Silvester Stallone, Sandra Bullock, and Wesley Snipes, is sci-fi gold! (Yes, I like explosions and cars crashing through glass windows. Who doesn’t?)
LAPD Sergeant John Spartan (Stallone) is unjustly blamed for the death of several people while he was pursuing his foe, the criminal Simon Phoenix (Snipes). Both are convicted to cryogenic prison time, but Spartan’s sentence is cut short because Phoenix has escaped. He wakes up in a future where people listen to commercial jingles for pleasure and use three shells in place of toilet paper. Sandra Bullock’s character, Lieutenant Lenina Huxley, was actually named after the author of Brave New World. Yet, here I am comparing the movie to another sci-fi classic.
The movie shows us the not-too-far future of 2032, where half of the society accepts the peacefulness enforced by an authoritarian government—a strict agency against basically anything R-rated and anything deemed not good to your body, including meat.
This half of the society lives in a clean, futuristic San Angeles, the megalopolis formed by Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara. The citizens do not know violence and, maybe because of it, are quite naive.
Those in this society make a great effort to ignore the outcasts living under the city. The underground people do not conform to the control of the Government. The scarcity in this other half of the society makes them look primitive. They are barbaric in the eyes of the surface elite. Unlike the Morlocks, the underground people do not eat those on the surface, but they do attack them to get food.
Now, hear me out. What if Demolition Man and The Time Machine are from the same universe? The timeline fits!
Think about it. A sex-positive, childlike society that does not eat meat and does not have many worries in life vs. an underground society of savage-looking, rat eaters who often target the surface people. Am I talking about The Time Machine or Demolition Man?
What if the word Eloi originated from the acronym LA? The underground people are often accused of committing “Murder Death Kill.” If you give it enough time, the chances are good that Mur-De-Kill becomes, you know, Mur-locks.
I know; I’m pushing the boundaries here. It’s all for the sake of fun! This theory is super cool, but it has many holes in it. Why don’t you tell me some of them in the comments? Let’s play. Debunk me!
See you next post,
Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.
You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.