The Gods of Progress

Recently, I saw two classic films for the first time; Blade Runner and Network. I enjoyed both, but there was also something intensely sad about them. They both expressed such…hopelessness. They’re very much modern films, that is to say, films made from the perspective of a modernist / progressivist worldview, though a self-reflective one. Blade Runner had some room for wonder and morality; Network was a world ruled by crass commercialism and cynical disillusion. But even Blade Runner could only throw up its hands and take refuge in an agnostic materialism in which death is the inevitable and final end. It too was a fundamentally commercial and material world, but one in which people could still raise their heads and ask why, though no answer was forthcoming.

“I want more life, father.”

Both films sit firmly in a world of progress; of hard-headed materialistic triumph. Science in one, economics in the other. We have androids indistinguishable from humans who wrestle with the same existential questions, spaceships colonizing other worlds, endless cityscapes, we have powerful commercial networks that dream of economizing and entertaining all human problems away, headed by strong, domineering female executives who have shattered the glass ceiling.

And hardly a speck of joy or hope to be found in either of them. Even the sex scenes express no love and hardly any desire (Faye Dunaway’s character in Network keeps talking about her job even while having sex, which I found darkly hilarious). The result of all that is, as William Holden’s character puts it, “shrieking nothing.”

(That’s about as good a description of modernity as I’ve heard)

Films like these make me appreciate what a blessing it is to have faith. When Deckard’s voice over comments that Batty only wanted to know what everyone else does: “Where do I come from? Where am I going?” I found I had an answer: “we come from God and we are going to God. We have a place in this world; a place that is by no means supreme, but it is our own. We are made for infinite happiness.”

But it seems we, as a civilization, didn’t like that answer and so went with the strong gods of progress in the hopes of making our place supreme. The results are expressed in films like these.

“For though I lie on the floor of the world
With the seven sins for rods,
I would rather fall with Adam
Than rise with all your gods.

What have the strong gods given,
Where have the glad gods led,
When Guthram sits on a hero’s throne
And asks if he is dead?”
Ballad of the White Horse, Book III

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