Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut - Harrison Bergeron

The author Kurt Vonnegut died on Wednesday. I’ve read a couple of his books, and have a couple more sitting thus far unread.

I heard about him through the film Harrison Bergeron. It was on late one night on BBC2, probably about five or six years ago. The first 10 minutes or so caught my attention, and I sat riveted for the next hour and a half as the story played out.

A film that deals with a society in which all are equal. Equally unintelligent. Purposely kept not too bright by electrical devices worn in headbands. A mediocre society that deliberately is lacking creativity, initiative and any risk of surprise.

The film’s tagline sums it up nicely:

“Welcome to the future. It’s a no-brainer.”

Harrison Bergeron is too bright, and he doesn’t dull down when the devices are tuned up and up. A lobotomy beckons. Until he gets into trouble, and is offered a second chance. To join the ruling elite, society’s government who are unhampered by intelligence-limiting.

He joins up, but isn’t impressed or happy with what he finds.

It’s a fine, thought-provoking piece of sci-fi, and better than it’s made-for-cable tag suggests.

The film was loosely based on a short story of the same name by Vonnegut, still available in his Welcome to the Monkey House compendium.


John Self said...

I had no idea Harrison Bergeron had been made into a film. The story is one of the all-time greats in my opinion, not least for getting on and off in fewer than six pages. I am pretty sure the text is available to read online somewhere, copyright issues notwithstanding. Also recommended in the collection Welcome to the Monkey House are the title story, and Who Am I This Time?

Vonnegut's passing leaves a significant hole, even though he hadn't hit his heights as a writer for thirty or maybe forty years. So it goes.

Alan in Belfast said...

Must dig out the book. Think I have the film on VHS tape somewhere too from a showing a year or two ago.

John Self said...

Oh and I don't know what books of Vonnegut's you've read or have waiting to be read, but for me his best stuff would be Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night and Cat's Cradle; and on a secondary level the likes of Timequake, Slapstick, Galapagos, Breakfast of Champions, God Bless You Mr Rosewater, and his most famous book Slaughterhouse-Five (which I've never really got on with that well); avoid most of the later stuff like Bluebeard, Deadeye Dick, Hocus Pocus and Jailbird.