You’d be forgiven if you didn’t remember this aspect of Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales---that its vision of the future isn’t half as crazy in 2016 as it seemed ten years ago. It’s a film with enough going on and plenty to ponder---from The Rock’s unlikely stardom to what it represents within Richard Kelly’s limited filmography---and while the film is no less bananas today, it’s oddly prescient.
While the film ultimately takes us to the end of the world---with a real bang, as Justin Timberlake’s Pilot Abilene puts it regularly---it’s the road to get there that’s littered with actual realities. A frightening prospect, but Southland Tales isn’t immune to getting some things amusingly wrong.
We’ll see how much of this remains right or wrong in the coming years---assuming Seann William Scott never finds his twin in the ice cream truck---but for now, here’s what Richard Kelly and Southland Tales got right, what it might still get right, and what it got horribly, horribly wrong.
What Southland Tales Got Right
TVs Will Be Smart
After destroying to major American cities, Southland Tales uses a smart TV to walk us through the last three years of American history. From the nuclear attacks in Texas, we learn World War Three has begun, that alternative energy is the business of the future, that government spying has grown exponentially, and that Hillary Clinton is mounting a campaign for president. And all this news is sponsored on a device that appears capable of everything our smartest television sets do today. Say what you will about Southland Tales’ near-apocalyptic landscape, but they surely had some bang-up NFL Sunday Ticket action on these screens.
Conflict in and with Syria
When World War Three begins, it’s America [and presumably its allies, though none is ever mentioned] against five nation-states---Iraq [sure], Afghanistan [of course], North Korea [duh], Iran [seems reasonable], and Syria [huh?]. While relations between the United States and Syria were chilly at best in 2005---Bashar al-Assad was in power and was admonished by the U.S. for its porous border with Iraq---it was practically rosy to the situation there in 2016. Between Assad’s brutal campaign against his own people and ISIS’s rise, Kelly pretty much nailed this one.
Alternative Energy Expansion
While solar, wind, and other forms of alternative energy haven’t expanded as rapidly as many would like, there’s no doubting the industries are much larger than they were a decade ago. Kelly was particularly on point when it came to his assessment of tidal power. While “fluid karma” is simply absurd, the use of ocean currents and river flows to generate power is real and happening around the world with a number of massive tidal power stations planned for the future.
While this agency [under the glorious direction of Nana Mae Frost] is pure fiction, Kelly knew [with an assist to Cold War history] that as international threats increased, so would the government’s reliance on surveillance. Now, you have to give the world of Southland Tales some credit: at least its leaders appeared to be upfront about it. Everyone knew it was happening, and evil Marxist anarchists could act out accordingly. In the real world, it takes folks like Edward Snowden to expose what’s going on, and as technology improves past most people’s understanding of it, those with power will continue to seek---and claim---more.
It was a thing. The Joe Lieberman VP pick is questionable considering he endorsed McCain in ‘08. But Kelly can’t be perfect.
The “Doomsday Scenario Interface” [or DSI] that displays on our fancy smart TVs is sponsored by Panasonic, Bud Light, and Hustler. If the men and women who dreamed up sponsored content and native advertising got this idea from Southland Tales, I’ll never forgive you, Richard Kelly.
What Southland Tales Still Might Get Right
Interstate Travel Restrictions
Hey, if Trump wins and the wall is a success, why not franchise it? After all, nobody puts his name on things better Trump. We could have Trump Wall: Nevada, Trump Wall: Wisconsin, Trump Wall: North Dakota. Southland Tales predicts a law requiring visas to move from state to state, and Trump is definitely looking into this, believe me.
The Rock Will Lead Us to Salvation
I mean, if you had to choose someone today, wouldn't it be Dwayne Johnson? Is he not the most charismatic person in the world? Credit Kelly for being on top of this at least five years before the rest of us.
What Southland Tales Got Very, Very Wrong
Human Beings’ Names
Boxer Santaros, Pilot Abilene, Nana Mae Frost, Baron Von Westphalen, Zora Charmichaels … This movie is set in 2008---three years after an event that dramatically altered civilization. So why are the names of these twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, and even sixtysomethings so damn strange. Is it possible Kelly doesn’t know what humans are called? After watching Southland Tales, is that really a crazy question to ask?