With a moniker like ‘Modern Times’, it feels natural for us to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516.

Truls Lie
Editor-in-chief, Modern Times Review
Published date: December 12, 2016
Country: Belgium 2016, 1h 22min.

We also mark the 500 years by turning our attention to the film Back to Utopia.

Sir Thomas More’s book Utopia (see a coming essay also) inspired both communism and utopian socialism. It was all about sharing, the land belonging to the people rather than private ownership, shorter working days, a better future, and developing a well-informed authority. More (Catholics know him as Saint Thomas More) viewed the then State as exploiting the people even though they claimed the opposite – not unlike the way today’s state or capitalist elites deceive their voters and consumers. More was employed by King Henry VIII, but as a religious man could not accept the King as head of the Church. As a result, he was sentenced to death by hanging for treason – whereby he was taken down, barely alive, castrated, his innards torn out and burnt in front of his own eyes, before being beheaded. His head was boiled and put on a stake on the city bridge. His daughter Margaret – the film depicts her as reading her father’s book – acquired the head by bribing a guard, then hid it to avoid it being tossed into the Thames. It is said that when the loving daughter was buried, she held her father’s head in her hands.

In the film Back to Utopia, we follow the character Alexander – alluding to Alexander the Great – a modern, cynical businessman. He wants to avert his gaze, but his remorse increases through chapters titled “Gold & Values”, “Common Land”, “Private Property” and “Future Generations”. In the background, the narrator, actor John Hurt, describes the Utopian humanist ideas. To illustrate the gold thirst of those in power, the film relocates to Peru where the government lets illegal gold mines carry on unhindered, whilst protests are answered with bullets and unemployment. We see Alexander cycle among huge private properties, and hear Ugandan tribes explain how the land belongs to its creator and the people, not private ownership. In Mexico, indigenous people want to sell off their land to be able to buy new clothes and cars, but are turned down by the village council. The Chiapas Indians complain about trees being cut down – because no one is allowed to steal their air, the children say to camera. Nature resources are sacred: water, air, earth and mountains are bestowed them from their creator. We hear how current Utopians want a better world. Alexander the exploiter witnesses the ecological damages …

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