A young couple is sent to prison for violating a law that forbids having more than one child, and must outwit a high-tech incarceration system to escape. [ The Fortress credits: Dir: Stuart Gordon/ Christopher Lambert, Kurtwood Smith, Loryn Locklin/ 95 min/ SciFi-Fantasy, Action-Adventure / Reproductive Liberty]
“The film makes the ultrapowerful state toward which we are gradually slouching seem a dangerous and unhappy prospect.”
In the projected future of The Fortress, the U.S. government has made it illegal to have more than one child in order to reduce overpopulation. The couple at the center of this story are about to have a second baby anyway, and want to leave the country to do so.
However, a panoply of authoritarian control mechanisms are now in place to prevent such transgressions, including identifying bar codes on each citizen, legions of police with menacing protective gear, and a vast array of sophisticated electronic detection and restraint devices. Unable to circumvent these mechanisms, the couple get caught trying to cross the border, and are sent to a high-tech private prison owned by the “Men-Tel Corporation”—where, as it turns out, prisoners are simply slaves for life regardless of their official sentences. The only hope is escape, but that won’t be easy.
There are two good aspects of this film from a libertarian perspective.
First, it puts birth control laws in a bad light. The “one baby” rule in force here might seem improbable, but it has in fact been implemented by China’s socialist government, and, during more depressed times, various intrusive population control laws have at least been discussed in Western countries as well.
Second, and more generally, the film makes the ultrapowerful state toward which we are gradually slouching seem a dangerous and unhappy prospect. The thought of everyone being bar-coded, and how powerless we would be to escape the authorities in such a situation, reminded me of how important privacy has been in preserving freedom over the years.
As entertainment, The Fortress is a fair sci-fi action film. The action scenes are exciting, and there are some creative concepts here—including an electronic scanner that reads and can influence dreams, and the “intestinator,” a diabolical behavior control device. Yes, the squeamish should be forewarned: there’s a bit of gore.
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