It’s only lately, with the realization that I have a couple of Young Adult novels in my hot little fist, that I’ve taken any interest in the genre. Hence, I was caught by this LA Times article dissecting the possible death of YA dystopian movies, which were once a hot, very profitable item.
Writers of dystopian YA, and the film makers who see gold in them, assume that any dystopian film centering on youngsters has to have a happy ending. Not very different from what romance readers expect, when you think about it. There also has to be an easily identifiable baddy, and for true heroism to assert itself, that has to be something really, really big, like an entire government. That government has to be represented by baddies who can be defeated by a youthful uprising, and who will take the government down with them.
The assumption is that the causes of the “bleak future,” as the Times writer puts it, are uncomplicated and that once they’re out of the way, the light will shine again. There’s no room for anything but simplistic cause and effect. It would be nice to think that this is why YA dystopias have been doing less well in film than the Hunger Games movie–movie goers want something more substantial. I’m not that naive, though. The fall-off in box office revenues is due more to movie goers being tired of seeing the same themes rehashed ad infinitum, with slight variations thrown in to give the impression of something new.
Bleak futures do exist, in literature and real life, and it isn’t likely that they will ever be terribly popular on film. 1984 and The Road are among the exceptions. Those two are very different stories, but what they have in common is that they represent extremes: the all-powerful, pervasive and invasive government, and the hopeless outcome of some mysterious disaster from which there seems to be no coming back. The YA films have followed that pattern–things are as bad as they can possibly get, and if there’s any hope at all, it’s in extreme action.
But there must be something in the middle. How did we get to those extreme ends? Is there some way to prevent them from happening? How do people live their lives in that everyday middle place? Can there be hope for the future, even if it’s a very different future from the one we would prefer? Real life is complex. Real problems are complex and rarely give way to simplistic solutions.
All of which makes me wonder if there’s any room for YA dystopian fiction in which the problems continue to exist, along with the attempts to solve them, after the last page is read. Fiction that can come to a HFN (happy for now) ending rather than HEA (happy ever after).