Science Fiction’s Border Control Lessons for Elites

Continuing the science-fiction-as-class metaphor, with a soupçon of immigration, is the gorgeous-looking, and yet mysteriously distributor-less Upside Down:

There’s a pretty clear emerging pattern in science fiction movies of physical boundaries between classes. In Time had the zoned checkpoints that Justin Timberlake has to cross through, the border fee he pays escalating at every checkpoint. These aren’t just basic visa fees: he’s got to prove that he’s got time to burn, or at least that he wants to be there badly enough to spend part of his life to pay for the crossing. When he comes into possession of a million years, the movie becomes a story about trade and monopolies. It’s not just frightening to the ruling class that the years get out into other districts, it’s that the borders themselves are permeable.

It looks like the same will be true in Upside Down. I’ll be curious to see how the boundaries between the two worlds are physically controlled (it looks like it’s a matter of finding inflection points and making the conceptual leap that allows you to realize you can walk on the ceiling), but there’s no question it’s important. The Boarder Patrol actually goes by the same name in these worlds and our own, and is clearly willing to try to prevent that conceptual realization and those crossings by force.


In both movies, there are two clear reasons that the ruling classes don’t want the borders they’ve set up to be permeable. In both cases, they’ve built beautiful, controlled worlds that they don’t want disturbed by the presence of uncouth members of the lower classes. They have beautiful things, and they don’t want to share. But in both movies, the goal is also to make sure no one realizes the borders can be crossed, that resources can be redistributed, that the system everyone lives isn’t a natural and immutable condition.

I wonder if that’s a more important message for privileged people than for the people who want to cross borders, though. It’s not like Mexican immigrants, or gay binational couples don’t already know that the system is rotten, and aren’t working to subvert it, whether they’re continuing to make border crossings irrespective of the danger or lobbying to get laws changed. It’s the folks who think that borders can be entirely secured, that we can preserve some kind of purified society, who need the lesson.