The Rebirth of Utopia in 21st-Century Cinema

Cosmopolitan Hopes in the Films of Globalization

by Mónica Martín (Author)
©2023 Monographs XIV, 226 Pages
Series: Ralahine Utopian Studies, Volume 27


«Given that most scholarship on cinema and utopia focuses on the subgenre of dystopia and its pessimistic discourses, Mónica Martín’s volume could not be more timely. It is a pioneering work; arguably the first book in English devoted to systematically analysing the utopian impulse as a textual feature in contemporary Anglophone cinema. Discussing a wide range of films, from mainstream blockbusters to independent, low-budget productions, this is a fascinating comparative study on the potential for cinema to engage with the phenomenon of social dreaming and the search for a better society. This is not only a theoretical intervention, but a political one.»
(Mariano Paz, University of Limerick)
Thinking across the boundaries of utopian studies, film studies, and the sociology of globalisation, this book argues that 21st-century cinema illustrates the rebirth of utopia as an open method grounded in cosmopolitan worldviews and aspirations. Rather than negating hope, promoting a fixed agenda, or depicting an exemplary status quo, contemporary movies such as Children of Men, The East, and The Hunger Games series articulate a cosmopolitan utopianism that vindicates egalitarian and sustainable futures. Re-inscribing the utopian within the political, many 21st-century films challenge existing geopolitical borders and the social barriers imposed by class, gender, race, sexuality, and birthplace. Ecocritical film spaces, caring protagonists, non-mainstream survivors, ecofeminist leaders, and cooperative networks prompt spectators to develop integrating dialogical imaginaries that contest patriarchal traditions, ecocidal progress, and neoliberal definitions of the global. Contemporary with climate change, economic recession, and global social movements, the films explored in this book re-stage utopia as a cosmopolitan method of critical resistance and transformative action—a process in the making that evokes a fairer world to be as much as it speaks of a world that is: one in which global interdependence has shaped not only risks, hostilities, and inequalities, but also inclusive horizons, holistic thinking, intersectional activism, and nurturing affects for others that have become part of us.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Tracing Hope in Cinema and Beyond
  • PART I. The Art of Envisioning Life Otherwise: Utopia and Cinema
  • CHAPTER 1. Re-staging Utopia: From Blueprint to Method
  • CHAPTER 2. Utopia in the Movies: Connecting Film and Utopian Analysis
  • PART II. Hope amidst the Ashes: Cosmopolitan Horizons in Contemporary Post-apocalyptic Cinema
  • CHAPTER 3. From Risk Society to Cosmopolitanism: Visions of Globalisation and Its Spaces – Economic, Environmental, Social
  • CHAPTER 4. The Spatial Politics of the End: Apartheid Solutions and Eco-Cosmopolitan Visions in Post-apocalyptic Films
  • CHAPTER 5. Children of Men: Utopia as a Cosmopolitan Method
  • PART III. Reformed Ontologies: Cinematic Philosophies of Hope and Care in Global Times of Crisis
  • CHAPTER 6. Changing Modes of Being in the World and Thinking of Our Place in It: Global Alternatives to Neoliberal Philosophy
  • CHAPTER 7. Non-mainstream Film Survivors: Emancipatory Resistance beyond the Boundaries of the Normative
  • CHAPTER 8. The East: Awakening to Eco-Social Dreaming
  • PART IV. Intersectional Politics: Egalitarian Cultures Occupy the Streets and Movies
  • CHAPTER 9. A Cosmopolitan Ecosystem of Political Dissent: Global Social Movements
  • CHAPTER 10. The Politics of the Multiple: Cooperative Networks United in Diversity
  • CHAPTER 11. Time’s Up: Katniss Everdeen’s Ecofeminist Leadership in The Hunger Games Film Series
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Filmography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Figure 1. Moving on together: Post-apocalyptic inclusive imaginaries in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.

Figure 2. Little to look forward to: Rachael and Rick’s bleak horizons in Blade Runner.

Figure 3. Counter-programming the neoliberal co-optation of utopia: Awakening cosmopolitan networks in The Matrix.

Figure 4. Cosmopolitan cooperation as a way out of global apocalypse in Blindness.

Figure 5. Escape where? Acknowledging the need to confront the status quo in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Figure 6. Interstellar’s wasted crops: Ecocide demands ecofeminist perspectives.

Figure 7. The dystopian every day in Children of Men: Theo watches the news on Diego Ricardo’s death.

Figure 8. Long take dialogics: Holistic representations of social relations and shared spaces.

Figure 9. Lighting ties hope to the inclusion of the Other.

Figure 10. Star in American Honey: Overlooked and vulnerable, yet highly resistant and skilful.

Figure 11. The camera has their back: Endorsing protagonists’ aspirations in The Florida Project.

Figure 12. Blackening and queering utopian horizons at the end of Moonlight.

←ix | x→

Figure 13. “It shouldn’t be so easy to sleep at night” – an appeal to ecological conscience.

Figure 14. An ontological renaissance: Jane’s eco-humanist conversion in The East.

Figure 15. Self-aware engagement: Committing to eco-social welfare.

Figure 16. Veronica’s crew in Widows: Rewriting gender and genre rules.

Figure 17. Billy and Clare in The Nightingale: Two histories of repression, one shared horizon ahead.

Figure 18. The ecocidal patriarchal establishment Katniss Everdeen aims at.

Figure 19. Back to “normal”: Remodelled gender aesthetics in the pastoral finale of The Hunger Games film series.

Figure 20. Greta Thunberg and Katniss Everdeen: The promising potential of ecofeminism.

←x | xi→


I would like to thank all those who have supported me personally and academically during the years of learning that culminate in this book. First, I would like to express my gratitude to Peter Lang and the editorial board of the Ralahine Utopian Studies Series for selecting my work in the 2021 Young Scholars Competition and opening up a stimulating space for interdisciplinary utopian scholarship. I feel deeply honoured to contribute to a publishing project whose editors have illuminated my research from the start. Thanks are also due to my PhD supervisor at the University of Zaragoza, María del Mar Azcona, for her academic guidance during the writing process of my doctoral thesis. Celestino Deleyto, Katarzyna Paszkiewicz, Peter Evans, and Anne Gjelsvik deserve my sincere gratitude for providing insightful feedback on my research before and after the PhD viva. I also want to thank the members of the Department of English Studies at the University of Zaragoza, my research colleagues in the group Cinema, Culture, and Society, and my peer lecturers at the Faculty of Education.

Research towards this book has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education (FPU 13/00057 fellowship) and the Ministry of Science and Innovation (project PID2021-123836NB-100). Also important were the scholarships provided by Santander Bank for the MA in Film Studies I completed at University College London, and the grants awarded by Royal Holloway, University of London, to carry out postgraduate research in the Department of Media Studies. All this would not have been possible if – in the pre-Brexit years – I had not had the chance to complete a BA in English Studies at the University of Roehampton, London, as an Erasmus student. This European education programme helped me mature as a future researcher but, most significantly, it allowed me to relish how much is to be gained by crossing borders – sociocultural, geographical, academic.

This book has greatly benefitted from what I have learned from my teachers in London and Zaragoza. Isabel Santaolalla deserves special ←xi | xii→mention for being the most welcoming Erasmus host at Roehampton and for tutoring my work as an ARGO intern at the Hispanic Research Centre. More than a decade later, her warm optimism, kind intelligence, and generosity continue to be tremendously inspiring. Mark Shiel’s MA seminars at King’s College were especially enlightening, as well as Jo Evans’s at UCL, and Barry Langford’s supervision at Royal Holloway. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to Carmen Aznárez for her contagious enthusiasm as a lecturer of English in the School of Tourism at the University of Zaragoza. Going back to high-school days, I thank teacher Luis Montil for screening Stanley Kubrick’s films to discuss philosophical matters with 15-year-old students, which prompted my interest in cinema as a medium to reflect on social conventions and challenge ideological perspectives. I also extend my gratitude to my students in the Faculty of Education at the University of Zaragoza for letting me share with them – teachers-to-be – the joy learning brings about every day.

Finally, my family and friends deserve my warmest gratitude. Care is what lets us grow and be alive in the first place, so thanks are due to those who have taken care of me at some point, even if far away now. Thanks to Ion, Sara, Ambra, Filipa, Isa, Peter, and Stephanie for making me feel at home in London as part of a sparkling cosmopolitan environment. In Zaragoza, David, Laura, Lucía, and Paula have been like family for a long time now. Thanks to Patricia, Raúl, Ara, and Zoe for those energising balcony breaks during long days of home quarantine while I was writing the conclusion to the thesis, and for your friendship. Thank you, Manuel, Sergio, Gemma, Eneko, Eiden, and Eliot for helping us build the big family we are now.

Above all else, I am deeply grateful to Raúl, Marcos, and Abril. Your unconditional love inspires me every day and gives me strength. The three of you make me feel fortunate to live in this world. Becoming a mother twice while working on a thesis has been a challenging enterprise. Even having a room of one’s own, as Virginia Woolf advocated for in 1929 (or, most commonly, a desk in a multi-purpose room in a very expensive tiny flat), we, working mothers, still struggle, one century later, to write, research, and create while upbringing – the huge amounts of time and effort that caring for little ones requires often silenced, unacknowledged, scarcely supported ←xii | xiii→by the state. Despite difficulties, I have been able to complete the PhD and raise our children, by your side, thanks to you, Raúl, and your caring trust in me. Resistant hope, mutual care, and stubborn work – and the many films we have watched side by side, which gave us precious access to worlds and people unknown – propelled us to believe we could make things happen together. And we did. You are the best family I could ever hope for, and my greatest wish is to stay with you and our children forever – exploring, learning, creating, sharing.


I would like to thank for the kind permission to reprint or adapt the following:

Martín, Mónica. 2022. “Awakening from Neoliberal Rationalities: The Ecological Conversion of Brit Marling’s Protagonist in The East”. Journal of Film and Video 74, no. 1: 19–27. Project MUSE <https://doi.org/10.5406/19346018.>

Martín, Mónica. 2021. “Utopia as a Cosmopolitan Method in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men”. Utopian Studies 32, no. 1: 56–72. <https://doi.org/10.5325/utopianstudies.32.1.0056>

Martín, Mónica. 2021. “Time’s Up for a Change of Political Focus: Katniss Everdeen’s Ecofeminist Leadership in The Hunger Games Film Series”. Atlantis 43, no. 1: 89–109. <https://doi.org/10.28914/Atlantis-2021-43.1.06>

Martín, Mónica. 2020. “Ecocritical Archaeologies of Global Ecocide in Twenty-First-Century Post-apocalyptic Films”. In Avenging Nature: The Role of Nature in Modern and Contemporary Art and Literature. 179–194. London: Lexington Books.

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Introduction: Tracing Hope in Cinema and Beyond

The PhD thesis that has become this book was completed in April 2020, during the long, exhausting weeks of home confinement imposed by the Spanish government to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Italy, Russia, France, India, United Kingdom, Argentina, Ruanda, and the United States had also told their citizens to shelter, and most other countries would do so shortly after. The quarantine of whole regions, the interruption of international air travel and the closing of schools, universities, stores, restaurants, libraries, museums, and cinemas, among many other “nonessential” services, brought daily life to a halt of undetermined duration. The worldwide outreach of the pandemic and its paralysing effects on the economy echoed the impact of world wars in history books. The ever-growing data of infected world citizens and casualties, mostly elderly, was desolating, while the prospect of collapsed health systems resulted terrifying. This unexpected global dystopian panorama seemed to be the plot of one of the films analysed in the upcoming chapters. Sadly, it was not. Yet, as sociologist Ruth Levitas argues (2013), it is in critical situations like this when utopia – conceived as a holistic sociological method to analyse our global social order and make ecological and inclusive proposals for its transformation – is most needed.


XIV, 226
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (March)
21st-century cinema Cosmopolitan utopianism Films of globalisation The Rebirth of Utopia in 21st-Century Cinema Cosmopolitan Hopes in the Films of Globalisation Mónica Martín
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2023. XIV, 226 pp., 19 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Mónica Martín (Author)

Mónica Martín is Lecturer of English Studies in the Faculty of Education at the University of Zaragoza, Spain. The present work is based on her doctoral thesis and is published as an awardee of the 2021 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition. Her research brings together contemporary cinema, utopian thinking, the sociology of globalization and intercultural education, with a focus on egalitarian and ecological aspirations.


Title: The Rebirth of Utopia in 21st-Century Cinema