Film philosophy: ‘Love, Death & Robots’ values individual change over unrealistic goals

A male anime character laughs ominously in front of a flame.
The episode of Love, Death and Robots of “Pop Squad” deals with the contradiction that an individual’s actions cannot change the system, yet is significant, Simone Bogedal PO ’24 argues. (Courtesy: Netflix)

Do you feel like you’re expected to change the world? If so, you’re not alone. College students are often the target of unrealistic pressure to change the world, both in regard to existential threats (e.g., climate change) or societal issues (e.g., systemic racism). To many, the weight of such responsibility can be incapacitating

Created by Tim Miller and David Fincher, Blur Studio’s animated anthology “Love, Death & Robots” poses an intriguing solution to this paralysis. In the stand-alone episode “Pop Squad,” the creators posit that while large-scale change may not be possible to achieve by an individual, one must still do good. The changes that should be expected of an individual have an important, albeit small, impact. 

In the episode’s dystopian universe, all have access to a drug of immortality. The society exists in two distinct groups: one embracing the luxury of infinite time in a city built above the clouds, and the other, less happy class on the ground. The distinguishing factor is the acceptance or denial of the strict rule: Do not have children. As the episode’s protagonist — a classically brooding, washed up, trench-coated detective — says, “We can’t keep letting people into this party if no one ever leaves.”

While those living in, quite literally, heavenly opulence welcome the policy, families (so-called ‘breeders’) live on considerably less wealthy ground. While they remain immortal, they are shunned from society, and their children must grow up in complete secrecy. In line with the dark theme, the protagonist’s job is to enforce the law by exterminating all ‘breeders’ found — including executing the children

The burden of this job is clear. The cop’s guilty conscience builds throughout the episode, culminating in protecting a mother and illegal daughter from his partner so they could live. The anticlimactic duel ends with both the protagonist and his former detective partner dead, while the mother and daughter live on.

At its conclusion, the episode “Pop Squad” presents an interesting case regarding personal responsibility, one relevant to all, but college students in particular. Our protagonist is confronted with the immorality of his society necessitated by a sustained population with limited resources. 

An anime robot stands determined.
“Pop Squad” takes place in an immortal society that outlaws having children. (Courtesy: Netflix)

Complicit in and culpable for countless murders, he chooses to change his behavior by leaving both mother and daughter alive, counter to the unjust system he worked for. However, immediately afterward, his former partner confronts him, resulting in a duel that kills them both. The equilibrium is preserved, with two people living and two people dying. With this pessimistic conclusion, the episode demonstrates that regardless of the cop’s actions, the system remains intact.

Now, most of us are not brooding detectives. However, the futility of putting immense effort toward affecting some societal change only for the injustice to indifferently shrug off your efforts and continue on is painfully familiar. After rallying for causes such as Black Lives Matter and participating in student-organized protests, students are understandably disheartened to see accessible changes simply not being made. 

But “Pop Squad” does not leave the audience solely with a nod to such incapacitating frustration. While societal change was not affected, the identities of the survivors changed. Therefore, the episode seems to posit that one must still do good to enact change at the individual level. 

Accepting the uncomfortable notion of one’s actions not having immediate, effective or even any discernible change on the immense issues that face us can free us of the incapacitating pressure to create idealistic change. 

Simone Bogedal PO ’24 is from Chester, New Jersey. She regularly consumes excessive amounts of coffee and is interested in applicable philosophy found in TV shows. 

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