Privacy and surveillance have always been compelling themes in pop culture, and Hollywood has certainly used the concepts to great effect. Below, in no particular order, is our own selection of the best films with a privacy theme.
Do you agree with our list, or do you think we’ve left something out? Let us know in the comments!
Louis 19, le roi des ondes (King of the Airways)
The only comedy on our list, Louis 19 traces the path of Louis Jobin, a man initially thrilled to be chosen as the star of a reality TV show, only to discover that celebrity is not all it’s cracked up to be. Released in 1994, the movie predated the onslaught of reality TV shows, social networking sites and the concept of micro-celebrity.
A Scanner Darkly
Like a few of the other films on this list, A Scanner Darkly takes place in the not-too-distant-future, where surveillance is ubiquitous and constant. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel and directed by Richard Linklater, this film also considers notions of identity, and how the effects of surveillance on identity.
This Austrian-French thriller follows the lives of the Laurent family as they attempt to determine who has been secretly videotaping them. Released in 2005, the film has won numerous awards and earned global accolades from film critics.
Gene Hackman plays a plays a paranoid and brilliant surveillance expert in this 1974 film which may or not be the precursor to another movie which didn’t quite make our cut, Enemy of the State. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Conversation has been praised for its “remarkably advanced arguments about technology’s role in society that still resonate today.”
Gattaca brings the themes of privacy and surveillance to the sub-atomic level. In this version of the not-too-distant-future, DNA plays a major role in determining future profession, potential mates and social class.
Before starting production, director Steven Spielberg assembled a group of futurists to get a handle on what the year 2054 might look like. That would explain the wealth of plausible technology showcased throughout the film, like this scene where Tom Cruise’s character is approached by pushy holographs with personalized, targeted sales pitches.
The Lives of Others
Released in 2006. A Stasi agent takes an interest in a couple living in East Berlin and begins to monitor them – at first, with the intention of determining their loyalty to the Socialist Unity Party, but then increasingly for his own personal interest in their lives.
George Orwell’s modern classic was brought to the big screen for a second time in 1984. (The first film adaptation was made in 1956.) Like all good cultural memes, this one introduced several new words and phrases into our vocabulary, including Big Brother, thoughtcrime, and memoryhole.
Man breaks leg, gets bored, spies on neighbours – high jinx ensue. The high-tech surveillance techniques featured in many of the other films on this list are nowhere to be found in this classic Hitchcock mystery.
This Scottish film follows a CCTV operator who actively monitors a man from her past. Director Andrea Arnold has said her depiction of Glasgow as a city under constant surveillance was meant to provoke a debate about the use of CCTV networks.