panopticon-cuba

When is a panopticon not a panopticon? When it is the new movie from Immortals and Mirror Mirror director Tarsem Singh. The filmmaker has signed to direct a film called The Panopticon, called an “original action-thriller featuring sci-fi elements” and scripted by Craig Rosenberg (After the Sunset). 

The Wrap reports that the plot follows “a seemingly ordinary man who receives a mysterious package containing a pre-recorded message from himself, warning that the world is about to end and only he can save it. He must race against the clock to piece together the puzzle before time runs out for mankind.”

That’s a decent logline for a sci-fi thriller, but there’s nothing in there to let me know why the film uses its title.

The panopticon is an architectural scheme designed in the late 18th century by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The idea is to create an institution where a large number of people can be constantly observed by a relative few, with those observed never knowing precisely if or when they’re being watched. While it could be a hospital or similar building, Bentham’s primary conception of the panopticon was for it to be used as a prison.

The concept isn’t just imprisonment, but alteration of behavior — the idea being that constant observation will effect behavioral change. Bentham called it “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind.” There are many prisons built on designs derived from Bentham’s idea (such as the Cuban prison seen in the header image) and the term “panopticon” has come to represent many realizations of a modern surveillance state. (It’s also, as some know, the third record by the band Isis.)

So how does that fit into this movie? Right now we don’t know. It’s a great concept, and one that pervades sci-fi in many ways, and I hope it is really put to good use here as well.

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