In its purest form, science fiction stands as a sustained inquiry into humanity itself, an endeavor to understand the most fundamental questions about life today through the prism of an imagined future.
Now through the end of August, MoMA will feature many of the finest movies to exemplify that standard, culled from more than a century of filmmakers pushing boundaries and challenging audiences through the revolutionary medium.
“Future Imperfect: The Uncanny in Science Fiction” is a massive undertaking, consisting of 70 movies from 22 countries and defining sci-fi as more a state of mind than a genre with familiar tropes and archetypes.
That leaves room for some expected but welcome fare, such as “Ex Machina,” the tightly constructed and admirably weird 2015 movie revolving around a Turing test administered by a programmer, played by Domhnall Gleeson, to a robot, played by Alicia Vikander.
There’s also Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” which remains one of the filmmaker’s best movies and showcases his unparalleled gift for molding an expertise of craft with bigger thematic considerations.
But the programmers’ solicitation of movies set on Earth and revolving around the question of what it means to be human, also allows for the inclusion of “Groundhog Day,” the classic comedy that very much belongs in this canon and simply never gets old. It makes room for Buster Keaton’s “The Electric House,” a comedy short in which Keaton is mistaken for an electric engineer and tasked with wiring a house.
Selections that skew more toward the horror terrain include the late George A. Romero’s “The Crazies,” about a quest to escape a town quarantined by the U.S. government amid a viral outbreak, and a David Cronenberg two-fer of “Videodrome” and “Shivers.”
Despite being made in 1983, “Videodrome,” in particular, stands as an eerily resonant satire of 21st-century media thanks to its story about a TV executive (James Woods) investigating a mysterious, hyperviolent broadcast with mind-control abilities.
Chris Marker’s “La Jetée” is a highlight of the experimental films coming to MoMA, a short composed of still images that inspired Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” and remains one of the most influential sci-fi works.
Bringing things to the present, there’s a preview of the 2017 movie “Marjorie Prime,” starring Jon Hamm as a digital replica of Lois Smith’s deceased husband.