By: Natalie Kuss
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Overpopulation has created numerous complications over the last few decades, including crowding and food shortages, for a variety of countries across the globe. In these areas, overpopulation has caused panic for both citizens and those who govern them due to the increasing inability to support more people. Not only are individuals distressed about overpopulation leading to a lack of resources, but they also fear government interventions that could limit their freedoms. In the 1970s, China went so far as to create a one-child policy that penalized couples for having more than one offspring. This policy lasted for years; it was not until 2015 that China began to allow couples to have up to two children. The idea that one day there might be serious measures taken to ensure the survival of humanity through population control has spurred anxiety about the side effects of such control. The fear of overpopulation is not only reflected in real-life laws and policies, but also in contemporary film and television as seen in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, the CW’s The 100, and many more.
With the rising popularity of this topic, Netflix recently took up the topic of overpopulation and produced What Happened to Monday?, a dystopian film in which a group of septuplets, the Settmans, try to survive in a world that has restricted each household to one child. The consequence for not abiding and having additional children is cryosleep, a process that leaves individuals frozen until the conditions of the society become optimal enough to wake them. What Happened to Monday? also explores how the desire for individuality within a dystopian society breaks down the bonds of family and wreaks havoc on an individual’s psyche. The film exploits the combined fear of overpopulation and government conspiracy that plagues citizens everywhere to create a compelling story of seven women fighting for survival in a world that only has room for one.
The Settman sisters are septuplets who remain hidden within their grandfather’s attic after the death of their mother during childbirth to avoid being taken by the Child Allocation Bureau, or C.A.B. The C.A.B. is headed by Nicolette Cayman, the woman responsible for passing the Child Allocation Act that began limiting households to one child and dooming additional children to cryosleep.
In an effort to keep his grandchildren hidden, Terrance Settman, the sisters’ grandfather, creates a system in which each sister is allowed to leave the attic for one day each week. They are even named for the day of the week that they are allowed to leave the house. Terrance ensures that they look exactly the same each day, even to the point of mutilation after one sister loses her finger in an accident. They also share any pertinent information with the group from their ventures outside of the attic to keep suspicion low. They all assume the identity of their deceased mother, Karen Settman, and use her digital I.D. bracelet to remain undetected by the C.A.B. The Settmans are prevented from creating any life of their own outside of the attic; they must make a collective effort to remain alive through their strict routine that does not allow them to have any secrets or separation from each other. They attempt to avoid being put into cryosleep indefinitely by following the same schedule and taking on one shared identity.
One day, however, Monday never returns home from her day out of the attic. The sisters risk their lives to find Monday, only to discover that she accepted a bribe from Cayman and turned them in to the C.A.B. in exchange for a life of her own. In their efforts to find Monday, the remaining six Settman sisters unravel a government conspiracy that changes their view of not only their sister Monday, but also the C.A.B and the governing power of the world forever. The sisters break into the C.A.B headquarters where they find that all of the children being put into cryosleep for the future are actually being incinerated. They are able to record one of these murders and expose Cayman and the C.A.B. The Child Allocation Act is repealed, the C.A.B. is dissolved, and Cayman is sentenced to death, finally allowing the surviving sisters to live out the remainder of their lives without fear of being persecuted.
What Happened to Monday? not only theorizes the potential effects of overpopulation and possible solutions to control it, but also depicts what happens when individuality is suppressed in an effort to survive. The innate desire to live overshadows the Settman sisters’ need for individual identities for years. Eventually, one of the sisters is unable to suppress her need for her own life and therefore risks her entire family and livelihood to create one. What Happened to Monday? explores the desperation that humans possess in regard to creating a unique identity and expressing individuality and how dystopian societies damage the mental health of citizens in order to remain in power.
Dystopian societies inherently stifle individuality by creating an environment where the need to survive greatly outweighs any other basic human need, including those related to mental health. Dystopian governments and institutionsoften limit the freedom of citizens in an effort to create uniformity by disguising oppression as a solution to benefit the society as a whole. These establishments focus on an issue that creates fear within a society, such as overpopulation, and use it to further their own agenda, whether this is to gain power or some other desired outcome. What Happened to Monday? serves as a warning to current society as to what could happen if a government institution used fear to assume absolute power and removed the ability to become an individual.
Wirkola, Tommy, director. What Happened to Monday? Netflix, 2017.