Judge Dredd and the Rise of the Police State

The dystopian science fiction film Dredd (2012), starring Karl Urban as the titular Judge Dredd and Olivia Thirlby as his rookie-in-training Psi Judge Anderson, adapts the popular British comic strip character originally serialized in 2000AD comics.[i] In the future depicted in the Dredd universe, as the opening narrative informs the viewer, is “an irradiated wasteland’ where the surviving population are crammed into a giant, urban sprawl known as Mega City One.[ii] The narration continues: Mega City One is “convulsing, choking, breaking under its own weight” and continues to build upwards in increasingly tall skyscrapers, because most of the Earth is a scarred wasteland which prevents the citizens from expanding outward. This new mega structure is built on the ruins of the old America and is a massive, walled city rife with unemployment, class division, and rampant crime. To combat these new extreme conditions law enforcement is now carried out by specially trained operatives known as Judges who have the power and authority to act in the roles of “law-maker, policeman, jury, jailer and (frequently) executioner,” according to Martin Barker (Barker 1997; 15). Judges have complete autonomy to carry out their judicial actions in almost any manner they see fit, without the obstacle of bureaucracy.

Judge Dredd was created by writer John Wagner, editor Pat Mills, and designed by artist Carlos Ezquerra and first appeared in 1977. The initial conception of Judge Dredd was a British take on the maverick ideal of American action heroes in films such as Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974). The combination of science fiction and the public’s fascination with violent anti-heroes contributed to the Dredd universe’s satire on the tough cop archetype which seemingly comprises the entire department and where every officer acts in the same manner as Dirty Harry.

The premise of Judge Dredd and its depiction of the future where the police have unprecedented powers of authority to commit search and seizure on citizens without a warrant or even an explanation, or to punish minor crimes such as smoking or caffeine consumption (now deemed to be an illicit substance in the Dredd universe) with harsh measures, and to act as executioners. This premise allowed the writers to satirize and critique the increasing authoritarianism of law enforcement using outrageous and elaborate science fiction ideas to depict just how brutal a world built on conservatism’s preference for law and order policies would be. As Wagner states on the political contexts surrounding the initial run of Judge Dredd, “This is was back in the days of Dirty Harry, and with [Margaret] Thatcher on the rise there was a right-wing current in British politics which helped inspire Judge Dredd” (Jarman and Acton 1995: 17). Thatcher’s conservative policies and the rise of Reagan’s populism in the United States in the early 1980s resulted in one of the most politically charged comic strips in the modern era.

The Aesthetics of Law Enforcement

The first step in creating an interesting comic strip character is the development of the costume, or, rather, an interesting uniform in the case of Judge Dredd. In most American comic books the costume acts as a visual aid to identify a vigilante’s alternate persona, such as Bruce Wayne dressing up as Batman or Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man. Dredd, however, has no secret identity and his outfit is a standard-issue police uniform, albeit an exaggerated and futuristic rendering of one. Alexander Kozin notes in his discussion of the character:

Unlike Wolverine or Shadow or Batman, Dredd is not called on to do someone else’s job. Nor does he have a secret life. He is not torn between two or more identities. He does not have to hide in his true self that would otherwise contradict if not negate his fictional personae. If anything, his one and only identity is way too obvious, too direct, and unequivocal. Moreover, he makes sure that people take him literally, albeit predominantly in command mode. (Kozin 2013: 927)

Indeed, this is taken to such an extent that not even the reader is privy to seeing Dredd’s face without his helmet. Dredd is never drawn without his futuristic helmet and this serves to remind the reader that the violent actions committed by him are not as a vigilante outside the bounds of the law, but are state-sanctioned extremism endorsed by the governing body to control the population.

Artist Ezquerra’s design of the uniform with its excessive padding on the shoulders, knees, elbows, not to mention the oversized Doc Martin-style heavy boots, was originally drawn to reflect the futuristic atmosphere of Mega City one and its role as a satire. Now the uniform mirrors a disturbing reality as the police become increasingly militarized in their gear and their actions, echoing the authoritarian politics of this absurdly fascist dystopia. In effect, the ridiculous premise of Judge Dredd has morphed into a prognostication of future trends where law enforcement resembles a dystopian comic strip. Dredd continues this trend by streamlining the judge’s uniform as a full Kevlar body armor to better represent the excessive violence enacted by law enforcement with too much power and discretion at its disposal.

It is also no coincidence that Ezquerra, who grew up in Franco’s fascist Spain and lived through Thatcher’s brutal years as Prime Minister of Britain, used an eagle as a motif on Dredd’s shoulder pad. The eagle is a totem used by Ancient Rome, Spain, and the United States, connecting these nations as being imperialistic and autocratic. As Isak Hammar writes, “Just as the American eagle is an appropriation of a Roman symbol, so too does the symbol in the dystopic future of a fictional U.S. create layers of historical meaning” (Hammar 2017: 107). The implication of this eagle motif and the overall padded look of the Judges is that are symbols of a totalitarian society and the United States under Reagan and Thatcher’s Britain are associated with militarism and the imperialistic tendencies of Ancient Rome’s dictatorship.

Judge Dredd is essentially a British satire on American action heroes and not intended to be a tough cowboy / cop archetype dispensing violent justice with pithy one-liners; a facet conveniently ignored in Sylvester Stallone’s abysmal interpretation of the character in the 1995 film Judge Dredd. Stallone’s Dredd is a walking grab bag of action hero clichés that invites audience sympathy. Director Danny Cannon even notes that his intent for the film was to inspire audience empathy: “I wanted them to connect with the characters, with their lives” (Cannon quoted in Barker and Brooks 1995: 18). This quote from a press release illustrates just how misguided the American approach to the character really is and how removed from the original British comic strip the Judge Dredd film was. Even the uniform in Stallone’s version of the character is a visual reminder of a flawed ‘Americanization’ of the character, with it bright, sparkling gold accents and spandex body suit, making the outfit closer in tone to the superhero outfits of Superman or Captain America.

Possibly most egregious of all, Dredd was outfitted with an oversized codpiece to accentuate male sexual prowess. The codpiece is an odd design choice for a character who was originally written as an asexual clone forbidden to procreate or engage in romantic encounters of any kind, so as not to distract from his duty dispensing justice. Dredd’s asexuality was a plot device which comments on how sexuality factors as a secondary consideration for the male action hero, with violence being the primary obsession. Brian Ireland, in his essay “Errand into Wilderness,” argues a similar point in his essay on Judge Dredd and addresses the male action hero’s mistrust for women: “This trait is also present in modern-day action heroes such as Harry Callaghan, who seldom seeks out female company, preferring instead the company of other men, or more usually solitude” (Ireland 2009: 510). The comic strip was intentionally cartoonish and exaggerated with plot devices — such as the restriction on sexuality — to emphasize just how extreme Reagan’s tough-on-crime policies truly were, and the 1995 Judge Dredd ignored the premise for a more generic action thriller that ignores the rules established by the comic strip.

Dredd (2012): Adapting the 1970s

Which brings us to the 2012 version of Judge Dredd.

Dredd has the difficult task of translating the socio-political environment of the 1970s into a modern context as well as making an unrepentant symbol of unforgiving violence palatable for an American audience. As Martin Barker and Katy Brooks, writing on the first Judge Dredd film (1995) in an article called “Waiting for Dredd,” observe:

A significant difficulty with Judge Dredd is just how much the stories owe to their original Thatcherite and Reaganite context of production. Dredd is only Dredd because he is the opposite of punks on the street — in whom we half-recognize ourselves. We are the powerless, resentful ‘enemy within’ whom Thatcher attacked. The comic transposes us to ‘America’ to play out the futuristic drama of the complete realisation of Thatcherite law and order politics, on a world scale. Dredd must be both hero and villain, and Hollywood just can’t do that. (Barker and Brooks 1995: 19)

I would counter that this seemingly insurmountable obstacle is not as difficult to translate from a 1970s context into a modern context. The primary themes involved with Judge Dredd, such as crime and punishment over rehabilitation, a broken system that does not work, corruption, and the failure of the war on drugs all have relevance in the modern world which Dredd was filmed. The politics of Judge Dredd have not changed much in the intervening decades. Judge Dredd was critiquing populism and the autocratic tendencies of politicians and what has changed is largely just the names.

Dredd (2012) posterAn example of how Dredd comments on authoritarianism and the inherent problem with crime and punishment as a law enforcement model over rehabilitation is evident in the film’s opening scene. The opening scene shows Dredd in relentless pursuit of a group of ‘perps’ in a van with callous disregard for civilian lives, other than their fatalities allow Dredd to able to employ lethal force.[iii] Dredd even refuse back-up, acting much like the loner maverick cops depicted in many American action films. One of the perps escapes into a shopping mall where he begins shooting wildly. Dredd displays no remorse over his excessive violence or how his actions have endangered the lives of the people in the shopping mall. Dredd’s actions are natural and acceptable in the failed system of Mega City One. The problem with maverick cops as they are portrayed in films like Dirty Harry is that the logical extension of Callaghan’s actions would be corruption and violence. Dredd takes this as its premise and posits a dangerous future where everyone does actually act like an action hero, but also depicts the horrific consequences of this police state mentality.

Dredd’s dangerous and reckless actions continue when he follows the surviving perp into the shopping mall and is engaged in a hostage situation with the perp and an innocent bystander. What follows is a particularly vicious tactic from Dredd:

Judge Dredd: release the hostage unharmed and I guarantee you a sentence of life in an iso-cube without parole.[iv]

Ethan Zwirner (Jason Cope): Life without parole? That’s the deal you’re offering?

Dredd: Only if you comply. Your crimes include multiple homicide and the attempted murder of a Judge. If you do not comply, the sentence is death.

Zwirner: You aren’t a very good negotiator, Judge. You know why? You got no fucking leverage! Here’s the deal. You let me walk or I blow her fucking brains out, okay?

Dredd: Negotiation’s over.

Zwirner: What’re you doing? Didn’t you hear what I said? I’ll kill the bitch!

Dredd: Yeah, I heard you, hotshot.

Zwirner: What’d you say?

Dredd; I said, ‘Hot Shot.’

Judge Dredd, speaking into a voice activated Lawgiver, activates a heat-seeker round which he fires into Zwirner’s mouth, causing Zwirner’s head to heat up and explode, freeing the hostage.[v]

Again, Dredd is callous in his concerns for the life of the hostage, or even the possible trauma inflicted on the hostage. Dredd here is acting very much in the typical American action hero mode, but the film is careful in presenting just how dangerous and toxic this type of mentality would be if carried out to its logical extent.

What is truly terrifying about this scene in Dredd is that it is not that fantastical of a scenario. Judge Dredd commented on the rise of authoritarianism and the increasing police state in the 1970s, but what was once an absurd satire has now become a routine news article. This is evident in the rise of incidents involving police brutality and excessive force. In particular, the increase of incidents involving police brutality have risen to staggering levels in recent years. In 2019 there were 1,099 deaths from gun violence by police officers with 99% of those cases resulting in the officer being cleared for his actions (“mapping the police”). These are examples of law enforcement hiding behind their uniforms as symbols of authority and exemplify how the science fiction world of Dredd has disturbing parallels in the real world. In effect Judge Dredd is relevant because it predicted what would occur in contemporary society.

Dredd (2012) screenshot

The film then follows Dredd and his assigned rookie-in-training Anderson as they head to Peach Trees block to investigate a skinned body that has been thrown off a balcony.[vi] Upon arrival at Peach Trees, Dredd and Anderson come across a homeless vagrant, which in this future is a crime punishable by three weeks in iso-cubes. In another display of callous disregard for the lives of others, Dredd warns the homeless vagrant to vacate the premises and the only reason for his leniency in not arresting the vagrant is a prioritization of the skinned body and a murder investigation. What never occurs to Dredd is just exactly where this individual would go. Dredd never offers up any information on shelters or community services for the vagrant to use, because in the Dredd universe there does not seem to be any social support systems available. The emphasis on crime and punishment over community has parallels in the real-world economic policies of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and now Donald Trump. Punishing the disenfranchised and powerless as opposed to providing social support systems is endemic to the callousness of neoliberal economic policies which widen the gap between the rich and poor. Dredd’s disregard for the homeless is no different than Reagan and Thatcher’s disregard for the health and prosperity of their own citizens, and it is a pattern that continues with the American political leaders such as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump and British Prime Ministers such as Tony Blair and now Boris Johnson.

Judge Dredd and Ma-Ma: Mirror Images of Authoritarianism

Ma-Ma from Dredd (2012)Dredd effectively questions the legitimacy of power throughout the film and these early scenes represent just the beginning of its interrogation of tough-on-crime stances and excessively rigid law-and-order policies. The film also imparts this information to the viewer via its main antagonist Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), otherwise known as Madeline Madrigal, who acts as a mirror to Dredd. Ma-Ma, as we find out, is the culprit behind the skinned body and the leader of the Ma-Ma Clan. The Ma-Ma Clan essentially runs Peach Trees Block and produces the drug known as Slo-Mo, a futuristic narcotic which slows the perception of the user.[vii] But as the viewer finds out Ma-Ma is no simple villain, such as we see in Commando (1985) or Bad Boys (1995). Ma-Ma was a victim of sexual abuse who had to work as a prostitute to earn a living and ‘emasculated’ her pimp with her teeth after he disfigured her face. Ma-Ma soon rises to the level of top drug kingpin by eliminating three other rival factions that had been engaged in inter-gang warfare for years. Indeed, Ma-Ma seems to bring stability to Peach Trees as long as everyone falls in line and obeys her authority, making her not that dissimilar to Dredd. To reinforce this point, the film later has a scene of Dredd throwing a perp off a balcony, much in the same way as Ma-Ma does.

In some ways Ma-Ma is actually a more sympathetic character in the film than Dredd. The viewer understands her backstory, how she had to survive tough and impoverished conditions, and we get to see her face — a constant visual reminder of her tragic past. Dredd, by comparison, is a faceless symbol of authority who never removes his helmet. The viewer is never given an origin story, which is a trope typical of American superhero comic books. All the viewer is privy to is a uniformed figure described by Anderson as hiding his anger under a great deal of control. This shift in the viewer’s perspective and the constant tensions and anxieties apparent in the Dredd universe are what differentiates Judge Dredd from the violent wish fulfillment of American action heroes or superheroes. Judge Dredd depicts a world where law enforcement is rarely the sympathetic viewpoint and in doing so presents the reader (and now film viewer) with the possibility that just because a police officer wears a uniform, it doesn’t always mean he is one of the good guys.

Jacques Derrida, in his essay “The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority,’” posits a similar inquiry into legitimacy of authority. In the essay Derrida asks, “What difference is there between on the one hand, the force that can be just, or in any case deemed legitimate (not only an instrument in the service of law but the practise and even the realization, the essence of droit), and on the other hand the violence that one always deems unjust” (Derrida 1999: 6)? Dredd builds on this idea by presenting Dredd and Ma-Ma as mirror reflections of each other. For example, Dredd and Ma-Ma both use P.A. systems to address the residents of Peach Trees in an eerily similar manner, both pitting unwitting residents in a tug-of-war between the two figures. Ma-Ma is the first to offer her ultimatum:

Peach Trees, this is Ma-Ma. Somewhere in this block are two Judges. I want them dead. Until I get what I want the block is locked down. All Clan, every level, hunt the Judges down. Everyone else, clear the corridors and stay the fuck out of our way until the shooting stops. If I hear of anyone helping the Judges, I will kill them and the next generation of their families. As for the Judges, sit tight or run, it makes no difference. You’re mine.

Compare this with the edict issued by Dredd to the very same residents:

In case you people have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law. I am the law. Ma-Ma is a common criminal; guilty of murder, guilty of the manufacture and distribution of the narcotic known as Slo-Mo, and as of now, under sentence of death. Any who obstruct me in carrying out my duty will be treated as an accessory to her crimes. You have been warned. And as for you Ma-Ma, judgement time.

Dredd here is asserting his authority in the same manner as Ma-Ma, and in doing so places the residents in an impossible situation. Helping the Judges could get them killed, but helping Ma-Ma would make them criminals in the eyes of the law. So how legitimate and justified is Dredd in this scenario? If his actions put innocent civilians at risk then how can we consider his authority legitimate? For the residents there is a distinct lack of choice, which is a thread that runs through the entirety of the film. Whether it is Ma-Ma who lacks choice because of circumstances, the homeless vagrant’s lack of economic choice, or the residents’ lack of choice in this particular situation, everyone seems trapped in a failed system.

The legitimacy of Dredd’s action and his use of authority is also questioned by the harsh reality that Judges only respond to six percent of the reported crimes and have not been to Peach Trees in some time. Ma-Ma was the only authority Peach Trees knew, and while she did carry her ascendency with the same brutality and anger that fuels Dredd, acting more as a prison warden than anything, Ma-Ma was their only source of stability. Prior to Ma-Ma, the rival factions known as the Peyote Kings, Red Dragons, and the Judged ran rampant through the corridors of Peach Trees and committed violent inter-gang conflicts which resulted in the deaths of numerous innocent civilians. Derrida writes that “law implies performative force, which is always an interpretative force” (Derrida 1999: 13). In the case of Dredd and Ma-Ma, this interpretation means that Dredd’s authority is no more legitimate or beneficial for the residents of Peach Trees than the drug dealers of the Ma-Ma Clan. If anything, Dredd has only exacerbated the situation by creating a power vacuum in which more gangs will pop up and attempt to take over narcotics distribution with even more inter-gang violence which will undoubtedly cause the deaths of more civilians.

In this way, Ma-Ma is actually far less short-sighted than Dredd in that she expresses a full awareness of her situation. Ma-Ma even tells Dredd: “You’re a piece of work, Dredd, but so am I. You think I didn’t know I’d get busted some day? Goes with the territory.” Ma-Ma, unlike Dredd, recognizes that a war on drugs that leads to increased militarization of the police force is doomed to fail. Ma-Ma knows the inevitable outcome of her chosen profession as a drug kingpin, but her nihilistic world view is fully aware of the futility of trying for anything better in the ultraviolent world of Mega City One. By contrast, Dredd is oblivious to consequences, carrying out harsh sentences on perps, which only adds to the prison population. This lack of awareness by Dredd of the larger scale is unfortunately endemic to our real world where the war on drugs has very little effect on the drug trade, other than providing an income base for privately-owned prisons.

Dredd also highlights the similarities between Dredd and Ma-Ma by how he carries out his sentence. Ma-Ma, as the viewer discovers, was force-feeding rival gang members Slo-Mo to slow down their perceptions and then proceeded to skin them alive and throw them off a balcony as a warning to those below. All the while, the punished rival gang members feel every bit of the experience in a heightened state of awareness in what must have felt like hours to them. Ma-Ma is sending a very clear message that she intends to take over the rest of the block and assert her absolute and total authority, much like the Judges have absolute and total authority in their domain. Dredd’s sentence, as he told Ma-Ma, was death. A sentence Dredd carries out by force feeding Ma-Ma Slo-Mo and throwing her off the two hundredth floor of Peach Trees to her brutal and gory death on the lower decks (Travis and Garland, 2012). Dredd obviously does not skin Ma-Ma, but the mirroring her of the punishments is a deliberate strategy by the filmmakers to show the viewer just how unforgiving the judicial system is in Mega City One.

Judge Anderson in Dredd (2012)

Dredd, Anderson, and Corrupt Judges

Further complicating the issue of legitimate authority is that after Ma-Ma has locked down Peach Trees with massive barricades that seal Dredd and Anderson inside, she controls communications with the Hall of Justice and then pays off four Judges to hunt down Dredd and Anderson. This plot point of Judges on the take, which often appeared in the pages of Judge Dredd, exemplifies the inevitable result of Mega City One’s failed system of justice; namely brutality, violence, and corruption.  After Dredd has lethally dispensed with one corrupt Judge and encounters another, he has a scene which also brings into focus the systemic level of anger and rage buried within all those who occupy the uniform:

Judge Dredd: What’s the price of a Judge these days?

Judge Lex (Langley Kirkwood): Million. Split four ways.

Judge Dredd: Three ways now.

Judge Lex: Suits me.

Judge Dredd: Doesn’t sound like much. To betray the law. To betray the city.

Judge Lex: Save that shit for the rookies. Twenty years I’ve been on the streets. You know what Mega City One is, Dredd? It’s a fucking meat grinder. People go in one end, and meat comes out the other. All we do is turn the handle.

Dredd’s interaction with corrupt Judges signals a turning point for Dredd, who only now seems to recognize the inherent problem with such an absolute system of crime and punishment. The root of Judge Lex’s frustration and anger is not entirely dissimilar to Dredd’s own anger and is a symptom of a systemic psychosis built within an authority that allows street cops to act as absolute and total judges.

Encountering the four corrupt Judges is perhaps why Dredd in the film’s finale decides to pass Anderson on her rookie assessment, despite the fact that she lost her weapon (a failing offense for a Judge) and let a perp go free (a criminal offense for a Judge). Anderson herself recognizes that she has failed her assessment, but she defends her actions on the basis of her moral intuition. Dredd sees a good heart in her, and after witnessing the effects of the anger built into a Judge after twenty years of service (in Judge Lex) and an eerie similarity to his own growing sense of anger and frustration with Mega City One, Dredd can hardly fault Anderson. Dredd’s passing of Anderson also signifies a shift in Dredd’s perspective, albeit a gradual and somewhat glacial shift.

Conclusion

Judge Dredd was originally created as a British satire on American action heroes which not only personified the rugged, macho archetype, but also commented on the rise of populism in both Britain and the United States. Judge Dredd was distinctly not a hero, even though he had many of the traits attributed to American action heroes and superhero comic books. Judge Dredd was written in the same manner as Dirty Harry or Batman, but in this case the emphasis was on illustrating how destructive an ideal the American action hero is and the logical extent of their attitudes. A police force comprised entirely of Dirty Harry tough guys is a truly scary notion indeed.

One of the creators, John Wagner, has also explicitly stated that he wrote Dredd as a criticism of the neoliberal economic policies of both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Thatcher and Reagan both exemplified a law-and-order stance which was excessively punitive and often futile. We only have to look at the history of the war on drugs and how it has failed despite having billions of dollars poured into it to understand just how futile a policy of crime and punishment over rehabilitation can be. By taking various elements from dystopic fiction and popular science fiction stories of cops in the future, Judge Dredd effectively critiqued populism in the 1970s and just how damaging the conservative policies of both Thatcher and Reagan were on Britain and the United States.

Judge Dredd took this premise of law-and-order politics to the extreme and presented the reader with an absurd world where every citizen was seen as being guilty of a crime because almost everything was deemed a crime. The futuristic dystopia of Mega City One was in such a wretched state that endowing Judges with absolute power and not allowing for alternative community options became the norm, and as a result Mega City One’s living conditions worsened to an even more significant degree.

With such a Draconian system, it is inevitable that Judges would become angry, disenfranchised, and potentially become corrupt. Judge Dredd does not succumb to corruption himself, but he shares much of the anger and frustration as the other Judges who continually see a lack of progress or change in society. Judge Dredd, however, is an incredibly short-sighted individual who does not acknowledge the political ramifications of his actions on a larger scale, making him at best a willing participant to fascism, or at worst, a fascist himself. Ireland writes, “Dredd fans were both attracted to and repulsed by his fascist tendencies” (Ireland 2013: 534). There is a cathartic appeal to the badass imagery of Judge Dredd, but the comic strip is careful to let the reader understand that this is not a heroic figure in the traditional sense. Dredd is both a hero and a villain.

What is particularly striking about Judge Dredd is that the political themes surrounding the comic strip, namely that of authoritarianism and the increasing militarization of the police, still holds relevance in contemporary society. The riot gear aesthetic of the original comic strip and the idea that police officers often feel as if they can act with impunity — often because they can, committing great acts of violence of visible minorities and even young teenagers — has not changed much from the 1970s. The dystopia depicted in Judge Dredd might look absurd and exaggerated, but once those science fiction elements are stripped away, as the Dredd film does, the societal fears and anxieties over police brutality and the legitimacy of their moral authority remain true. Judge Dredd predicted the rise in the police state, where many police officers would take Dirty Harry to heart and begin to act as if they were the good guys in an American action film.

References

  • Barker, Martin. “Taking the Extreme Case: Understanding the Fascist Fan of Judge Dredd.” Trash Aesthetics: Popular Culture and its Audience, edited by Deborah Cartmell, I.Q. Hunter, Heidi Kaye, and Imelda Whelehan, Pluto Press, 1997, 14-30.
  • Barker, Martin and Katy Brooks. “Waiting for Dredd.” Sight & Sound 5.8 (1995): 16-19.
  • Derrida, Jacques. “The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority’” Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, edited by Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosenfeld, and David Cray Carlson, Routledge, 1992, pp. 3-67.
  • Dredd. Directed by Pete Travis and Alex Garland, performed by Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, and Wood Harris, Lionsgate, 2012.
  • Hammer, Isak. “The Future is (Ancient) History: Judge Dredd and the Futuristic Legacy of the Classical World.” Visions of the Future in Comics: International Perspectives, edited by Francesco-Alessio Ursini, Adnan Mahmutovi?, and Frank Bramlet, McFarland & Co., 2017, pp. 102-117.
  • Ireland, Brian. “Errand into Wilderness: The Cursed Earth as Apocalyptic Road Narrative.” Journal of American Studies 43.3 (2009): 497-534.
  • Jarman, Colin and Peter Acton. Judge Dredd: The Mega History. Queen Anne Press, 1995.
  • Judge Dredd. Directed by Danny Cannon, performed by Sylvester Stallone, Diane Lane, Armand Assante, Rob Schneider, Joan Chen, Max von Sydow, Buena Vista, 1995.
  • Kozin, Alexander. “Judge Dredd: Dreaming of Justice.” Law, Culture, and Visual Studies, edited by Anne Wagner and Richard Sherwin, Springer, 2013, pp. 917-941.
  • “Mapping the Police.” Mapping Police Violence, January 26, 2020. Accessed January 30, 2020.

[i] In the universe of Judge Dredd there are powerful mutants who can read minds. In Dredd we find out Anderson was born within a hundred metres of the irradiated zone, which gave her parents cancer and Anderson powerful abilities beyond what any other Psi Judge has previously exhibited. In the comic strip mutants were usually exiled to the wasteland, but as Kay (Wood Harris) says to Anderson: “So you’re a mutant? Most of you poor fuckers got three stumpy arms, or no arms. But I guess you lucked out.”

[ii] Because of the massive radiation that has scarred and damaged the majority of the Earth from a nuclear conflict, the surviving population of North America is now crammed into massive structures called Mega Cities. Individual states and Canada no longer exist. The wasteland is known as “The Cursed Earth” and is largely populated by mutants.

[iii] “Perps” is slang for perpetrators of crimes, aka criminals.

[iv] “Iso-cube” is short for “isolation Cube.” A futuristic prison in Mega City One. It seems as if all crimes are punishable by a prison sentence rather than social programs or community efforts.

[v] Judges are issued highly advanced pistols called Lawgivers which are multi-functional. Lawgivers have armor piercing rounds, incendiary rounds, heat seeking rounds, stun rounds, hotshot rounds (extra hot bullets), to name but a few. They are also voice activated.

[vi] In Mega City One people live in massive apartment complexes known as blocks. They are essentially sustainable cities with a variety of stores and services available. However, they tend to be dilapidated and decaying, with a lot of graffiti and crime. They also resemble housing projects of Britain in the 1970s and feature the same brutalist architecture and grey concrete drabness.

[vii] “Slo-Mo” is short for Slow Motion. The drug slows perception to 1% of normal speed so that everything feels as if it is actually going in slow motion. The end result is a visually unique look to the film where scenes of stylized violence are slowed down and look aesthetically interesting.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Douglas Rasmussen is a writer and academic with a Master of Arts degree in English literature from the University of Saskatchewan. His primary areas of research are Film Studies and contemporary American literature, and he has written on a number of subjects in film, music, and television.

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