Sunday, September 17, 2017
Science Fiction meets Literary Criticism
Today, dear readers, I’m going to break from my grammatical tirades (cheers!) to bring you a brief treatise in literary criticism (groans).
Stick with me for a minute. It might be fun.
I have noticed interesting patterns in today’s art—loosely defining art as writing, film, music, etc. Generally, I tend to believe that originality has been drying up in the last couple of decades, and most current art tends to rehash previous art. But that is not the discussion I wish to explore here.
Here's the general thesis: Current patterns and trends in art can make interesting statements about our society.
To clarify: the old debate about whether art imitates life or life imitates art delves into a complex and wonderful discussion. This again is not the discussion I wish to explore here.
Specifically, science fiction movies reflect current fears in American society. Take the late 1990s with Armageddon and the other movies about asteroids plummeting towards Earth. Or shortly after, The Day After Tomorrow and the slew of other mass destruction movies from volcanoes or weather going wild.
From a marketing angle, these movies make sense. In a time when the media and scientific research feed American fears, chugging out these blockbusters plays on our imaginations and exaggerates our fears.
Fast forward a bit.
I rarely go to the movies, so this trend has been percolating over the past years. I've just picked up on it recently.
A common plot element: a group of people journey on a spaceship bound for a faraway place—a better place. They travel to this place in a prolonged sleep-hibernation, and they plan to wake up, however many years or decades later, in this wonderful, new world.
The conflict arises when one or more of the people wake up before they arrive in the new world. Not only is their sleep interrupted, but also they wake to some horrific/tortuous situation that they must face. Some of the people never wake up and never make it to their destination.
Certainly, Alien Covenant and Prometheus are excellent examples of this (I do not believe I am giving anything away in telling you this). Add to this list Passengers, and going back a couple of years, Interstellar, and a few more years, Solaris. I’m sure there are more.
Again, I’m not so brazen to assert whether these movies (art) are imitating society (life) or if it is the other way around. However, I see this common thread as a possible insight into some of the deeper fears of American society. Twenty years ago, we were afraid of asteroid hitting Earth. Now, our fears, at least reflected in these movies, appear much more complex.
Here’s my sticking-my-head-in-the-guillotine theory: these movies, and the companies that fund them, may be more intentional, psychological, and spiritual than we realize. The characters are trying to get to a better place they haven’t seen (heaven?). They all wake up in hell or purgatory along the way.
The one exception to these movies is Passengers. Spoiler alert: even though they wake in hell, the characters turn the situation around and end up happy. Of course, this movie is a romance.
Are movies and science fiction exploring our most psychological and spiritual fears? That we will never make it to heaven? We will simply wake in hell? That our journey to heaven is futile and our passage will end in a tortuous hell?