Some of the most powerful things in the world are stories.
Storytelling and listening is instinctive to us, with mythic patterns and narratives passed down for generations, and retold as a way to entertain us. But, stories are also a means of transforming our perceptions. Stories inspire us to take our perceptions, and put them into action to change our world for the better. One enduring theme we’ve seen in modern stories is that of our natural world, and the delicate balance that is threatened or preserved by our actions, or inactions. Sometimes, stories like this simply remind us that we are not separate from our environment, but have a place in it.
So, in the light of this, I thought I’d gather a few stories of the modern kind – cinema, and particularly science fiction/fantasy films (many based on novels) – that give us possible visions of our future, and often provide warnings of how it could turn out if we’re not vigilant.
Take a look!
1. Lost Horizon
Based on a novel by James Hilton, and filmed in 1937 by Frank Capra (the same guy who directed It’s a Wonderful Life, among many others), a party is lost in the Himalayas finds an idyllic paradise – Shangri-La. What becomes apparent is that those who live in Shangri-La are apart of it, a part of its greater context. When some of the characters decide to leave, there are consequences, just as there are consequences when we as a species decide to think of ourselves as separate from the natural world of which we are a part.
2. Silent Running
Leaping ahead to the 1970s, ecological issues were beginning to make their way more overtly into the mainstream. In the dystopic future of this film, the natural world we’ve taken for granted is gone, all but for a single spaceship greenhouse that preserves its last vestiges. When the powers-that-be decide to jettison the last remaining species in favor of commercial gain, a choice must be made not unlike the one we as a culture must make today; do we continue on our path of least resistance, or do we change our path to preserve our future, and our world?
3. Soylent Green
In a world of overpopulation, and in the face of burnt-out resources to support that population, the issue of sustainability is soon the most important issue in the world. The film reveals the extent to which a lack of attention on sustainable production and economy can potentially bring to humanity; a place where using up our resources without thought forces us to literally use up ourselves in the process.
4. The Man Who Fell To Earth
David Bowie plays the part he was born to play by 1976 – an alien from outer space. In this story, Thomas Jerome Newton is the extra-terrestrial sent to earth by his people to find the resources to save his dying planet. But, he gets sidetracked by consumerism and his own self-indulgence. He forgets his mission, and his world. Director Nicoloas Roeg holds up a mirror to modern consumerist culture in this science-fiction parable about losing one’s way as a person, and as a culture.
5. Logan’s Run
In the 23rd Century, overpopulation causes humanity to create an artificial world, where those who reach thirty years old must submit to ‘renewal’ (read: to be euthanized), after a life of over-indulgence and separation from the natural world, and from a used-up world outside of a protective dome. It is only when Logan 5 and Jessica 6, two refugees from that insular, careless world, venture outside into that ruined, former world, that they reconnect with nature and help to regain humanity’s soul.
6. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
It’s the one with the whales! A destructive beacon comes to earth with a mode of communication that is untranslatable by humans, because the message is for another resident of the planet Earth; humpback whales, a species long-extinct by the 23rd Century. So, how can the message be answered before it destroys the earth? Cue Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the crew of the Enterprise to travel back in time, when whales were merely endangered, to bring them back to save the world. This chapter in the Star Trek saga reminds us that every species has its place, and that an absence in the chain can prove to have fatal consequences.
7. Jurassic Park
When scientists discover dinosaur DNA, and a way to reproduce it in the lab, Jurassic Park is born; a theme park with real, live dinosaurs! Cool, right? Not really. This big-budget film reminds us that we are a part of the natural world, not its owners, and that we are but one species that nature has favored for dominance. And that dominance relies on good judgement, and a sense of responsibility to the world in which we draw life.
8. The Day After Tomorrow
When freak weather conditions arise and become monstrous, the warnings of global climate change and humankind’s influence on it become less arguable in this 2004 film by Irwin Allen (the Master of Disaster) successor Roland Emerich. The movie can be viewed as a possible future, when warnings about how our behavior as a civilization are ignored in favor of short-term gains.
Set in a distant future, Wall-E is a little robot charged with a single task; to clean up a garbage-ridden, and otherwise vacant planet earth. Then, one day he discovers something that diverts him from his mission; plant life, and a new mission to help protect it. An animated movie for families to watch together, the movie is yet another warning about how dangerous it is to think of the earth as our own dumping ground, without some plan of how to make our lives less intrusive, and potentially destructive, to our surroundings.
A ubiquitous title at last year’s Oscars, Avatar is a story of warring civilizations, and warring ideas about how to interact with our surroundings. Human beings seek to mine the planet Pandora of its mineral wealth, while the native Na’Vi live in harmony with the planet, and fear for its well-being. They soon fear for their own survival when humanity seeks to displace them, and the delicate natural balance, to serve their own material ends. This story is about recognizing, once again, that damage to the natural world means damage to ourselves as a civilization.
It is my belief that technology, as wondrous and impressive as it is, will not change the course of human destiny. I think a cultural paradigm shift will. This is why stories are so powerful, and so important to us. On some level, we all want to transform the world, and I think that stories, either read about or viewed as movies, is an indication of that.
Luckily, authors, directors, actors, and other creative people provide windows to other possible futures, that spark the imaginations of everyone to live out some form of transformation every day.
That’s what stories are for. The next move is ours.