… After Earth: the thing it’s really about.
In After Earth, Commander Raige and his son Kitai end up stranded on a long-abandoned Earth, trying to navigate a hostile, unfamiliar environment in order to get back home. The Commander has been injured badly, so young Kitai must face the wilderness and all of its challenges with only his father’s voice to guide him. It is an excellent story of father-son relationship/conflict/bonding.
It is also an excellent sci-fi glimpse into a possible future where humans messed up Earth past the point of being able to live there, where they were forced to leave the Earth in favour of a new home; as Kitai looks for a way home, he faces unbreathable air, toxic flora and fauna, and wide-ranging temperature variations. It is perhaps a cautionary tale: take better care of our planet, before it stops taking care of us. At the same time, the Earth Kitai finds is lush and beautiful, full of stunning landscapes and countless wonders … as though the planet were better off without us.
After Earth is also a film about perseverance, determination, and survival. It has tension and humour and sadness and hope.
But for me, it was really just about being human.
Commander Raige and his son are stuck in the same struggle every parent has with every child – the tug of war of seeking mutual approval while forging a unique path, of needing one another while wanting to be competent and smart and sufficient without one another, of learning and teaching and rebelling and misunderstanding. Every parent, every child … every friend, every sibling, every coworker, every one. Whether it’s now, as Earthlings, or a thousand years from now, as aliens trapped on a poisonous world, the problems of humanity ultimately have little to do with the outcomes of our actions.
Trash the world? Find a new world. Fighting a war? Learn to fight the best possible war. Stuck somewhere? Find a way out. The film offers an Earth that did just fine without us; the new-world humans face the same challenges as before – battling other inhabitants, amassing resources, getting adequate health care, cobbling a marriage together out of love and promises.
Whether it’s this futuristic galaxy where Earth is no longer our home, or the present day where the Earth is all we’ve got, humanity is still humanity. Fathers and sons still quarrel about the same old things, and the solutions for them are the same no matter what planet they’re standing on.
Humanity is humanity, and all of its problems and challenges are separate from its outer experiences; the test and measure of humanity is inside, not outside. Eventually, no matter what, we have to deal with ourselves and with each other, and neither technology nor stunning landscapes nor flying lightyears away will change that.