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Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

Waterworld: Becoming the Kevin Costner Movie We Didn’t Know We Could Be

In Career, The Great Outdoors on April 10, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Why Sea Level Matters – Even if We’re Not Waterworld

Environmental textbooks like to emphasize that ours is a water world, driven by a complex hydrological system that both regulates global temperatures and nourishes the land.  But that’s not the kind of water world I’m talking about.

I’m talking about Waterworld, the 1995 post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie starring Kevin Costner.  It’s a bizarre film – and not just because its eco-friendly protagonist sports webbed toes and gills.  Waterworld’s western parallels play out on a vast, post-apocalyptic ocean where the desert is made of water and all the horses are boats.

Costner plays The Mariner, a drifter whose very nature makes him unsuited for civilized life.  The gruff nomad finds himself drawn into a woman’s quest to find Dryland, a mythic place in this distant future where the polar ice caps have melted and drowned all dry land.

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Check out what the world will look like after the ice melts!

The good news is that scientists think it will take up to 5,000 years for all the ice on Earth to melt – not the mere 500 years it took in the movie universe.

The mechanics of sea level rise are fairly simple.  Heat absorbed from the sun is warming ocean water.  Warming water expands, its extra space contributing to higher sea levels while its heat melts smaller ice caps and glaciers.

Most of the Earth’s warming over the past 40 years has been hidden in the ocean, and that’s unsettling because it took scientists almost as long to figure that out. Meanwhile, the combination of atmospheric warming and ocean warming has helped global sea levels rise 1.0 – 2.5 millimeters per year over the last century.

At the same time, global warming patterns are expected to speed glacial melt and increase tropical sea temperatures.  Sea levels are difficult to predict but could rise between 6 – 37 inches by 2100 … if Antarctica holds.

WAIS, antarctic ice sheets, map of antarctic ice sheetsThere’s a reason most research on sea level rise leads to the Antarctic.  The continent, which is covered in snow and glacial ice, holds more than 800,000 years of climate history in its ice.  With ice shelves extending off 75 percent of its coastline, Antarctica is the Big Boss for climate change.

Glaciologists agree that the Come-to-Jesus moment for sea level rise will happen when and if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) collapses.  A marine ice sheet, the WAIS could become unstable if ocean warming trends continue.  If this one ice sheet melts, it could raise sea levels more than three meters (about 10 feet).

Evidence from sediment samples in ice cores suggests the WAIS melted in previous interglacial periods.  Keeping a watchful eye is not unreasonable, especially after the recent collapses of two major Antarctic ice shelves:  The Larsen A in 1995 and the Larsen B in 2002.  While studies have since shown the Larsen A previously melted and returned, they also concluded that the Larsen B Ice Shelf was a permanent fixture during previous warming cycles.

This begs the question:  Is Waterworld even possible?

Nope!  Melting polar ice caps will not drown the entire known world – but they would rewrite it. If the polar ice caps, land ice and glaciers all melted, the Earth’s sea level would rise more than 200 feet. Swaths of North America would disappear into the Atlantic and whole countries erased, but there would still be land.

While this isn’t exactly Waterworld-type ocean rise, it would devastate already at- risk coastal cities and upend today’s geopolitical structure.

And that’s kinda the point of the film.

For a film that doesn’t openly discuss ecology, Waterworld is surprisingly preachy.  The reluctant hero is a man whose mutations enable him to live in harmony with the environment.  The antagonists, pirates who cobbled together smoke-belching combustion engines, terrorize society from an old oil tanker called Exxon Valdez.  Even its premise evolved with the idea that humans created ecological factors resulting in their own destruction.

“What was different about [Waterworld] was that it had to do with an ecological conflagration, a whole world covered in water because of human stupidity and greed,” said director Kevin Reynolds in a 1995 interview.

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Scientists don’t expect Antarctica to melt any time soon.  The continent, which is buried beneath feet of ice sheets, can survive warmer climates for some time before it gives way.

For now, Antarctica’s western ice sheet is safe.  But should it fail in the future, we may well be on our way to the water world Kevin Reynolds and Peter Rader envisioned.  And, as in the movie, it would be society’s destructive practices that caused it.


Faith and Film: 8 Movies That Inspire the Spirit

In Career, Fun on March 11, 2014 at 7:57 pm

What film has affected your personal biography?

Movies use the art of cinematography, music and acting to create an emotional response within the viewer. Whether it’s the sacrifice an actor makes for the role (Christian Bale in The Machinist) or how the intricacies of a soundtrack reinforce the film’s symbolism, even movies that aren’t religious raise real spiritual questions and offer spiritual lessons.

Here are eight films with spiritual themes you can take to heart this Lent:

Les Misérables (mercy)

Jean Valjean is one of “the wretched ones” faced with suffering in a world set against the poorest class.  The movie begins with Valjean gaining his freedom after years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her child.  No one will hire him because or take him as a lodger because of his criminal record until a bishop invites him in as a guest.

During the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silverware.  He is quickly detained and brought back to the bishop to face accusation.  Instead of accusing Valjean, however, the bishop gives him the rest of his silver and sends him away with a blessing.

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The bishop’s compassion for the poor is an echo of Christ’s mercy. It’s as though an interior wall crumbles within Valjean in that moment, opening his heart to the idea of grace. From then on, he is transformed from a bitter, desperate man into one who tries to share the mercy he experienced with others.

The moment with the bishop opened him to the ability to be compassionate and show mercy toward those around him. Inspired by the bishop’s mercy, he repays the gift continually and is rewarded. That imagery is emphasized again at the end of the movie during his death scene.

Tree of Life (grand design)

Faced with the death of their son at the beginning of the film, a couple despairs and asks “Why?”  Tree of Life answers the question with another:

“Where were you when I founded the earth, while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

Tree of Life shows the glory and beauties of the world against the hardships and brutality. It shows the world from a macroscopic lens of grand design. The characters themselves are expressions of Nature and Grace, elements that create balance in the universe. Nature is violent and coarse, the tough side of the world, while Grace is love, forgiveness and a gentle nature.

tree of life, tree of life movie

The tree of life symbolizes the connected nature of the universe. From the stars to blades of grass, everything is interwoven. The crash of Nature and Grace throughout the universe is part of a grand symphony being played throughout time. Tree of Life makes the viewer feel like a tiny yet important piece of that symphony.

You can’t understand what suffering is about in the moment, but can you accept it as part of the state of the universe? (For a much more eloquent discussion, watch Fr. Robert Barron’s comments on the film).

Lord of the Rings (divine intervention)

The Shire seems like an idyllic place to live, but despite its remoteness it falls under the shadow of darkness spreading across Middle Earth.

The Lord of the Rings begins with an intercession from Gandalf the Gray, the avatar of grace throughout the series.  Tolkien wrote the wizards (the Istari) as servants of the Valar – immortal spirits that helped give the world its form. They are semi-angelic beings sent to aid the people of Middle Earth through wisdom and teaching. 

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Among the Istari, Gandalf stands out as a guardian angel. Not only a wise mentor but a spiritual guardian, Gandalf bolsters the courage of the warriors of Minas Tirith before aiding them in the fight against Sauron’s evil.  It is his meddling that sets the paralyzed people of Middle Earth into motion against Sauron and the fallen Saruman.  His presence alone is enough to make people want to be better, which kinda makes him Superman if you think about it.  Cool!

Gravity (trauma)

Trauma is by nature emotionally damaging, so there’s no way for a person to “snap out of it.”  Still, the way people handle trauma makes a difference in how it affects them. Pain can control you if you let it, make you disjointed and scattered – too frozen to act. Stranded in space with failing equipment and dwindling time, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) reveals to fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) that her daughter died; after the trauma, Stone shut down in the face of her grief.  

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Later in the movie, Stone once again surrenders to her trauma and resigns herself to dying in space. While she is suffocating, Kowalksi encourages her to fight through the hopelessness and walks her through the steps that will carry her through the ordeal.

Trauma can be the birth of grace, a place where faith speaks quietly that the pain can be overcome. When negotiating trauma from a point of faith, you can discover within yourself a way toward a solution and a way to begin working through the pain.  It’s not immediate – it never will be – but it provides solace and hope through the darkness.

District 9 (compassion)

Wikus van de Merwe is in charge of evicting insectoid aliens from a ghetto in order to move them to a newer, “better” internment camp. Shot documentary-style, District 9 shows the appalling conditions the aliens are forced to live in and the indifference of men.

It’s a film about the cruelty of human condition caused by ignorance and pride. Wikus begins the film looking down on the “prawns” as he walks among them. He condescends to them, ridiculing them for the ways they’ve coped in their limited situation.

Wikus is literally transformed during the movie. The sickness has a humbling effect on him. Once he falls from his previous status, he begins to understand what the aliens are going through.

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Compassion means sympathetic pity and concern for a person struggling or in pain. It isn’t disdainful. Compassion comes from a point of humility because it implies caring and emotional understanding between two people, which is difficult to share if one is inflated by pride.  Only through being stripped of his pride does Wikus arrive at compassion for the suffering of others.  I think it’s a beautiful point to make.

Star Wars (sacrifice)

There is a grand scheme within Star Wars, a fight of good versus evil that goes beyond political drama.   The Rebel Alliance is a group of underdogs who understand the call to self-sacrifice in order to protect the galaxy and defeat the Empire.  Everyone in Red Squadron knew the impossible odds of taking down the Death Star, but they remained steadfast because the mission was that crucial.  Many X-Wing pilots (and Bothans) sacrificed their lives, and that sacrifice was not in vain.

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Early in the series, Obi Wan Kenobi is an analogy for saintly virtue while Darth Vader represents the corruption of evil.  During his fight with Darth Vader, Obi Wan Kenobi sacrifices his life. He didn’t have to die. If anything, he could have beaten Darth Vader. But he sacrificed his life because he understood that, through the transcendent power of the Force, life doesn’t end at physical death.

In the end, Luke Skywalker resisted the Emperor’s temptations of power. He, too, proved willing to sacrifice his life to remain committed to what he understood to be true: that redemption is possible for even those who seem lost the most.

Good does prevail over evil. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

Forrest Gump (sincerity of heart)

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Forrest Gump doesn’t question whether to act. If he thinks an act is the right thing to do, he carries it out without hesitation. He fulfills his promises and supports his friends. People see Forrest as weird, simple or just plain stupid because he understands the world without cynicism. The world isn’t an infuriatingly complicated place of bitterness and inequality.  It’s a place of promise. Forrest’s actions carry with them a sincerity of heart that inspires.

Through his life and pain, Forrest remains unchanged by the world around him. He experiences war, pain, grief and loss without letting it turn him against the world. Lieutenant Dan comes through the Vietnam War with devastating physical and emotional damage. Jenny survives childhood abuse with lasting emotional scars. While both Dan and Jenny initially resent Forrest for his optimism, his honest-natured good will is a beacon of light in the darkness of their lives.

The Breakfast Club (communion)

Let me summarize it for you: five high school students from different cliques meet in detention and learn they have a lot in common beneath the surface.

The Breakfast Club is a classic because it does a wonderful job demonstrating the harmful effects of stereotypes. Judging the way you anticipate a person will act or think undermines the ability to communicate with them on anything more than a superficial level. It confines that person’s personality to a box and pressures them to live up to your expectations. To break from the box is to risk being vulnerable.

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Stereotypes prevent communion – that is, the close friendships built on sincerity and genuine love for your fellow man that Christians aspire to. At first, the characters in The Breakfast Club are abrasive with one another, each jibing the others in order to protect themselves from being hurt. It is only after they open up and communicate their feelings and fears that they recognize the potential for lasting, meaningful friendships exist.

“You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.” – Brian Johnson

Think of a movie that changed the way you thought about virtue, about friendships or your role in the world. Can you find one that stands out as meaningful? Does a movie strike you as beautiful or as a cause for awe?
Let me know in the comments below!
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