The 2013 movie After Earth is the second of two movies that we are reviewing starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden. The Smiths are well known in some circles as being very devoted parents, and in the mercurial environment of the entertainment industry, this parenting power couple has a tough row to hoe. They appear to stay heavily involved in their children’s careers, though, and this project (written by Will Smith) is an example of this involvement.
Recording on this episode has been delayed several times due to illness and availability. We were finally able to get together for the recording on February 14th, so happy Valentine’s Day!
We spend a bit of time discussing what we liked and disliked about After Earth, but over all we found the movie to be enjoyable and discussion worthy. We don’t want to overwhelm you here with our list of dislikes, so be sure to listen for it in the episode.
The score for After Earth is by James Newton Howard, and is not the kind of score you listen to apart from the movie. It qualifies more as background texture than music.
Check the review at Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn.com for an examination of the considerations for Christian families.
After Earth was really built as a vehicle for discussing, even promoting an idea of what parenting is like; so much so that the other elements of the film, like the science fiction setting, are secondary to what the creative team wanted to say about parenting. This is confirmed by Will Smith in a featurette called “A Father’s Legacy” in the DVD’s extra’s section. In it, he emphasizes the importance of teaching your children correctly when you can, because when they are older and need your instruction the most, they will have to draw on what you taught them when they were young. Scripture tells us much the same thing:
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
The movie does an excellent job setting up Cypher’s understanding of this, and his acknowledgement of this failures in this department, early in the movie with some pretty natural and well hidden exposition. Like in real life, his responsibilities as a leader and professional soldier have severely impacted the growth of his relationship with his family and he wants to set it right…he just isn’t sure how.
Cypher’s unrealistic expectations to always be able to guide and protect his son is tested early in their experience on earth. Like any teenager, Kitai realizes that his father is not omniscient and uses that knowledge to rebel: a rebellion that very nearly costs Kitai his mission and, through his failure, his and his father’s lives.
The development of the relationship between Cypher and Kitai is further hindered by the tragic death of Senshi, Kitai’s older sister. Killed by the alien enemy called an Ursa when Cypher was not at home. This is doubly devastating as Cypher had become his people’s greatest hope through his mastery of a technique that allowed him to essentially be invisible to the Ursa, called “ghosting”.
Even so, the relationship that Cypher and Kitai have is not in poor shape—they clearly share many sensibilities and even a sense of humor. Kitai certainly holds his father in very high regard and demonstrates as much through his determination to follow in his father’s footsteps—straight into the Nova Prime’s Military program, the Rangers.
Fear is such a complicated topic: in this movie as well as in Scripture. Most of the topical references to fear in the Bible actually show fear—”Fear of the Lord, a holy dread and reverence,” as Matthew Henry calls it—as a good thing:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
We felt that fear was too simplistic a word for what After Earth was communicating and is not the same sense of fear as in the Scripture references. After Earth was using the word fear interchangeably with that of “panic,” and that is not the fear that we need to feel of God … unless we stand unprepared before the Throne:
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews [10:31])
One element of the circumstances of the fear in After Earth is its relationship to courage. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” As Christians, we need not fear the dangers of this life because our Savior has already demonstrated that death holds no power over Him. As Paul says:
If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans [8:31]b)
Jesus said as much during his ministry on earth:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew [10:28])
Christ knew the horrible persecutions that Christians would be facing, not only over the first few centuries of the Church’s existence, but even to this very day. A superb book on the martyrs of the church is John Foxe’s Fox’s Book of Martyrs. Alton Gansky’s book, 60 People Who Shaped the Church is also an excellent source for learning about early church fathers and the persecution they faced, as well as some discussion on the importance of that persecution.
As Christians, we are called to not surrender to fear, but to understand that our relationship with God should not only be reverential, like that of Kitai at the beginning the the film, but also the intimate relationship that our adoption through Christ affords us:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans [8:15])
After Earth was bookmarked with fairly strong references to the environmentalism movement. The opening monologue featured a voice over by Kitai speaking to the desolation of earth by humanity and it causing mankind to have to seek a new home. The closing scene was a sweeping vista of earth’s wildlife. On top of that, a clear subplot throughout the movie was Kitai’s learning that not every native species was actually out to kill him.
Regardless of your position on the issues of global warming and the environment, it is important to remember that any issue you value greater than your relationship with God is equivalent to idolatry. The stereotype of the hardcore environmentalist clearly walks—or even crosses—the dangerously thin line between stewardship and deification of our planet. While it is hopefully the exception rather than the rule for believers, this is a line that we must not cross. Our presence on this planet and the impact of our sinful nature on nature are accounted for in God’s plan. We must do our best to handle this issue, as every other, with godly wisdom and prayerful attention.
One specific thing related to this tone environmentalism that bugs us both was the warning Cypher issued to Kitai before he began his journey that everything on the planet had evolved to kill humans. This provided yet another example of how much more important the story was than the science for the creative team. Humanity had not been on earth for over a thousand years—how then had the fauna evolved to kill a species that they had never encountered? Even still, this distinction did bring to mind:
The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. (Genesis 9:2)
Also…whales are SO twentieth century!
If you find yourself south of Cincinnati, be sure to check out the bison at Kentucky’s Big Bone Lick State Historic Site—say “Hi!” to the buffalo for us!
Despite the exceedingly soft-science-fiction nature of After Earth, we came into this movie and watched it mindful of what it was communicating about relationships: father and son, harried provider and neglected family. To that end, we were happy with After Earth. The movie does a remarkable job speaking to the trials and tribulations that this futuristic family face, yet clearly relates to the 21st century viewer. If you are after hard science, this is definitely not a movie for you, but if you want a revealing examination on the difficulties that families have faced since the beginning of history, we recommend After Earth. Where the science was painfully lacking, it was balanced by engaging performances by Will and Jaden Smith, enjoyable nuances in the story telling and satisfaction in the lesson learned.
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