Monday, July 04, 2005
War of the Worlds
"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, will save it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?" Matthew 8:35-36
In 1898, H.G. Wells, master science fiction author, wrote The War of the Worlds, to illuminate the issues of British colonization and the class division between rich and poor. In 1938, Orson Welles, regarded by many as the best actor, director, and speaker of the first half of the 20th Century, broadcast his update of War of the Worlds on CBS radio to highlight the country's fears on the eve of the Second World War. In 1953, George Pal produced the first film version of War in a culture of Cold War fears of nuclear war with the Soviets. Now, in 2005, Steven Spielberg has directed the newest War of the Worlds as a self-portrait of post 9/11 America.
The movie reminded me of the terrorists who lived and trained within our own borders, were hiding within our citizenship, and terrorized using our own planes. Similarly, War of the Worlds shows us aliens who hid underneath our very own streets for millions of years, just waiting for the right moment to attack. Chillingly, the tagline of the movie, "They're already here" walks narrowly close to our own reality of four years ago.
In the face of terrorism over the past four years, we are told to run for our lives. Even in small ways, we have been running from fear since 9/11.
In this movie, too, everyone is running. The film follows the story of a blue-collar everyman, Ray Ferrier (played by Tom Cruise), and his family. And like everyone else, he also runs. But running here only seems to lead to more disasters. One of these disasters got my attention: When an angry mob breaks the windows of Ray's minivan, and one person commandeers his vehicle by gunpoint (and then subsequently is killed by the others in the unruly mob). Running has made these people focus more on self survival than self sacrifice, and through this misguided focus, it has made them inhuman, just like the aliens they're running from.
As Ray continues to run, even worse things happen to him. He is even driven to choose between the life of his son and his daughter and barely escapes death at every turn. So he decides to stop running. For the next half hour of the movie, he hides in a farmhouse basement and watches as the outside world is destroyed by the tripods. Worse things continue to happen and Ray is even driven to murder. Sure he's stopped running, but now he's hiding. He has lost almost everything he cared for, perhaps because "everyone who wants to save his life will lose it."
Eventually Ray learns his lesson, and shows us, too, how to save the day. Near the end of the film, Ray comes out of hiding in the farmhouse and confronts the danger. Upon seeing his daughter (played by Dakota Fanning) being attacked by aliens, he makes a stand and confronts the massive tripod terrorizing her. He sacrifices his life to save her and in so doing, saves himself, "for anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it."
Christ challenges us, too, in our terror-striken world: Stop running! When we stop running, we can stand up for what it right. When we stop running, we can finally look beyond our own selves to see the world around us. When we stop running, we can truly break free from terror.
Christ is also challenging our country and our leaders today to stop looking so inward and start looking out for the best for all nations, "for what do we profit if we gain the whole world, but lose our own soul?"
War of the Worlds, from the original H.G. Wells book to this newest blockbuster movie, has always asked us what we do, individually and collectively, in the face of tragedy. Will we live the Gospel message and love one another, or will we be more like the film's angry mob that wants to survive so much that they'll kill to live?
God created us to rise above this animal (or alien) instinct.
At the conclusion of the film, Morgan Freeman narrates, "They were undone, destroyed, after all of man's weapons and devises had failed, by the tinest creatures that God in his wisdom put upon this earth." It was bacteria, the most simple form of life God created, that won the day in War of the Worlds. So, too, will be the end of terrorism, our modern war of worlds. The simplicity of our compassion for one another is our greatest weapon against fear and terror... more than any color code, any security check, or any nuclear defence shield.
Are we prepared to lose our lives for the sake of another?
In our ratrace world, we are running so much we often fail to do this. So Christ challenges us once again through this story to lose everything in our world to gain everything in His.