Sunday, June 16, 2013

After Earth - dealing with fear

Last night I went to see the latest movie from M. Night Shyamalan, After Earth. Mr. Shyamalan, the creator of the famous ending-bender The Sixth Sense, has been ripped by critics for much of his work since then. I think that's unfair. In my opinion, The Sixth Sense created an expectation that his movies would have fantastic endings that was impossible to live up to. Especially when you go into the movie looking for a shocking ending - the anticipation spoils the possibility of being shocked.

I actually have loved his movies, and my favorite is Signsand here's why: This movie, like all of his work, explores themes of what life is about and the things that drive us as humans. In Signs, it was faith - do you believe that there is a higher purpose to the seemingly random things that happen in your life? Is is possible that there are no coincidences? In fact, this is perhaps my favorite scene from any movie:

In After Earth, that theme is fear.

The premise of the movie briefly is this: A crash landing has a father and son (played by Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith) stranded on Earth, a planet abandoned by humanity 1.000 years ago after cataclysmic events. With the father critically injured, it's up to the boy to go on a journey for help, facing difficult terrain, dangerous animals, and an unstoppable creature that escaped during the crash. And here's the kicker: the creature is blind, but can find you by smelling the chemicals released by fear.

And so, the boy's survival depends on his ability to control his fear. Not just the external signs of it - the fear itself. How can one do that?

And thus the key quote coming from the father who is trying to help his son survive is this:
Fear is not real. It is a product of the thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.

Joshua was standing near the edge of the river Jordan. His mentor Moses has just died after a long a faithful life of serving the Lord God of Israel, and now it was all up to this young man. Can you imagine how intimidating the task? He was now the leader of a vast nation charged with making sure they fulfilled the promise that God had made to them. Who wouldn't be afraid?

So in the first chapter of the book of Joshua, God tells Joshua three times to "be strong and courageous," and once the negative version of that - to not be afraid or discouraged. Then, at the end of the chapter, the men Joshua must command tell him to be strong and courageous. I'm linda thinking he was looking pretty frightened.


So, is the father's quote from After Earth true? Of course he's right about the danger. It is very real. In the movie, the son was to face multiple threats to his very survival. For Joshua, the dangers of the pagans occupying the promised land were very real, and would kill a lot of Israelites before the mission was completed. And the dangers in your life are real too. But is the fear real?

That's what I love about movies like this. They get us asking all the right questions. My thoughts? In a way the father is right - fear is in our minds and thus under our control. But how much power do I really have to control it on my own? I gotta tell ya - on my own, it gets out of control.

But I'm not on my own. Like Joshua, I have the God of the universe standing beside me if I will just ask. In the chapter linked above, he told Joshua that 1) God was giving the land to the people, 2) no one would be able to stand against him, 3) God would always be with him, and 4) to do all this, Joshua would need to know Scripture and obey.

So how can I conquer fear? My answer is that it's by remembering that the One who is over all stands with me, has given me a work to do, and will never leave or forsake me.

There are a lot of good movies this summer. If you can, squeeze in After Earth. It's good to ask these questions...and it's nothing to be afraid of.

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