Taking the criticism with a grain of salt
June 25, 2013 § 4 Comments
A little over a week ago, I went to the movie theater to chase the Monday blues with two movies; After Earth and Man of Steel. I saw on the news the dismal turnout at the box office and read the less than enthusiastic reviews by some critics and movie goers for the former. However, I also saw the trailer and it caught my interest. I tend to take most of the film guru’s critical reviews with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, it seems as if some of their assertions had seeped in and grown roots because I was ill-prepared for what After Earth had to offer.
It was better than expected and had great philosophy without being didactic; one could sit in their seat and not feel as if they were being preached to. The themes explored fatherhood, how parents mean well but sometimes their humanity often breaks our hearts. It is also a coming of age story which we see from Kitai Raige’s (Jaden Smith) journey. He thinks he knows more than he actually does, is tougher than he actually is, and as his mother Faia Raige (Sophie Okenedo) notes, “he’s a feeling boy who needs his father.” It glances over climate change and our role in it; how we treat Earth and how it is forced to change in turn. Most of all, it addresses a common strand in our humanity: Fear. In one of Cypher Raige’s (Will Smith) exhortation to Kitai, he said:
“Fear is not real. The only place fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me; danger is very real but fear is a choice.”
How many times have we sent our minds staggering, our blood pressure through the roof, and our hearts racing thinking about the what-ifs of tomorrow? Mind you, I am one for planning for the future and thinking ahead but as it has been said many times over, we lose many moments by not being present. And so Cypher Raige offers the antidote for those moments when panic, angst, anxiety, fear, worry etc comes; “take a knee…ground yourself in this moment.” In the film, fear is symbolized by Ursa who can smell it on humans then hunts them down and kills them. It is a clear depiction of how many are crippled by their fears and that in itself is a form of death.
It is hard not to appreciate After Earth especially when it employs so many devices, has such beautiful wisdom, and relatable themes. The most disappointing aspect of going to the movies that day was watching Man of Steel after. Alone, I am sure it stands on sturdy ground but coming out of After Earth, it felt shallow, almost empty. I couldn’t help wondering what the critics’ bone of contention was with After Earth, so I went back and perused the internet. The common theme was summed up by one reviewer from the New York Times who claimed it was nothing more than “a big-screen vanity project.” And that’s when I realized that the problem wasn’t the message or the writing; it was the fact that 90% of the film featured the relationship between Kitai and Cypher (Will and Jaden Smith.)
It’s sad. I’ve seen worse movies get great reviews just because it had many A-list actors, good advertising, or both. For me, this movie goes on the same shelf with Crash, The Pursuit of Happyness, I am Legend, The Ides of March, and Michael Clayton. It is one of Will Smith’s better roles, if not his most mature. As for Jaden, I didn’t laugh as much as I did watching karate Kid but it’s not always about laughter. Sometimes, we have to watch a character grow. Sometimes a story doesn’t need a large chorus for support or laughter to chase. It can stand on its own, be as it is. In those cases you really have to take the criticism cum grano salis.