Two Possible Futures

Last weekend, I was able to pull off a rare treat for myself: I got to see two movies, as it was Memorial Day and I had the time.  My wife and I together went to see Tomorrowland, and then on Monday I soloed at Mad Max: Fury Road (while she went to see Age of Adeline).

The two films together are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our possible futures.  On the one hand, Tomorrowland wistfully presents us with the possibility thaht our future can be bright, hopeful and full of promise, while the latest installment (NOT reboot) of the Mad Max franchise is as far to the other side of the spectrum as one can get: dark, grim, violent, uncertain in morals or promise of a better life.

Most reviews of Tomorrowland I have seen have not been positive. They seem to focus on the positive message of the film. When I was a kid, this was the future I was promised: gleaming skyscrapers, high-speed monorails, jetpacks and flying cars.  As I grew up, I discovered post-apocalyptic entertainment, even though I didn't have a name for it. TV shows like Ark II and Logan's Run presented me with a whole new way to look a the world and the future.  Nowadays, we have film franchises like Mad Max, The Hunger Games and the Divergent series are huge moneymakers for the studios and publishing houses, mostly because we share an uncertain interpretation of what the future might hold.

But I have to ask, why can't we be reminded to have hope? Why is it wrong to want things to be better? Why must we accept that things have to be awful, and that's "just the way it is?"

Tomorrowland is bright, hopeful, joyous. There is an undercurrent of menace, certainly, a sense that darkness is just outside the door, that there is a snake in our garden, But in the words of Robert Kennedy, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” The youthful protagonist in Tomorrowland challenges her teachers who repeat the dire warnings of a dismal future with the question, "what can we do to fix it?" This stumps the teachers, because they don't consider the possibility of a future than can be fixed. Some critics have pointed out that this is a weakness in the film that there is this challenge, but no solution outside of the "think positively" mantra. But perhaps the first step is in challenging the status quo.

"You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, explain that one. Bees butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won't take the hint! In every moment there's a possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality." -- Governor Nix, Tomorrowland

The film gets a lot of criticism for its apparent vapid "touchy-feely" message that all of the evils of the world don't have to be, but can be resolved with good intentions and positive thinking.  As a Christian, I understand that the only way for the world to be redeemed is for the crown of his creation, mankind, to be restored to a right relationship with their Creator.  But as Christians, we should never be satisfied with the idea that "that's just the way it is."  Some Christians believe that our lives on earth are a "dress rehearsal" for the hereafter. My faith tradition leans in the direction that Believers have a responsibility to live as if we are already in the presence of God, because we are. Is the world longing for God's intervention, and will mankind's rebellion result in an apocalyptic age? Yes. But we should never be okay with violence and injustice.

Mad Max lies at the other extreme on the utopia/dystopia scale. It is dark, violent, and human life is extremely cheap. It is a prime example of what post-apocalyptic fiction and entertainment is all about. We live in an age where we have almost no hope for the future, and the Mad Max films resonate with us in that respect.  Again, as a Christian, I understand that this is the way it is to be. Even the very earth itself is anxiously awaiting the redemption of Jesus (Romans 8:19-22)

But even in this nihilistic view of the future, Mad Max:Fury Road shows us that humankind has an amazing capacity for hope: a minor character discusses how she has saved seedlings for plants and fruit trees and tries planting them to see if life can be reintroduced into the bleak landscape presented in the film.

"We're in the 21st century and I don't care that I don't have a flying car; I just want to know how I ended up as an extra in A Clockwork Orange." -- Berin "Uncle Bear" Kinsman

Some will look at Tomorrowland and call it a childishly naive view of the future, and that Mad Max is more grown up.  Biblically speaking, we are called to "grow up" in our perspectives (I Corinthians 13:11). However, there is a difference presented in Scripture. On the one hand, we are told that we can only enter the Kingdom of God as a child. How do we resolve this tensions? By understading that God wants us to have a sense if wonder and dependence on Him. We need to put away childish fear, selfishness, impulsiveness and other ills. A childlike heart of wonder is not only okay, its expected of Believers.

In short, I believe that we can appreciate both. Yes the, world is in dire straits. But Believers have the responsibility, mandate even, to hold out hope for the future. This is a hope found only in Jesus, but that should never stop us from working and doing our part to better the world we live in now. We may never have a Tomorrowland future, but it need not be a Mad Max one either.

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