“Spoiler alert”: This movie is about family reunion and reconciliation, living along with our environment, and finding our true nature, instead of being defined, or constrained by the legacy of our father’s generations.
The conflicts and reconciliations among the three generations of the Clade family build the core theme throughout the story.
The Grandpa – Jaeger – a German word for hunter always had a dream to cross the mountain and explore the outside world, for which he trained his son and named him “Searcher”. The Grandpa had a strong sense of our hunter-gather ancestors, not settling down for what we had but always curious and wanting more. He also represented a strong signal of the first generation with grit and resilient characteristics in exploring an alien and harsh environment. A close mimic of the great adventurer – Columbus, setting out on a cruise for a new continent.
However, the father Searcher didn’t share his dad’s passion for the outside but only wanted to focus on “within” – after discovering the magical – electrical plant – Pando – in one expedition, he brought back the plant for study, which become the energy source for the society and a foundation for their Clade farm. He has the sense of settler and farmer, the second phase of human settlement and starting civilization – But also more than this, his research and achievement from bringing back pandos started a prosperous industrialized world with resourceful energy and planted the seeds for future disaster – a perfect metaphor for the industrial revolution in human history. We will talk about the Pandos’ metaphor in our next section.
The son, Ethan, grew up on the farm but had always wanted to go outside and see a bigger world – spending his whole life on the farm would have been boring but two days in the Strange world has become a game changer to his life. He is an explorer – No only in a physical, and geographical way of exploring, but also socially and interactively, he is exploring an ideal way of interacting and living with our surrounding environments and ourselves.
The producers in Disney had a very ambitious advocation in this movie through these characters of three generations. Clearly, these three generations built a historical narrative for human development, from the traditional hunter-gather society for Jaeger, to farming and industrialization for Searcher, and the future generation of possibility and full of exploration in Ethan. By putting up such a theme in this movie, I can tell the intellectuals and commercial producers are thinking/reflecting on our relationship with our environments and our past development – especially our legacy inherited from our parents and grandparents.
The movie gave an answer to this question – although our past generations had wanted us to be what they have been, we don’t have to be, we can fully decide on our own future, which is out there waiting for our exploration. It is very abstract and vague – a typical Disney answer, but a positive and cheerful one – for which I will give 8 out of 10 for this movie.
The Pando – A Metaphor for our environment
From the expedition 25 years ago, Searcher brought back a magical plant that could spark electrical power – which started the electrical/biochemical energy revolution of human society. Pandos were extensively planted in arches of farms, and grids and machines consuming Pando for energy were every in the world. For this achievement, Searcher received a statue in the city square.
The plant and energy source Pando has a clear metaphor for fossil fuel, and its huge application didn’t come for no cost. In the movie, an unknown disease was fast-spreading across farms and it was traced back to its root deep down the hole, which led to the search in this movie. In a way, we can see it as the widespread application and unstoppable manufacturers of fossil fuel have caused the environmental problem – climate change. However, in the movie, the disaster is more direct to the plant Pando as the energy source, the disease will cause crop failure, whereas the link between fossil fuel and Climate change is more subtle and hidden.
In the journey deep down and throughout, the crew finally discovered that the strange world was actually alive – on the big turtle floating in the ocean. The acid sea is its stomach and the disease was rooted in its heart. The reapers, the immune system, were trying to defend the body and that’s why they were attacking outsiders.
This whole “living world” came from a theory called the Gaia hypothesis – the Earth is itself a living, self-regulating system that has somehow intelligence to maintain its balance – through several feedback mechanisms – such as viruses, natural disasters, food chains, and climate change.
Interestingly, the crew eventually decided to help the Earth and removed Pando roots from its heart – what a self-conscious decision or it could be a part of the Gias theory, we are governed by some high and invisible force and all our actions are fulfilling a prescribed destiny rather than our own. What an interesting point to spark discussion and thoughts!
And What’s Next?
I had this intriguing question throughout watching this movie, I can understand its environmental initiative and conscious reflection of historical development and we need to move on – but what’s next?
In the reality, we had been so addicted to fossil fuel and our entire human industrialized civilization was building upon fossil fuel and electrified machines. If we decided to abandon such an energy source, what should we be using? From both environmental and developmental aspects, this question is unavoidable and negligible.
In the movie, I don’t see a clear answer – but just leave it open to explore for future generations. That’s fairly easy and a fairy tale. In the end, it is a Disney movie, what can I be more criticizing of, right?