What Does It Mean to Be Human?Foreword
Each of these big blockbuster movies answers this question in different ways. Perhaps it's a byproduct of our postmodern culture's existentialist angst, but the big-screen movies these days seem to be doing a lot of the following: taking stock of fundamental questions of human nature, civilization, consciousness, matters of right and wrong, etc. If you're watching the action flicks for imagination fodder, you won't be disappointed, but you may miss the overarching plot.
Allow me to invent/define some terms for the sake of this review:
The "plot" is the obvious problem that is directly presented to the audience.
The "sub-plot" is any theme with importance but which may appear to be a distraction at first, since its connection to the plot isn't immediately clear (and if there is no connection, the flow of the movie suffers).
The "meta-plot" is the implicit, overarching theme that the movie makes reference to without ever explicitly addressing. Basically, if you pick out the theme, and ask "what would this cause the characters to be concerned about, or do?" then you have the meta-plot.
Plot: Simba grows up orphaned and has to somehow right the wrongs that his uncle Scar has perpetrated on the African Savannah.
Subplot: Simba's relationships with his father, Nala, Timon/Pumba and other characters.
Meta-plot: the quest to figure out what's important in life / growing up, becoming a man. Whereas the theme is "manhood," the meta-plot could be summed up as "Simba has to discover something in himself (a sense of duty/honor), and/or find his purpose in life, which will drive him to confront Scar, and help him win."
And the import of the meta-plot is communicated more through the subplot than the main plot. If all you're doing is following along CBS-tv-drama-style, you'll know why the characters are going from one place to the next and such, but you won't grasp the significance, and come away with the real message (intentional or unintentional from the director's/producer's standpoint) of the film.
Let's dive in.
**** **** **** ****
The last 4 [not-yet-reviewed by yours truly] sci-fi movies I remember watching all had a common theme, explored in very different ways. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes answered the question, "what does it mean to be human?" through exploring the human-like qualities of the fictional ape characters. Chappie asks the question "what is consciousness?" by exploring the journey of learning of a robot, who rapidly traverses formative childhood and copes with the innate badness of human beings as he "grows up." Jupiter Ascending asks, "what is the worth of a society?" or "what makes life worth living?" and answers it through the parallelism of a jaded teenager who feels like she's wasting her life cleaning toilets, compared to jaded interstellar aristocrats who seem to live for nothing but to keep on living. Lastly, Divergent asks whether conformity is necessary for social stability, and asks if suppressing individuality through human government is a) possible or b) promotes peace, or tyranny.
Each film seems to invite the suggestion that how one responds to struggle is what reveals--or defines--one's humanity, and since without struggle, there is no plot, let's investigate the central struggles of these four films.
Last call for spoiler warnings