Last night I watched the movie Super 8. The commercials for it had never grabbed my interest, and I see now that they were trying to be intriguing without being revealing. It turned out to be excellent, and like everything J. J. Abrams does, about the characters in the story above all else.
It is interesting to start a movie by having it be about kids making a movie. When they actually discuss the reason for including a wife in the zombie movie they are trying to make, the boy who has been writing the scripts explains that it is to make the viewers care. And it works, within their story.
And somehow, even though Abrams has in mentioning this lifted up the curtain to show us what is going on behind the scenes, we still find ourselves caring. That in itself is a remarkable accomplishment – like the magician who is so talented that they can explain the trick and still perform it and impress you with it.
That’s about all I can say without any spoilers (all of the above is known to most before they see the movie, or learned early on). In what follows, I will not be summarizing the plot. But I want to talk about what I consider to be the central message of the movie. And thus there will be spoilers, including some things which it is probably better to read only after seeing the movie.
So, the central message of the movie? It could be taken to be that it is better to talk than to torture. The alien being that had been kept prisoner and experimented on was hardened by the experience, and things could have turned out ever so differently if a different course had been followed. And that is, of course, part of its message.
But I took to be even more central the need to see that the one we are prone to think of as a monster is a person. It is most blatant in the moment when we get a look in the alien’s eyes, as it makes a connection with Joe towards the end of the film. But the lives of the children are filled with those that they, or we, might begin to think of as monsters. The father who keeps his child at a distance after the death of his wife, his child’s mother. The father who drinks and reacts with anger.
These people too have been subject to cruel circumstances, often not inflicted by any individual or group, but painful and hardening nonetheless.
At the end, as Joe allows the locket he has cherished to fly away and become the last tiny bit of metal the alien needs for its spaceship, we see what has to happen for healing to occur. It involves sacrifice. For Alice’s father and Joe’s dad to seek forgiveness and forgive/recognize lack of culpability, and healing to occur, each needs to let go of what they’ve been clinging to, hurt and anger and bitterness that have become comfortable. The ship’s ability to rebuild, to “heal” itself, is a powerful symbol.
But as always with J. J. Abrams films and TV shows, at least in my experience and understanding of them, the message is always about human life, real life, points which apply not only to a world in which an alien may actually have crashed to Earth at some point, but whatever reality we actually inhabit.
And, like so many religions and spiritual paths, the message of this movie is about redemption. I’d suggest that the point of those traditions and paths, like Abrams’ works, is not to debate their factuality or plausibility, or to analyse their details hoping to solve some deep mystery and gain answers, but to come to embrace a story of redemption which might have the power to facilitate our coming to experience it in our own lives.
If you’ve seen Super 8, what did you think of it? If you haven’t, I recommend it!