Hey! Read an elegant, expanded, and revised version of this blog post over at Vulture. Now with actual English instead of the below chicken scratch.
This is not a review of After Earth . Rather, an intriguing underlying concept.
OK, this might be semi-crazy.
As far as I can tell, Will Smith has never blatantly stated he’s a member of the Church of Scientology while being a proponent of it. He’s been open about studying it and palling around with high profile elites like Tom Cruise, but in the end, he declares himself a “student of world religion.” In the end, it doesn’t really matter — but it’s hard to dismiss Smith’s ties to L Ron Hubbard’s sci-fi-inspired belief system when its ideas are all over his new film, After Earth.
I won’t get too spoilery here, but consider this:
In After Earth, Smith’s character Cypher Raige (ha!) is a commander in a human society that fled Earth 1,000 years ago. They escaped their ecologically-ravaged homeworld to a new planet that was picture perfect… minus a race of blind aliens with a thirst for the pheromones produced by fear. Convenient! What makes Cypher special is that he’s capable of “ghosting,” the ability to abandon fear and become invisible to the aliens. As we’ve seen in the trailers, circumstances eventually take Cypher and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) back to Earth with company — a fear-hungry alien. Kitai ends up having to cross the terrifying forest land of Earth and his biggest problem is that he’s a total pussy. He is bubbling over with fear. He’s too fucking emotional and that makes him a huge target for the alien.
This struck me as Scientology 101. Cypher spends most of the movie guiding his son through the dangerous environments of evolved Earth, coaching him to drop his emotions and believe in his self. Fear is imaginary, a construct of the mind that can be abolished if you believe in your own abilities. To me, After Earth is all about cleansing the body’s “thetan,” or soul. If Kitai can leave behind the physical dangers of the world and invest in self-determinism, he’ll be triumphant. He’ll be a hero because he’s entitled to be one.
Scientology is all about personal survival — the the “first dynamic”— and that’s the key to Katai’s mission. Washing away the past, any bad decision he’s made, in order to come out on top. It’s the way his father has lived and it’s basically gone unpunished, even when he has massive mistakes on his record to show for it. Unlike many Hollywood science fiction movie’s, After Earth has an emphasis on self that I don’t believe is coincidence.
The auditing process also comes up. Kitai is stricken with memories of an ill-fated day back home, where he witnessed a love one perish at the hands of an alien invader. He was only a kid, but it kills him inside. This works like Scientology’s engrams, albeit a bit more overt. Through flashbacks, M. Night Shyamalan tortures his lead character with memories. The only way to make it to the end of his mission is to wash them away. So Cypher is giving Kitai his free stress test, one-on-one sessions between father and son that teach the emotionally involved child to put aside his feelings in favor of making the world a better place. The only thing missing is a 31st century E-meter.
So in this adaptation of Scientology, the bloodthirsty beast pursuing Kitai is psychiatric consideration. It’s destructive and murderous, preying on emotion and standing in the way of being a great soldier of the universe. But the spectacular world around Kitai during his multi-day trek through the jungle, and even the physical manifestation of Scientology’s anti-psychiatry stance, seems inconsequential in comparison to his own internal battle. After Earth is about the personal quest — the science fiction padding is just to make it appealing to the masses.
Am I waaaaay off base on this one? You may have to see for yourself and let me know. Scientologists: feel free to chime in if you think I’m way off on my facts. This isn’t a knock one way or another, just surprised to see Smith and Son star in a huge Hollywood blockbuster ingrained with a religion they’re adamantly not a part of.