Predators: Survival of the Fittest in a Busted Paradise?

SPOILER ALERT

To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.    ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If you’ve been on this planet long enough you’ve seen Predator, Predator 2, and Aliens vs. Predators (AVPR). The latest installment is Predators.

 

Beyond the earlier films, Predators is a product of many influences and reflects history. It is  an homage to Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” a short story of humans hunting humans. I think of slaveholders hunting the enslaved in the forests and swamps of the American South up to the mid-19th century. Ultimately, the film is about “survival of the fittest,” a term used to describe one of Charles Darwin’s scientific theories.

The story or plot. A multicultural group is dropped by parachute into what looks like the Amazon. Paradise? I think not. Battle-ready mercenary types–all except for a doctor who is the odd one out–do not know their where-a-bouts.

Soon they learn two things: that this aint planet earth and they are being hunted. How do they know it isn’t planet earth? First, a leaf dropped in water spins as if the gravitational pull is out of wack. Second, the sun doesn’t move. Perhaps in both these instances the rock they are on is no longer spinning on its axis? And third,  they walk to edge of a ravine looking up to see three planets above them with one so close it looks like it could be touched. Perhaps the ravine is the point where the planet broke apart. Are they on a moon? An asteroid? A planet? A chunk of a shattered planet? No matter. They are trapped.

The hunted realize they are being hunted in a jungle of a game preserve. They are the animals. One by one, they get picked off. The first to go are a Latino and African American–both men. The screenwriters and director stuck to the old horror/science fiction trope of killing off the men of color first. A second African American man (Lawrence Fishburne is hilarious) isn’t far behind when he is blasted to pieces by the predators, the hunters.

Throughout the film, one character attempts the philosophical concluding that hunting has alway been primal to humans, what it means to be human. So are those hunted in the movies just as soul-less as the alien predators? Is this a morality tale concerning predation by people of other creatures and the planet earth in 2010? Maybe the filmmakers aren’t that smart. The predators are getting to know the humans.

Homo sapiens throughout time have been aggressive.  Much of the first activity of humans in pre-history was hunting and gathering as means of survival. Farms, villages, towns, and cities came much later. A sly visual reference to this pre-history are the stegasaurus-hunting dogs encountered by the game/humans. Since pre-historic times, in modern times, humans have become the mightiest hunters on the planet.

Sadly, for the people in the movie the tables have been cruelly turned, and they are hunted. Royce, the central character, played by ripped Adrien Brody is the chorus of this Greek tragedy, the narrator of the human/alien murder and mayhem. As the plot progresses, he muses out loud, “We’re being hunted,” “we are the game,” “we are being flushed out and tested.” Duh.

Mud was a critical plot device in the the first Predator, and water and dirt sources of life, show up again in Predators. It will save the humans. If you saw the first movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you know what I’m talking about. Mud once again become emblematic or symbolic of life, as one hunter is triumphant over another. Go see the movie to learn the meaning of the mud, and how Royce figures out the Predators’ game.

 

In the end, two survive, a man and a woman. We are left with the image of Adam (Brody) and Eve (Alice Braga), two busted people left to muck it out in  busted jungle paradise. Or have they already been kicked out of paradise, and this alien rock are the wages of sin? Looks like hell to me.

At this point Adam and Eve need to be on a first name basis because all they have are each other:

 

Adam says, “I’m Royce.”

Eve responds: “Nice to meet to meet you, Royce. I’m Isabella.”

He closes with: “Let’s find a way off this *&^*^%* planet.”

Ah, courtship and romance.

With that said, I see a Predators 2 in the works with more stegosaurus-hunter dogs–agains shades of runaway slaves trapped in a tree by a hound–bounding through the jungle, along with a star-studded array of aliens skulking about.  Nimrod Antal–one can only hopes he directs again–bring it.

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Can a Year on a Farm Based on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Work?

Barbara Kingsolver with Steve L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food. HarperCollinsPublishers. 2007.    

Barbara Kingsolver says in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food, “Our culture is not acquainted with the idea of food as a spiritually loaded commodity. We’re just particular about which spiritual arguments we’ll accept as valid for declining certain food. Generally unacceptable reasons: environmental destruction, energy waste, the poisoning of workers. Acceptable: it’s prohibited by a holy text.” (p. 67). I say both our land and the food produced on that land must be treated as unequivocally holy! 

 As I began to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I felt that the spirituality and holiness she describes is at odds with who does and doesn’t have accessibility to green places including farms. Certainly, the upper middle- or upper classes could pull off living off the land as an experiment.

I had another response to the book: I realized I shared some of Kingsolver’s ideological and practical concerns about American foodways. Louisiana Voices defines foodways as, “obtaining, preparing, serving food and stories and beliefs about food.”  Perhaps considering some of these concerns could be a bridge to the spiritual and holy when it comes to land and produce.  

Stepping back a bit, Kingsolver describes the purpose of her family’s foodways journey and book: “We wanted to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground. (p. 3). She got away from a life in Tuscon where distributors ship in food from far-away places and water is running so low that in the near future it will not support the existing population. Here are the costs: fuel must be purchased to ship the food and when water is diverted to desert places like Arizona someone else has diminished access to water.     

Kingsolver and her family moved from Arizona to the southern Appalachia to live off the fruits of their labor on a farm and limit their purchases to local farmers. The Kingsolver clan made it sound relatively simple: relocate and then experiment on the land for a year.   

 Let’s think it through. “A Year of Food” requires resources, which includes money for expenses, and comfortably owning or renting a working arable farm. Before actually arriving at a farm, the average working- to middle-class family would have to turn on the utilities in a new home–that would be the farm–which could be a challenge. One might ask: Can they afford the gas for the car to make the move? What about motels and food on the way? Can they pay the start-up for some of the utilities? Will they have to physically go and pay with cash or a money order to turn on utilities because of a poor credit rating that does not allow for easy transactions by phone, mail, or the internet? These are real questions and concerns for people living pay check to pay check. Forget actually getting to the point of owning a farm. Most people are not privileged. Kingsolver and her family already own a farm.   

Class is a factor. So too is ethnicity. The farm families around her were probably predominantly white though she is not explicit concerning this point. There is a tension here for me. I grew up in Queens, New York in Rosedale, a working class neighborhood of people of African descent. Later as an adult, I lived in Lawndale, California in a working class Latino neighborhood. I’m not sure if many of the people in either ethic group would readily relate to Kingsolver’s agricultural experiment. Some who work the land to survive might see it as a working holiday. The ethnic disconnect and lack of diversity was problematic, typical of broader environmentalism, including the foodway movements.    

With that said, Kingsolver gives the reader much to think about through her beautifully written prose. Many of her suggestions are achievable without going through the financial duress of relocating and purchasing a farm. Consider two ways or reconfiguring Kingsolver’s experiment for regular folks with finite resources.    

Green tomatoes: it's only June.

  • Farmers Markets: Kingsolver does rely on and support the local farmers market near her farm. You too can do the same since these markets are in many cities across the US. The other benefits are eating local organic foods, and diminishing the fuel used to transport produce. Right now I am in Tennessee and plan to visit the Memphis Farmer’s Market downtown.
  • Indoor Plants and Gardens: The author had a flower garden that was part of the farm. This is not an option for many people live in apartments in cities or townhouses in the suburbs. In both types of housing, keep indoor plants, some that flower for the aesthetics. Consider growing herbs in a box on a window ledge. When I lived in Los Angeles I kept orchids, African violets, and a bonsai. Plants, particularly flowering plants, bring a bit of nature’s beauty indoors, which I find soothing spiritually. Tending, watering, re-potting, and fertilizing plants is a break from hectic modern life. Community gardens in cities are another option working side by side with others or carving out a plot of your own. There are benefits to the physical labor of turning over the soil and weeding the rows of plants. At the end of the season, you can enjoy the produce, the fruits of your labor.

So there is a bridge between Kingsolver’s experiment and incorporating nature into the daily lives of regular people. 

Going a step further, I feel a connection with Kingsolver because of my own environmental concerns. I worry about the planet. I worry about the limits and our dependence on fossil fuels. I worry about how many Americans are disconnected from the land and don’t understand how plants actually get to the supermarket. 

Kingsolver develops a parallel argument: when the oil runs dry, and we have to return small-scale agriculture to sustain ourselves, we will not have the skills to produce much needed food in rural settings. 

Perhaps if we resolve to treat the land and our food as edible holy objects, we can save the planet for our children. 

Photos by Dianne Glave Except the Book Cover 

Iron Man 2: The Machine, Garden, and Gulf

 

    

Tony Stark, the principal character in Iron Man 2, is back with his narcissism intact. Singlehandedly wearing THAT armored suit, he’s ended war around the globe by the second installment. He thinks very highly of himself being the planet’s peacekeeper and all. Of course there are two villains because the film wouldn’t be based on a Marvel Comic without them: Ivan Vonco–the son of the scientist who once worked with and was betrayed Tony’s father and Justin Hammer–a defense contractor and Tony’s corporate antagonist.  

Parts of the film, including the first scene, are in Flushing Meadows Park, transformed into a CGI Disney fantasy-world, an amped technological corporate park. This aint the park from my childhood. Today, Flushing Meadow is a sprawling place in much need of upkeep like many city parks across the country. The park is best known for the location of the World’s Fair in1964/1965. One of the most compelling fixtures of the park has been a large weeping willow I often saw driving on the Van Wyck Expressway that borders one side of the park.  I didn’t see that willow in the movie. Welcome to CGI.      

So fast-foward to the second half of the film in which Tony watches some old footage of his father. Leaning back in a chair, Tony rediscovers his father’s model for a future tech-filled Flushing Meadow Park.   His father ascribes to the mantra: “The key to the future is here.”  Tony is not far behind.

Propelled by his father’s vision, Tony creates a new element. He bases his work on the globe in the park by his father; I’m not sure about the science here but Tony turns theory into a chemical element–you know from the periodic chart.  Can people create new chemical elements? I guess Tony can because he is a self-made god: he takes the new element to heal his ailing body and enhance his suit like a god on Olympus. Tony plugs the element into his chest and says: “It tastes like coconut . . . And metal.” Yummy. The power to destroy tastes like coconut.  It’s ironic that the globe as scientific inspiration destroys part of planet earth in Flushing Meadow Park towards the end of the film.     

Tony runs with it. His Iron Man suit is the key and future, and its here. Tony, his best friend James Rhodes, the evil Vanco who is living out his father’s raw deal, and the droids are all suited up.    Can one be well-meaning in the throes of narcissism? Iron Man does attempt to do so in lunatic hot bad boy mode. Great hair . . . Great goatee . . . Wearing his signature wife beater under his suit, Tony attempts to lead some flying destructive droids away from Flushing Meadow Park but that doesn’t work. He ultimately contributes to some environmental mayhem as he battles evil.   

      

Iron Man Makes His Big Entrance

At the fantasy park,  one element of World’s Fair remains including the unisphere, a representation of planet earth–the same planet that influenced the development his new element. Tony is both a destroyer and a savior.  He leads the droids into the metal unisphere, earth. He damages the unisphere. Ping ping ping–many of the droids go down and metaphorically the earth gets no respect.    

In another scene, Tony and James land (thump) in a Japanese garden inside a conservatory. I do not believe such a garden exists in the park so this is another creation for the purposes of the film. The filmmakers carefully construct manicured garden that does not truly parallel nature in the purist sense. In the battle, they laser down trees at mid-trunk. They burn, bomb, and laser this manicured garden; it is unrecognizable by the time Tony, James,Vonco, and the droids are done with it. Tony and James win the battle. They stand triumphant, machine over nature, in the wreckage of the Japanese garden. They don’t even consider the environmental disaster they have created. The military industrial complex has done it again.    In the closing credits, a Disney inspired song trills. Here’s the instrumental version: Make Way for Tomorrow Today. Tomorrow’s here and machines are in the garden much like BP in the Gulf.  The oil company is struggling to seal a ruptured pipe spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Pelicans are drowning and smothering in crude oil. Shrimpers and fishermen have lost their livelihood. A Greek-like tragedy flashes daily across the screen on CNN much  like the environmental morality tale called Iron Man 2. 

Ok, so the producer and director are not responsible for the Gulf Crisis. But the movie they produced and directed is speaks to what ails people and the planet in the year 2010. Though the disaster in the Gulf caused by BP started after Disney filmed the movie, the scenes inside the unisphere and garden reflects a troubling disregard for our Mother Earth that goes back millenia.

We want the Gulf back the way it was. We don’t want that burned Japanese garden.   

Photos by Dianne Glave Unless Otherwise Noted