Making the Grades
Worried about your retirement fund? If Hollywood’s predictions are right, society as we know it will be long gone before most of us can cash in on our 401K. Almost every other movie this year portrays some apocalyptic event. And while After Earth takes place at least 1000 years into the future, retirement programs are definitely not in place on the planet. Thanks to the destructive actions of mankind, all humans have long since been removed to colonize less polluted globes.
While on a routine flight to deliver cargo from one intergalactic location to another, a team of futuristic humans crashes on the toxic blue planet. When the smoke clears, the Prime Commander Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) are the only survivors.
Despite the fact that almost everyone in the future wears the seemingly obligatory jumpsuit (fashion designers apparently don’t survive the end of the world), other things haven’t changed that much, at least when it comes to human interactions. Like many adults today, Cypher works lots of overtime. His job involves killing gruesome alien monsters that have been bred to hunt and destroy human beings. His son is a sensitive yet impetuous youth who tries to prove himself to his father. Cypher’s wife Faia (Sophie Okonedo) had hoped the trip would give the pair time to connect. What she hadn’t planned on was the crash.
Treating his son more like one of his cadets than his offspring, Cypher defaults to commander mode once the plane goes down. Suffering two broken legs, he is unable to retrieve a missing beacon they needs to signal for help. As their only hope for survival, he sends Kitai on the 100-kilometer journey through hostile territory to find it.
The story, written by Will Smith and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, puts a lot of pressure on the younger Smith who spends most of his time alone on screen, since much of the drama takes place in two separate locations (the injured dad is in the downed ship and the son is on the surface of the dangerous planet). While Tom Hanks managed to pull off a solo act in Cast Away, the challenge proves to be a lot more difficult for the relatively inexperienced Jaden. But although the performances are the weakest link in this big screen production, the script addresses issues that many families with adolescents can relate to. This dad and teen must learn to appreciate and respect each other. And Kitai must face his fears and control his emotions (something his character also had to learn in The Karate Kid).
The biggest threat on the boy’s journey (that ends at the top of a volcanic ash spewing mountain straight out of Lord of the Rings) is a man-hunting monster like the ones his father fights. After capturing its prey, the beast impales its victims on tree branches as a warning to the other humans. These gruesome depictions, along with the portrayal of several dead bodies, half-eaten animals and bloody accident injuries, are the film’s only real content issues.
If your teen can get past that, After Earth offers a surprisingly positive viewing option for older family members. Watching this real life father and son team work through their characters’ familial turbulence on the big screen may encourage parents and kids to find ways to reinvest in the future of their own relationship.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about After Earth.
How does Kitai’s rash actions and anxiety hamper his ability to make good decisions? Why does his father repeatedly tell him to “take a knee”? How does this action help him refocus? What similar actions could you use to help you regroup either your emotions or thoughts?
What does Kitai learn about his father from the cadet who insists on standing and saluting Cypher? Is it sometimes easier to show respect to those outside of our family than within? How does the death of Kitai’s sister impact the relationship between this father and son? What feelings about the event do each of them have to overcome in order to build a father/son relationship?
Despite the fact that Kitai is the son of the Prime Commander, the officer in charge of ranger training does not allow the boy to advance to ranger status. What does Kitai learn from the experience? Can children and teens be disadvantaged when they are given things they have not earned?