We are living through some pretty dark times. The economy continues to be horrendous with the middle class going through the toughest challenges it’s ever had to face. To make matters worse, natural disasters are becoming more powerful and frequent than ever before, the uprisings in the Middle East are bringing unprecedented instability to the region, and if these “end of days” scenarios weren’t enough, the Maya, Nostradamus, and others all actually predicted the end of the world in 2012. It’s not like this is anything you haven’t heard on the media or from others dozens of times before. The funny thing? None of it’s true. Lately, we’ve been hearing and accepting dozens of statistics like these without question. It’s a sinfully delicious dessert the entire world seems to be stuffing themselves with: the chocolate cake of negativity.
By now you have no doubt heard that according to astronomers and anthropologists, December 21, 2012 correlates to the “end” of the Mayan calendar. And, despite having repeatedly heard about this for many, many years now, it is also very probable that you still have no idea exactly what this means. The reason is because it’s very complicated. To even begin to understand it you need to look to the Mayan myths of the Sacred Tree and understand their incredibly complex Long Count calendar of tuns, k’atuns, and b’aktuns as well as their concepts of the Great Cycle, the Great Great Cycle, and cycles within cycles. You’d also need to understand astronomical occurrences involving the precession of the equinoxes and the conjunction of the sun at the intersection of the plane of the ecliptic and the Milky Way. You can do all that, or, you can simply read my interpretation of this summer’s Green Lantern movie, which shares the same message as the Mayan mythology.
As mentioned in last quarter’s column, there have been a lot of “life-as-illusion” themed movies coming out lately. While I suspect that the success of Avatar and Lost are partly responsible for this trend, I think people’s fascination with 2012, drastic world changes, and a surge in our search for meaning are also fueling the recent string of films about alternate realities and simulated worlds. When airplanes are crashing into buildings, cities are submerged underwater, the Middle East is revolting, and the world economy is collapsing, real life almost seems more fantastical than our dreams. Jon Stewart summed it up perfectly at the 2008 Academy Awards: “Normally, when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty.” Yes, we are now officially living in the future, and we all know what kind of stuff happens in the future—exactly the kind of stuff that’s happening right now. But at least, thanks to Hollywood, we’ve been warned. And Hollywood’s heads up may even go much deeper than prophesies of events to come. They may help explain the reality we all find ourselves in.
There have been a lot of “life-as-illusion” themed movies coming out lately. We’ve had Avatar, Inception, and TRON: Legacy, and this month alone there’s The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless, Sucker Punch and Source Code. All these films share themes of alternate realities, questions about what is reality, and insight into powers that might be manipulating the reality we live in. While I hope to discuss the most recent batch of these films in an upcoming column, for now I’d like to bring up one that slipped past the radar of many moviegoers. This film actually gave me goose bumps when it revealed an angle that I’ve only recently adopted, and have never before seen in any other movie. That film is Disney’s Tangled.