I like creating and losing myself in alternate worlds — it’s part of the pleasure of making film.
In the spiritual alphabet “T” is for teachers. Often we think of teachers as human beings. Sometimes we might also think of them as the more-than-human world: hills and rivers, trees and stars. But they can also be “alternate worlds” created through created filmmakers like Jennifer Phang. Spiritual discernment lies in dwelling in the presence of the films and learning from them.
This intricately developed and well-acted science fiction fantasy began as a dystopian short film by director Jennifer Phang. In an interview, she says: "It's basically an anti-cynicism movie. It's an attempt to re-engage moviegoers who've lost hope."
This is one of those under-the-radar films that is over-shadowed by the deluge of action movies with comic book superheroes so treasured by Hollywood as big money-makers. Phang sees science fiction as "a way for people to deal with real issues in a slightly abstracted way so that they can handle it."
Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) is a single mother who lives with Jules (Samantha Kim), her 14-year-old daughter, in a large metropolis in an unspecified future date. She has a prestigious job working as a spokesperson for Advanced Health and Living, a corporation selling youthfulness and beauty products to women. Gwen is very close to her daughter and firmly believes that she deserves, as a brilliant student, to attend an elite prep school where she can get on the fast track to a fulfilling and meaningful career.
Gwen's plans are shattered when she learns that the company no longer needs her as a spokesperson: they want a younger woman who can speak to youth. Fisher (James Urbaniak), her boss, comes up with a way for her to regain her job and to get the money she needs for Jules's education. But he warns her that the entire body makeover will entail painful side effects and a drastic change in the way others relate to her.
Director Jennifer Phang and actress Jacqueline Kim have created an engaging and thought-provoking screenplay that deals with mother-daughter relationships, female unemployment, the yearning of parents to get their children into prestige schools, the commodification of the female body, and the exceptionalism of youth. All of these substantive themes are afoot today in our culture, and it is refreshing to see them dealt with in this ambitious drama. Viewers will appreciate seeing Gwen and her gifted daughter struggling with such universal issues as careers, carving out a future for your children, and having enough water to survive.
May the Force Be With You
Science fiction enables us to experience parallel universes in our imagination, even when the parallel universes of traditional religion have lost their appeal. The reading and writing of science fiction can be a way of participating in the very life God, if combined with a lifestyle of love and respect for life.
In process philosophy there is indeed a Deep Imagination in whose consciousness the universe unfolds. The primordial nature of God is both an act of beholding all that is potential in this universe or any other universe, actual or simply possible; and an act of yearning for the satisfaction of each and all, in any actual universe. As we enter into alternative universes, we are exploring potentialities within the primordial nature as incarnate in an imagined universe.
But there's more to God than the primordial nature. There's also the act of feeling all that happens in the world with tender care. The Deep Imagination is also a loving Companion to all worlds, feeling the feelings of each and every actuality with tender care. Here "worlds" refers to any actual world at all, on this planet or on other planets, and in any dimension of existence, three-dimensional or otherwise. Process philosophers speak of this loving Companion to all actual worlds as the consequent nature of God. Its defining feature of which is Cosmic Love. The many worlds are Love's body.
As combined, the Deep Imagination and the Cosmic Love are God as immanent within each and every creature anywhere in the universe as an inwardly felt lure toward healing and wholeness, creativity and wonder: toward a realization of whatever form of fulfillment is available to it. A leading process theologian, John Cobb, speculates that as we experience this inwardly felt lure in our own lives, we share in the emotional yearnings of the Deep Imagination. In the technical language of process philosophy, we share in God's subjective forms or emotions, seeking well-being for ourselves and others along with God. Not only does God as Companion feel our feelings; we feel God's feelings.
Of course we do not always listen to or follow this inwardly felt lure. There are other lures in our lives, too: lures that lead us to harm others and ourselves. Tragedy is real both as missed potential and actual harm. Not all in our lives or in the world is divinely ordained. Much is divinely lamented: violence, injustice, terror, greed, hatred.
But there remains the lure of the Eros of the universe as well, as living current we can follow and help incarnate in the world, each in our way. It is if there is a force for healing and wholeness at work in the world, which can both guide us but which also requires our cooperation for its fulfillment.
One way that we cooperate with the force is through acts of love, helping other people, other animals and the earth: loving our neighbors and also ourselves. We can do this in our one-on-one relationships with friends and family and neighbors and co-workers. And we can do this by helping build local communities that are good for people, animals and the earth: just, sustainable, and joyful. Science fiction can help liberate our imaginations so that we can help build these communities. May the force be with you.