Though most children are too young to enjoy adult science-fiction the way their parents do, it won’t be long before they are old enough – and wise enough – to not only watch the sci-fi films we love, but to take away deeper lessons woven into the subtext of such films. Sci-fi, at its best, examines what it means to be human, viewing a world and universe that we don’t quite (and may never fully) understand, but about which we grow ever curiouser and curiouser.
Just because our kids aren’t yet old enough to watch the heavier sci-fi films we call our favorites, there are lessons to be learned and passed on to the youngsters in our midst. Here are three that can open up broad discussions between you and your little genetic replicas.
1. Girls are smart, tough and can kick your ass.
If any sci-fi franchise has proven this simple axiom, it is Alien. From the moment Sigourney Weaver makes her presence known, we are clear on her sense of purpose. When the crew begins to fall apart, their male leader eviscerated by the titular creature, Weaver’s Ripley does her best to manage, but the alien is too crafty to avoid. Everyone dies except Ripley and her cat. Awesome enough. What is not so obvious is the subtext of female empowerment. Screenplay writer Dan O’Bannon has commented on how he made every effort to make male viewers uncomfortable, even to attack their senses, with a battery of male rape scenarios. The face hugger entering through the mouth and implanting an egg (an egg) in his abdomen to be “birthed” violently through the chest. The phallic image of the alien’s second mouth ripping into the torsos of the victims. It all points to the idea that the male has oppressed women for too long, and the alien, sexless as we can gather, is a metaphor for the revenge of the feminine. Of course, you don’t want to share this lesson in these terms, but a girl interested in sci-fi will soon find Ripley. And Ripley will rock her world.
2. They’re just like us, only different.
In the magnificent sci-fi film District 9, aliens derisively labeled “prawn” are held in internment camps and treated like scum. Written by Neill Blomkamp with subtle and not-so-subtle references to apartheid built into the script, District 9 touches on issues of racism, xenophobia and classism. As government worker Wikus van de Merwe (seen in the clip above evicting one of the prawn) finds himself becoming a prawn himself, his inhumanity turns, and he begins to understand the degradation the families of prawn have gone through. They have children of their own, and they miss their homes. Far from the sweet and friendly greys of Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. films, the prawn are hideous and threatening looking. But they are just like us, kids, and they deserve our respect.
3. Black holes will eff you up.
Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson says he would love to be ripped apart at the event horizon of a black hole. Romantic though the notion may seem, sci-fi fans can all agree this is a bad idea. Throughout film history, we have seen what happens when we get too close to black holes. Disney’s campily surreal The Black Hole got a little kooky with the whole concept, but the message was clear. No one survives the giant swirling void. In the film Event Horizon, the crew on the space vessel Lewis and Clark, who are dispatched to recover a distressed ship that disappeared many years prior, are not faced with a literal black hole, but a black hole-like phenomenon created by the derelict ship’s gravity drive. The result is a place where time and space collapse, and other dimensions can be entered. The result is nightmarish. Since none of us will have the opportunity to venture to the edge of a black hole, what can we gather from these films? Maybe a cautious sense of awe when regarding our universe. The saying, “The more we know, the less we know” rings true. It seems the more we discover – about our world, our universe, ourselves – the more we realize there is so much more to discover. So we must journey out and try to learn as much as we can without thinking we finally know it all. That is when the black hole sucks you in and destroys you. Right kids?