Greenland (2020)

Greenland is the plot of Deep Impact as seen from the point of view of 2020. What do I mean by that? I mean that director Ric Roman Waugh has decided to use a single point of view, more individual than the multiple characters that make up the plot of the second film, which I suppose had been used to present multiple sides to the problem of a comet crashing into Earth with devastating consequences for all life on the planet. I remember in that movie there was a president, some reporters, their families and a normal kid with a normal family. Now come to think of it, a president and reporters jump out at us if we think about how we would experience this cataclysmic event by watching TV (90s culture at a glance). However, Greenland does nothing of the sort, no one stares at the television (well, the people who weren’t selected I believe do), the characters are thrown into the adventure relentlessly from the moment they realize the gravity of the situation. It is in this space of time as the characters fight for the hope of surviving the apocalypse that they also face the limits of a selfish survivalist mentality, but also the limit in empathy and concern for others when faced with a situation of extreme danger.

But wait… what’s Greenland about? Well, well… it’s about John Garrity, a cheating father/husband and structural engineer, who is initially debating the purpose of life, being hung up on his family (almost losing them). Ironically, the catastrophic, yet initially interesting, situation of gathering with friends and family to watch an asteroid in the sky on TV gives him the budding opportunity to win back his own, when it becomes apparent that the asteroid will not only pass through the sky, but will fall on the earth and hard. Amidst the growing fear of the people, as they realize the gravity of the situation, John receives a phone message, he and his family have been chosen to be protected from the deep impact (not pun intended) inside bunkers that the government has had prepared since the the cold war. John convinces his wife Allison to take their son and leave quickly, to the confusion of the rest of his friends and family. He does so because he understands the gravity of the situation and is unwilling to complicate his own survival or that of his family. This leads him to refuse help to his neighbors, including a neighbor who begs him to take her young daughter. This initial conviction of “worrying about his own survival and closing his heart to the rest” is put to the test in several parts of the film and until the end, where this very debate of helping or not helping others becomes the key that opens the doors to the possibility of salvation.

Let’s think a little bit about the main character’s arc in relation to this idea to be discussed about saving oneself vs. helping others. John Garrick is a cheating husband, he was going through a complex situation in his marriage and decided for himself, he decided to be unfaithful. A morally glorified person might say that this makes him a bad person. However, if John were not a selfish bastard he might have thought of staying with his neighbors and sharing the same fate, he might have agreed to help the neighbor who was desperately asking him to take her daughter. Taking into consideration; A) that the plot of the movie is not structured in that way, B) that doing either of these two things would have greatly reduced his chances of survival (in fact he is almost left out himself in the scene where a plane can’t support any more weight and they can only carry 2 people) and more importantly, C) that John’s goal is to protect and save his family (that includes himself), it is interesting to learn the practical value of selfishness in pursuit of survival and let’s agree also, of the survival of the family. But that’s not the end of it, because nothing works the same way every time. When John and Allison lose the opportunity to enter the military planes heading for the bunkers and after being separated from each other, they both are forced to ask for help from other people, not to save themselves, but to find each other again. So… before they can save themselves, John and Allison have to find a way to get back together and this situation takes two separate perspectives for each character. For John this translates into the decision to get off the military plane when he realizes that his wife and son are down, that they have been taken down because John’s son has diabetes. So, John does not want to save himself if it means losing his family, demonstrating through this and in his desperate actions in pursuit of reuniting with his loved ones, that he is remorseful and that he loves his wife and son more than anything in the world. Allison’s case takes another turn, let’s say a more concrete one. After losing John at the military base, she assumes that she has lost her husband and decides to try her luck at her father’s house (demonstrating with this and with her nervousness that she is not prepared to face the situation on her own). This decision has two consequences, the first being that, by choosing a contingency plan and leaving a note in the car, should John arrive there, Allison lays the groundwork for the reunion. The second consequence is that Allison is exposed to a desperate couple who offer to give her a ride near her father’s house, but on the way learn that she is wearing a “Chosen” bracelet, as is her son. The desperate couple end up taking her son, the bracelet and throwing Allison out of the car and into her own mini-story within the overall story, the road to gain the strength to make the trip to her father’s house without help from her husband or her father (well she cheats in the end, but she came pretty close!). Along the way, Allison learns the differences between trusting a stranger when you have something of transcendent value (salvation) and trusting a stranger when you have nothing (which happens after losing everything, obviously). It is then that both Allison and we the viewers realize the value of people who dedicate their lives to public service, military and health personnel, the archetype they represent in the culture, the guiding and decisive figure in times of catastrophe.

The debate on selfishness and altruism ends after two scenes towards the end of the film. In the first, John manages to get his family to safety under a bridge in the midst of a meteor shower, then dives out into the open to save the life of a person trapped inside a car, burning his hand in the process. That burn finally becomes his ticket to salvation, when he has to beg the pilot of a small commercial airliner for a space for his family. So, after all this conversation, what can we say? Does empathy only work when it does not prevent survival? Is it that caring about oneself and nothing else is not enough to access salvation? From the way the ending is written I think the idea is something like “helping others brings us one step closer to salvation” if we think that every action of the characters that went in the direction of saving themselves might have initially seemed like a step towards salvation, but that in reality these actions took them further and further away from the goal and it wasn’t until they were both fighting for more than themselves, primarily for others (family) and ultimately for everyone (when John leads the rest of the people to the ultimate place of salvation) that the characters came close enough to the light to find in it the attainment of their goal.

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