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.

Illusions (1977)

Illusions is a novel written by Richard Bach, a guy who is a writer and an airplane pilot, how can a person be so interesting? Well, the thing is that this story is about a guy named Richard, which is the author’s name, who is an old airplane pilot and who makes money by taking people for rides in his airplane. The thing is that this Richard meets another guy named Donald Shimoda, who claims to be waiting for him and who happens to be the reincarnation of Jesus, Siddhartha and so many other prophets of antiquity. Donald is waiting for Richard to teach him the art of being a messiah, since Richard has the stuff to be one of them, or as it is later revealed, he belongs to the same family. According to what I have read, it is possible that this novel is the continuation of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but the big difference between the two books is that in Illusions, the narrative has little visuality and a lot of dialogue (in the form of allegories and existential conversations), while in the first one (Seagull…) the ideas are fused with the action. This makes Illusions a more difficult story to read, except for its final passages, where the action is present and has narrative importance. But hey, do you want to know why this book, despite its monotonous parts, has some very interesting ideas about human existence and a philosophy of life that can free you from suffering? Then let’s talk a bit about Illusions.

As I said before, Illusions is about a messiah who comes to teach the protagonist to be a messiah too, what he teaches him is that life is a dream and that we can all do what we really want to do and that this is the way to freedom.The way Donald Shimoda teaches Richard about all these things is that they both spend time together, traveling in their vintage airplanes and taking people for rides, a very simple and free life that allows them to talk about existence and practice miracles along the way, things like walking on water, swimming on land or walking through walls. It’s all about understanding that the ideations we have in our minds are actually limitations that we impose on ourselves by seeing life in a structured way, when the truth is that life is a dream of what in the novel is named as the “is” (the self I suppose). Also, as I said before, the way the novel is written may seem monotonous to some people, as everything is set up with a lot of dialogues in the form of conversations, where Donald may even seem a bit heavy or mumbo jumbo with his know-it-all attitude. To be honest, the first time I read this story I liked it much more than I do now, this reading prior to the review I found it much harder to keep my attention, except towards the end of the story, where the actions take over the plot, albeit somewhat abruptly.

Something interesting about the story is that it is written in a circular way, it all starts with some words written on a draft, it is a story about a person who is born in Indiana and has a very normal life until he recovers memories of other lives, these memories make him strong and wise. Then, other people come to him for advice and he asks them a question; what would they all do if God commanded them to be happy for as long as they live? This is the premise of the story, it is the reason for the violent denouement over the ending, it is the foundation of all the conversations Richard and Donald have throughout the story and it is the reason Donald chooses Richard to teach him the ways of the messiah. And the whole thing takes on a circular nuance because in the epilogue, Richard has a dream where he meets Donald (posthumously) and Donald asks him to write a book containing the teachings of the messiahs, Richard does not want to do it, but ends up accepting Donald’s request and starts writing, which is how the last words of the novel are identical to the first. So the whole time we’ve been reading something that ended but starts at the end, when this idea of writing the things that happened comes to be, but that we already lived through all those things having read the whole novel. Tangled? It made me nauseous too.

Remembering that Lagos Esgri lesson about the point of attack in dramatic stories, I have to say that this story is a very clear example of how to choose that point to build a story. The tale is about a messiah teaching a messiah candidate the job, right? And well, according to the story, a messiah does what he wants, because he knows that the divine goal of life is to be happy. So it is not surprising that at the beginning of the story, Richard lives comfortably and in solitude, he owes nothing to anyone and does what he wants, the only thing he needs is to get rid of the mentality that life is a problem that must be solved at every moment. And that’s when Donald Shimoda shows up and even says, “I’ve been waiting for you”. Could it be that he was waiting for Richard to have this life? The way they meet, flying in old airplanes over the fields, gives the impression that this is the case, although we could also be reading too much between the lines, what do you think?

Before I finish, I cannot but refer to the end of the story, it is a must that cannot be missed. It is a very strange thing because it is at the same time gratifying and at the same time abrupt, the end comes like a heavy stomp on the brake before crashing. Donald is interviewed on the radio about flying over the fields in old airplanes (we don’t know why he is being interviewed) and there he says some controversial things that upset the locals. What he says in summary is that all the people who have done something important for humanity, really what they were doing was living for their own interests with a divinely selfish soul. Something like live and be happy for yourself or live for others and be unhappy. For these words people label him as antichrist and end up shooting him with a shotgun, in a scene very well written by Richard Bach, demonstrating once again his mastery in constructing vivid action sequences (the most interesting aspect of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I feel). But, even though this scene is so well constructed I couldn’t help but feel that the novel falls into this sequence of events randomly and half disconnected from the rest of the narrative. But what does that matter, if the most interesting thing is when Richard reads the messiah manual, yes seriously, it’s a book that teaches messiahship, right after Donald’s death, and the words he finds there are “Everything in this book can be wrong”. Which I guess is Donald’s last test for Richard, the last threshold to break the lasso of dependency between teacher and student.

That’s all I can say about Richard Bach’s Illusions, I know I said that the book had some monotonous parts, but honestly, when I was younger I found these parts equally interesting, I guess it’s because now I’m a damn cynical nihilist that I can’t enjoy things the way they should be. The first time I read it, I remember this novel having a strong impact on my life, it brought me peace and hope in human existence, beyond the “survival of the fittest” nightmare we’re in right now. That is why I feel that these Bach stories are so important, especially now, because in them you find some very interesting reflections on life and it leads you to think from another perspective, about a world where magic is everywhere, even in those that cause us pain. For all these reasons I feel that if a large number of people read Illusions and other novels by Richard Bach it is more than likely that the author will end up as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

You are (not) alone


In the morning of invisible beatings

To constricted stomachs

From the frost of the past

To the endless injustice

In the depths of a starless night

And the silence of the spines

When despair tears apart

I implore you


You are not alone

Ask for help

Help will come.