Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"After the Dark" (aka "The Philosophers"): a thought experiment on what we value in human life

After the Dark”, also titled “The Philosophers”  (indeed, after Haydn’s 22nd Symphony, and directed by John Huddles) is interesting for its layered approach to storytelling, which is necessary for a film that wants to explore moral questions in a didactic manner.

On the last day of an college senior philosophy class in an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia (with American and western students), the professor “Mr. Zimit” (James D’Arcy) poses a problem, as a group thought experiment.  A nuclear war erupts, and there is room and oxygen and food for just ten kids to survive in a bunker for a year, after which they can try to repopulate the Earth.

The film takes place in part in Jakakarta (with some on-location shots) and in the classroom, but then it dramatizes three episodes of what happens in the shelter (and in surrounding desert, with mushroom clouds).  

For the first exercise, each student draws a card giving an occupation.  The kids have to decide which skills are more essential, deciding survival on utilitarian terms.  The “poet who has just been published” is the first to be shot, because in this Maoist world he is worthless.   The kids have to pay the consequences for not getting the escape code from Zimit.

In the second part, the cards contain a second qualifier, which might change the perception of who should live.  One man says he is gay but has the equipment to reproduce if he has to.  He gets picked but once inside the bunker, refuses to deny who he is.  The difficulty in having pregnancy encourages women to have as many partners as possible, but one girl refuses.   I thought about the utilitarian treatment of the military draft in the 1960s with its student deferments, which I took advantage of.

In the third part, two of the more charismatic kids – Petra (Sophie Lowe) and James (Rhys Wakefield) challenge the Darwinian approach and insist on a tack that is more libertarian.  All the kids can stay in a bunker, which will be farther away.   They can canoe in the South Pacific to the site.  Inside, everyone is welcome.  There is music with a harp, and the poet reads his newest work.   When the come out, they have the final payoff. 

A tough part of the moral problem in this film is how we appreciate people as individuals.  We tend often not to value everyone for what they can do, but to view them as not worthy to be among us. 
The small group scenarios, however, emphasize that social mores do change, away from individualism, in tribal arrangements where external factors threaten long time group society.  Reproduction can be viewed as a moral responsibility. 
After I moved to Minneapolis in 1997, with my new "Do Ask, Do Tell" book in hand, I first encountered graduating seniors who had majored in philosophy. One, at Hamline University in St. Paul,, help set up mmy speech on the book, which got onto cable on the Liberty Show in 1998.  

The official site is here (from the Olive Branch and Phase 4 films). 

The film can be rented from Netflix.  

This movie could be compared to "Exam" (Jan. 14, 2012).

Picture: Oak Ridge, TN (my trip 2013).  

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