By Deacon John DeGano
The other day Cheryl and I caught the Disney movie, Tomorrowland, at the local cheap theater.
This may come as a shock to some who know me, because I usually am a pretty discriminating movie viewer; setting the bar pretty high when it comes to what I will pay full price for and what I deem not worthy of even a couple of bucks… (I’ve been burned before!).
So when Tomorrowland was getting all those bad reviews, something inside me said, “Maybe…” and so there we were in the darkness, with no expectations other than free air conditioning and a bag of popcorn and a drink watching the plot of the movie unfold.
The movie hadn’t gone thirty seconds past the opening credits when the first red flag shot up! The characters were narrating their own story. Buzz kill. Or rather, spoiler alert (Sort of tells you they get out alive…).
A cheap and tired plot device. But I refused to let that ruin my enjoyment. I sallied on.
And I was not disappointed.
I found the movie to have some good, positive messages regarding the power of the imagination and our ability to change the future if we but take action and not wait for someone else to do so or worse, simply give up.
Such a hopeful, yet challenging message made me think of the early media criticism of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical letter on the environment where he makes a moral connection between how we treat one another and how we treat the earth and its dwindling resources.
Perhaps Tomorrowland’s poor reception (by critics and) at the box office was tied to this line of tough questioning; its audiences, expecting a light and breezy sci-fi film with cute and friendly robots or futuristic creatures, found themselves instead, confronted by an all too plausible ‘reality’ and made to feel a bit too uncomfortable by the questions it posed:
What do we believe in?
Who or what are we willing to take a stand for (or against)?
Are the technological “resources” for everyone or just for the chosen few?
And in the event of a disaster, who should survive and who should die?
In a world that neither values the teachings of Jesus Christ nor those of the church he founded, such messages are frequently met with hostility.
Words like the “common good” or the “golden rule” hold no interest for those who look to get all that they can get and make all the money they can make regardless of the outcome or who they may harm in order to do so.
As Roman Catholics we are in the world, but we are not supposed to conform to it. Rather, we are called to be witnesses of God’s justice and mercy and, in love, encourage those who are going down the wrong path to repent, turn around and be saved.
Pope Francis reminds us of our mission in “Laudato Si” when he quotes from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (340) that all creatures (people, too!) have value.
“…the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other”.[LS 86]
If only we free our imagination from the snares of greed and selfishness we (as co-creators with our God) can help build a great, big, beautiful tomorrow(land) that future generations can enjoy.
That is the message of hope shared in common by the letter, Laudato Si, and the movie, Tomorrowland.
It is the message the world doesn’t want us to hear.
And unless we are willing to question the validity of the bad reviews and read and discuss the Pope’s letter the critics have attacked, things will remain the status quo. And our environment (and society) will suffer.
Our Pope has sounded the call to action.
And as a nation we should be willing to humble ourselves and lead the way.
“Why us?” our critics may ask.
As the movie’s young Frank Walker explained, “I guess I got tired of waiting around for someone else to do it for me?”
Together, we have the power to make a difference. We are a nation of dreamers. We just need to put them into action.
For today and for all our tomorrows.
John DeGano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Riverside.