And I'm not talking about Scientology, either.
That philosophy of life -- short and sweet -- is mindfulness: the attentive awareness of the reality of things; of the happenings of the moment. It’s a Buddhist belief, but also one that has been adopted in contemporary psychological counseling.
Hence, it can be controlled.
From the outside, it looks a lot like distance, or the lack of feeling...the lack of love.
As Kitai's mother suggests, he is a sensitive, intuitive, feeling boy, one who needs a father, not a philosopher or commander. He doesn't understand why his father is so remote. There is a price to pay for mindfulness, for always living life in the "ghosting" mode, in the film's vernacular.
Cypher -- adhering to the stoicism of mindfulness -- can’t reach out emotionally, because he believes emotions don’t help in a crisis. Cypher has been practicing mindfulness in his personal life for so long that he forgets what it means to really connect with someone. In other words, the very philosophy that keeps him alive is the thing that keeps him from truly connecting with his son.
Instead, he hugs his father, an absolute assertion that sometimes emotionality, not mindfulness, is the key to life.
Thus, like all children, Kitai has taken his father’s “lesson” and interpreted it in a way that is meaningful to him as an individual.
That is the very rite-of-passage meted in the film: Kitai’s ability to understand his father’s choice, and then to make his own meaningful choice about whom he hopes to be.
Perhaps more to the point, even if After Earth did feature principles of Scientology, would that fact immediately, a priori, render it a bad film? Does the same rule apply to Catholicism or other branches of Christianity, or only to unpopular religions?
But I'm not in the business of defending movies, only watching them, interpreting them, and presenting my analysis. Having seen and enjoyed the film, I conclude that it is a well-made, enjoyable “adventure for boys” (and girls too…) -- nothing more, nothing less -- with an authentic sense of humanity. It is a simple, straightforward "shipwreck" movie, and parts of the adventure reminded me of Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson. The production design is original and compelling, and the location shooting transforms Earth into the most vividly dangerous of wildernesses.
Frankly, I think the critics could use a lesson in mindfulness.
So you may love After Earth, or you may hate it, I guess. But when you watch the film, at least do this much: drop your expectations and biases, be in the moment, and judge the work for yourself, and on its own merits.
Tomorrow: Our final entry in The Shyamalan Series: The Visit (2015).