Sunday, 2 April 2017

Nature- Nice or Nasty?

 If there's one thing we can always learn from Hollywood, it's that no-one in a film learns very much from seeing other films in which something similar happens. Why haven't any of the characters in 'Alien:Covenant' seen Ridley Scott's original 'Alien'? If you're exploring new worlds, one of the most obvious thing to remember is DON'T GO NEAR THE THING THAT COULD HURT YOU.

Never mind. With its masterful direction and haunting design work from HR Giger, the first 'Alien' movie raised the bar for bloodcurdling SF-horror - and of course, where one franchise boldly goes, others will boldly follow because that's how markets work. Boldly. However, the 'Alien' films and their imitators all tend to follow one big idea and follow it through to a logical conclusion.

It goes like this. Out there, it's a cruel uncaring Universe, and any sane explorer's best response is to tool up and give Sigourney Weaver's fearless 'Ripley' a call if you want to stay alive and make it through to the credits. The message runs like this: Survive. Be smarter. No-one owes you a living. Eat or be eaten. Nice guys finish last. Naturally, because most of these films are American, there's a heavy reliance on guns and explosives. James Cameron 'Aliens' sequel was the standard 'small beleagured community surrounded by rampaging hordes' type of story, seen many times before in a steady run of classics such as 'Beau Geste', 'Zulu', 'Dawn of the Dead' and 'Sahara'. It's Them versus Us, Us against Them- which can be slightly disconcerting when you occasionally see your own people becoming 'Them'. (It does happen. American films about the Revolution of 1776 show hordes of rampaging British Redcoats, and Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart' did for the English what Nigel Farage has done for peace and tranquility across the European continent.)

The 'Alien' plotlines all follow this Survival of the Fittest narrative, which is quite a modern idea in world history, but fits well with the 19th century string of scientific discoveries that led Charles Darwin and his followers to conclude that basically, Life can be Nasty. (Darwin, incidentally, was a grudging fan of selective euthanasia when it came to ridding society of its weakest, less productive members. True.)

But there is another way of seeing the Big Picture, if you visit Barcelona's Basilica of the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family). 

Antoni Gaudi's magnificently loopy architecture was inspired by a profound Christian faith and a fascination with Nature. Wander around this amazing building, and you'll recognise forms and proportions based on natural bone structures, underwater polyps, climbing tree branches and leaves, crystals and cave formations. For some unexplained reason, the results are deeply calming. Gaudi wasn't alone in working like this. Others like Cesar Manrique created their own buildings and sculptures that celebrated Nature (an excellent reason to visit the island of Lanzarote, incidentally).

For Gaudi and his ilk, Nature (for all its apparent cruelty) had a beauty, a pattern and a warmth. They were saying it works, and part of the joy of being human is discovering even more about how it works, and marveling at what we see. That's why we love seeing Sir David Attenborough frolicking with his family of gorillas, or crawling through a cave up to his knees in bat poo, because his enthusiasm is so infectious. When he shows us a jaguar hunting an alligator, or humpback whales coralling sardines inside a curtain of bubbles, our mouths fall open at the power and the beauty. 

Then Attenborough explains that because we humans are so damn good at colonising the planet, our success then puts these natural wonders in danger. We used to be hunters and gatherers, then cultivators and farmers, but we have now become the exploiters. But his programmes suggest another path, the possibility that we could move on to become curators, preserving our diverse natural world instead of extinguishing it. In a curious way, he's urging us to become exactly what the first story in the Bible said we were always intended to be: gardeners of the planet. David might call himself an atheist, but his conclusions still sound like something out of Genesis.

The 'Alien' films shy away from this, of course. For the Big Nasty Monsters, we're just prey- but they're not the whole story. 
So here's a mad idea. Just for this week, try every day to spot something new around you in Nature's Springtime. There's a lot to see, if you stop to look. Who knows... perhaps you were the one placed here to notice it.

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Any requests of subjects for future posts in 2016? No idea too stupid for consideration. And yes, I know I am a bad writer, so don't bother saying that unless you can write something better. But maybe there's a topic buzzing around in your head that you'd like to see covered... because I've got a keyboard here, it's loaded with letters, and I ain't afraid to use it.