As a child of the nineties, there is little that tops the nostalgia invoked by a cheezy, mindless, summer action flick—especially when it strains all credulity. Enter Independence Day. Thankfully, this story isn’t going away anytime soon, like any cornball classic.
But, beyond the stereotypical characters, the absurd lines, and the inexplicable coincidences, Independence Day cements its place in my heart for having one of the most absurd resolutions ever conceived. With aliens invading earth, using dozens of ships (each 20 miles across) to obliterate the major cities of the world, Jeff Goldblum’s nerdy character proposes he download a virus onto the Aliens’ system, which would give mankind a timeframe of 15 minutes to launch their worldwide counterattack.
Fortunately for humanity, these Aliens’ advanced computer systems are Mac compatible, and with the shield down “it might be possible” to save the world. Spoiler alert on a twenty-year-old movie: that narrow window is just enough time to get the job done. Can’t argue success; the sudden reversal made for an enjoyable night out, if box office numbers have anything to say about it.
However, this sort of writing would make many a critic cry foul, especially Aristotle (who, most scholars say, probably didn’t see this movie):
It is obvious that the solutions of plots too should come about as a result of the plot itself, and not from a contrivance…A contrivance must be used for matters outside the drama — either previous events which are beyond human knowledge, or later ones that need to be foretold or announced.
This sort of writing, where the solution is pulled out of nowhere, is termed deus ex machina, stemming from the 5th-century Greek theatre technique where the plot would be resolved by means of “god” characters being introduced onto the stage (and into the story) by some groaning contrivance, whether mechanical or literary.
In contrast to the awkward arrangements worked out by men, there is what God did in the fullness of time. Granted, some (content to read only part of the story) look at the Incarnation—and the Redemption it achieved—as a device as weak as a 5th-century harness dropping down a “god” out of the theatre’s “sky.” Tolkien, however, would disagree, calling such reversals “eucatastrophes,” or sudden, joyous reversals that break out beyond our control:
The Gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” (On Fairy Stories)
What makes a eucatastrophe any different? The distinction can be found in Aristotle’s approval of plot developments that result from indications given by the plot itself. And, in looking to God who comes to share His joy with all men, we are reminded that He has known joy from the beginning. C.S. Lewis dubbed this the “deeper magic” from before the dawn of time.This is what has entered history and transformed our lives. And this abiding joy, St. Ignatius of Antioch claims, is nothing else than the Precious Blood of Christ.
Tolkien, for his part, continues: “For the Art of [the Incarnation] has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.”
In other words, God has written this deeper magic from the beginning and has allowed human experience (expressed in myths) to prepare us for when the Myth would become Fact, stepping onto the stage and shedding His Blood. The universe was redeemed in this love, a love that echoes what was present (albeit in an imperfect and partial way) by the act of creation itself.
Hence, for God to resort to shedding His Blood is a natural development in the story, whereas having the nerdy character hack alien computers with a mid-90’s Mac Powerbook is, well, stupid. We confide in God’s mercy, in His Blood, because it fulfills His earlier promises, not because we can manipulate it as a flash-in-the-pan devotion for our own self-satisfaction.There’s no “the shield is down, it might be possible” moment when it comes to the sacraments.
The ground quaked at Calvary at the sight of Deicide. In the face of the emptied tomb, the garden shook, astonishing those seeking the living amongst the dead. Our redemption was no simple blockbuster; it was fundamentally earth-shattering. And, as shocking and surprising as it was, we were being prepared for it all along, for “the tears of the saints are mingled with the Blood of Christ Himself” (Catherine of Siena).
Image: From the film Independence Day