Independence Day, by Albert W. Vogt III

Nothing says Christmas like watching the citizens of Earth come together to spectacularly destroy an alien invasion!  No?  When you think about it, that first sentence kind of describes how people view Christmas these days.  I sympathize with the people who have the “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers, even if I do not have one on my car.  They sound a rallying cry in face of an ever-mounting tide that takes us farther away from the source of the holiday: the birth of Jesus.  Even if I do not affix an adhesive to my vehicle proclaiming my solidarity with my fellow Christians, let this review be yet another call to ground our celebration once more in Faith before it slips the bonds of the orbit of our understanding.  Okay, only this part of the introduction will be about this entreaty.  The rest of this piece will be dedicated to what I was really talking about at the beginning, Independence Day (1996).

Two days before the actual Independence Day, visitors from another world come a calling to Earth.  Their giant mothership, substantially proportional in size to the moon, orbits our planet and releases several versions of itself around the world.  Because they are not rolling down the window and stating their intentions, governments across the globe are not sure how to react, including the president of the United States, Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman).  The effects, though, soon begin to be felt.  The first is a disruption to satellite communication.  This becomes a problem to be solved by David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), a technician for a cable company in New York City.  He notices a signal of alien origin, and in listening to it is able to determine that it is counting to something.  He believes that when it ends, an attack will be launched by the aliens.  In order to get the word out, he attempts to contact his ex-wife, Constance Spano (Margaret Colin), Whitmore’s Communications Director.  When she is unwilling to talk, he drives with his father, Julius (Judd Hirsch), to Washington, D.C. to personally deliver his message.  The president finally accepts the gravity of the situation and orders the evacuation of every major city with an alien ship over it.  This includes Los Angeles, where the First Lady, Marilyn (Mary McDonnell), is currently located.  Also in that city is Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), a pilot for the United States Marine Corps.  Earlier, he leaves his girlfriend Jasmine Dubrow (Vivica A. Fox), and her young son Dylan (Ross Bagley), to report for duty when the aliens are first detected.  Before departing, he tells them to join him on the base until the danger passes.  Jasmine and Ross are stuck in traffic on their way to the base when the aliens launch their attack, wiping out each city over which they hover with a single laser blast.  The counterattack that the armed forces mount the next day proves ineffectual, largely owing to the forcefields protecting the ships.  Captain Hiller is among those attempting to bring down one of these large vessels, and in the battle he is able to maneuver an alien fighter into crashing before his F-18 is destroyed.  While hauling the seemingly lifeless corpse of the alien pilot across the desert, he comes across a large body of mobile homes moving towards him.  The one that greets him is driven by Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), a former fighter pilot during the Vietnam War and who claims to have been abducted by aliens.  Captain Hiller instructs them to take him to Area 51.  This is also the destination of President Whitmore, accompanied by David, Julius, and the rest of the president’s staff aboard Air Force One.  They go there because, when Julius suggests that they knew this was coming because of places like Area 51, Whitmore’s Secretary of Defense, Albert Nimzicki (James Rebhorn), admits to the facility’s existence.  Once there, they discover that there had, in fact, been previous visits by these aliens, and that they continued to be gleefully experimented on by the base’s chief scientist Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner).  His excitement is added to when Captain Hiller brings in his captured specimen.  Unfortunately, during the subsequent autopsy, they learn that the alien is not dead.  Instead, it springs to life and launches a psychic attack on those present, particularly the president, who is watching from another room.  It is during this assault that Whitmore is given a glimpse into the aliens’ designs, not just on their planet, but across the galaxy.  This prompts him to launch a nuclear strike against the ships, which also proves ineffectual.  While David, an environmentalist, laments these drastic measures, he comes up with an alternative plan.  Using the alien fighter captured and experimented on at Area 51, he and Captain Hiller will fly up to the mothership, upload a computer virus into their system, plant a nuclear bomb, and hopefully make it out before the explosive detonates.  The effect of this takes down the aliens’ shields, rendering them vulnerable to Earth’s weapons.  This all takes place through a coordinated attack orchestrated by Whitmore using Morse code to communicate across the globe.  He also gives a stirring speech, jumps in an F-18, and helps save the world.  David and Captain Hiller make it back safely, too, and all on the Fourth of July.

There are times when I watch a film like Independence Day and I think, this is a load of crap.  Of course, I did not think that when I was sixteen years old and seeing it for the first time.  With all alien invasion films, there is some silly, obscure flaw that the perpetually behind in technological advancements humans seem to always find in the far superior aliens.  That is then exploited in order to save humanity from extinction because, you know, those “people” out there are out to get you.  With Independence Day, this is symbolized when they are able to use their own computers in order to infect the alien computers with a virus.  I suppose there is something to be said about the universality of math, the language of science.  Hopefully, one plus one also equals two on planet Flkfhdgs.  Yet, my albeit limited knowledge of computation devices and what makes them tick leads me to believe that the notion of one of our devices successfully interacting with theirs as being farfetched, even for a film like this one.

There is one moment in Independence Day that spoke to this Catholic viewer.  While the final battle takes place, those who had gathered at Area 51 found safety in some kind of underground bunker.  Among them is Julius, who in the midst of the terror of the possible end of the world, had found his Jewish faith.  This first comes out when he attempts to console his son, who is distraught over the potential of the detonation of a nuclear bomb.  David takes the news poorly, thinking this truly means the end of the world, and decides to get drunk.  Julius reminds David that everyone loses faith once in a while.  What helps is remembering what we still have.  Julius carries this message to those with which he shelters in the bunker, telling them that as long as they stay together, things will be okay.  There are a lot of directions I can take this idea as a Catholic, but let us hypothetically say that the aliens are successful.  They break through the bunker and kill everyone inside.  It is a horrible thought, I know, but if I were in that situation, I would want to meet my end praising God with a group of people in similar circumstances.  In both fiction and real life, there have been many similar moments when, in a moment of desperation, people have turned to God.  A cynical person would say that they do so simply because they want to survive, hoping for some kind of miracle to keep them breathing.  I would submit to you that there are many little miracles going on in such a scene other than the Divine Intervention of going on living.  Companionship is a miracle.  Finding Faith in any moment is a miracle.  They are all precious to God.

So, I seem to have waxed sentimental about Independence Day.  To be sure, there are poignant scenes in it, such as when First Lady Marilyn dies from injuries sustained when her helicopter crashed while trying to evacuate.  Regardless, it is a big, dumb action film that still gets watched by some, I suppose.  I do not know if I recommend it because it is so mindless.  Then again, it is characters like Julius that keep me going.


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