What connects these popular films of the 1990’s – Titanic, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park? What do these 1990’s films share in common besides a decade and great box office success?
Though Titanic, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park belong to different genres and have very little in common in terms of content and substance, they each pursue and explore one central theme. In a phrase, the commonality lies in a fundamental interest in the myth of Icarus, of over-stepping “natural” or “divine” boundaries. What happens when men try to become gods, when men fly too close to the sun?
This is the classic Babylonian theme – in man’s penchant for creating and inventing, he plants the seed of his own destruction. The will to create leads directly to destruction.
In fact, these films would suggest that the act of “fooling with god’s creation” by inventing something new or indestructible (Titanic) is nearly the same as choosing self-destruction.
No society can defend itself against the wrath of a god, against nature, the natural world, or the natural order.
When you wear wax wings and try to fly, there is only one predictable outcome.
Titanic is the highest grossing film of all time, raking in nearly 2 billion dollars at the box office ($1,800,000,000 roughly). The primary storyline concerns a young couple who come from different economic backgrounds yet fall deeply in love aboard a ship that is doomed, as history tells us, to sink to the bottom of the sea.
However, the fame of the Titanic has not been generated only by the fact that it sunk. The great vessel, the Titanic, was supposed to be unsinkable.
The colossal pride of the ship’s engineers was shown to be colossal folly. As the tower of Babel was intended to reach the plateau of the gods high in the sky and to be a testament to the scientific and industrial power of mankind, the Titanic was equally ambitious in its way.
In creating a ship of “absolute” quality, the owners of the Titanic invited their own demise.
At least, this is one way to read the story. Taking this interpretation, perhaps we are led to understand the deep resonance of the notion of fate that undergirds the story. The higher and more vulnerable virtue of the human – love – manages to survive this historical debacle while the grandiose pride of the ship goes down, band in full swing, never to rise again.
This was bound to happen. In all mythology, when man shakes his fist at god, he is struck down.
Where Titanic mimics the story of Babel, Terminator 2 adheres to the traditions of The Island of Dr. Moreau, Frankenstein, and the tale of Prometheus.
In the story of Prometheus, fire is stolen from the gods and put into the hands of men. Fire is the animating element. It burns in the soul. It is the source of life, of the same nature as the sun. To control fire is to harness life itself.
Terminator 2 explores this notion in a modern context. Humans give intelligence to inanimate objects – computers – in the form of “artificial intelligence”. They wake up the machines; give them consciousness.
The machines, naturally, turn against their creators, just as the humans turn away from their creator. This irony is fundamental to the story. Man usurps the place of “creator”, knocking his god out of the picture, ostensibly replacing the god-creator when he puts the spark of life into the computer.
As humans attempt to supplant their god-creator, the machines follow suit, attempting to kill off mankind.
Doom is inevitable.
In the context of the film, the cybernetics company is derided and cast as an evil force. The company represents the folly of pride, the hubris that precedes annihilation, and it is up to the really human humans to assert themselves as leaders and save the homo sapien sapien species.
This particular mythological tale is exactly parallel to that of Jurassic Park.
Dinosaurs have been dead and gone for a long time here on planet earth. Nature has run its course regarding the giant lizard creatures.
In Jurassic Park, man steps in to undo what nature has done, with – you guessed it – dire consequences.
Jurassic Park directly examines and discusses the ethical and philosophical roots of this myth. To speak proverbially, the characters understand that Prometheus was punished (eternally) for upsetting the balance of power between man and the gods.
The characters quickly realize that they too will be punished for this breach.
Fascinating to watch, this film plays on the ancient myth of Prometheus as well as more contemporary myths surrounding dinosaurs and several thorny and interesting ethical questions regarding cloning and genetic engineering. We shouldn’t wonder why this movie captivated audiences of all ages at the box office. It manages to bring the past into the present by reviving ancient myth, reviving long deceased creatures, and connecting both to modern scientific debate.
Not only that, the special effects are great.