Do we hate ‘After Earth’ because of Scientology?

after-earth

Will Smith used to be the biggest name in Hollywood. Even today, his name still carries a certain weight, supported by a solid IMDB page and a squeaky clean image. He also just seems like a nice guy. A month ago, you probably saw him and his son on your TV more. A few weeks ago you probably became aware that they were starring in a big budget movie together. Yesterday, you learned that not only was it terrible, but it was bombing at the box office… hard. But instead of shock, the reaction has been a sort of perverse delight. The critics and audiences appear almost giddy in their critique of the film. Wasn’t Will Smith supposed to be our friend?

Culturally, we love a good fall of the giant. It could be argued that watching Britney Spears spiral into obscurity (which, a decade later, she is only just crawling out of) was one of the defining moments of the 2000s. In this way, I’m not surprised that After Earth‘s poor performance has been cheered, but there is another element to this story that is contributing to the backlash: Will Smith and his family may be Scientologists.

While never confirmed, there is a sizable amount of evidence to suggest that Will Smith does, at minimum, associate with the Church of Scientology. This isn’t really surprising considering how many other Hollywood celebrities are members of the church, but with that knowledge comes a backlash that others have seen nearly destroy their careers.

Tom Cruise December 2008

Remember this guy? The biggest celebrity in the world until he started liking Scientology a little too much. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I go further I want to make it clear that I think, personally, Scientology is completely bogus. Even a brief glimpse into the teachings of the religion shows that it’s completely insane. There really is no other way to put it. The teachings of Scientology are insane and should be available to public and scientific scrutiny where it can be properly exposed as nonsense. But here’s the thing: It’s not any more crazy than any of the “established” religions. It’s just newer. And we have documents and witnesses and evidence that expose it as an invention where as the documents and witnesses and evidence of Christianity, Judaism and Islam’s short comings are buried under 1000 years of sand. So let’s afford it the same amount of reverence that we do other religions, or better yet, give the same amount of scrutiny to the older religions that we do to Scientology.

There are a lot of articles written in the past few days that claim that After Earth is about Scientology, or use Scientology themes, or was written as propaganda for Scientology.

scientology search

I won’t speak to the veracity of those claims but I do think that either way, it’s hypocritical to dismiss it merely for that reason. If we scorned Christian themes in movies the same way we do Scientology ones, we would not only deprive ourselves of a great deal of the films, but we would also make Fox News very angry.

Bill O'Reilly at the World Affairs Council of ...

And you wouldn’t like them when they’re angry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So stop with the double standard. It’s creepy and makes us look bad. And when a subject gets this much traction in the media it should send off alarms: something interesting is going on here. We need to analyze these emotions, especially if they skew towards hatefulness, and root out what the real issue is. In this case, I think the root issue is: Scientology isn’t Christianity, it’s followed by the people we love to see taken down a peg, and it’s extremely easy to mock. Those three elements create the perfect storm of self righteous public scorn but it also isn’t nice. I know you aren’t supposed to say things like something isn’t nice as a full grown adult (we are encouraged to add more hyperbole), but that’s what it is. We are being unfair to Will Smith and it isn’t nice. He deserves better; he gave us Fresh Prince of Bel-Air AND Men in Black.

The movie itself sounds like a self serving mess. The kind of film with a concept that only M. Night Shyamalan could ruin, it has been widely panned as simply unlikable and uninspired. While a part of me is glad the shameless nepotism that Will Smith tried to pull over on us hasn’t worked out (after all, he had to earn our love, he seems to feel that his son is entitled to it), I am worried that if we allow ourselves to be swayed by the nastiness of religious persecution, it will be that lesson that Jaden learns and not that he should, I don’t know, work for his A list status. Remember, Jaden Smith is 14 years old. He has been raised by parents who (probably) believe in Scientology, and, if you were him, it would be pretty crappy to think that a project that you worked so hard on was failing because of your personal beliefs.

Finally, I don’t want to seem insensitive to the hundreds of lives the Church of Scientology has destroyed by it’s own vileness. As I stated earlier, this isn’t meant to defend Scientology, just expose the hypocrisy of hating it for the wrong reasons. If we thought that a film’s artistic value is inextricably linked to it’s creators or stars, then why don’t we act the same for this:

The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

or him:

director-roman-polanski

That we do for this:

After-Earth-2013-Poster

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3 comments

  1. Vyktorja

    Why did this have to turn in to religion bashing? And I don’t understand what is so wrong with After Earth? It was beautiful to me. I can look back at it objectively and see things that could hurt its score:
    1. No one ever explains how an Ursa came to be in the house
    2. I honestly thought I would see more vegetation “evolved” to kill humans
    3. The bird saving his life like that was bogus hands down
    4. A lot of the movie was predictable with extreme foreshadowing
    5. Jayden Smith was not the world’s best actor: but I do not say this sarcastically, I mean that he wasn’t the strongest actor but he convincingly conveyed to me panic (which was his main emotional setting in the film) and when he ghosted.
    6. When he ghosted, it was a bit of an overused plot device, but it was enjoyable
    7. Watching it again, it was probably a bit slow paced
    8. There is not enough dimensionality outside of Will and Jayden. We don’t know about friends, life on the new world, are there any occupations outside Ranger and what Jayden’s mom does?
    9. The guy who was baiting Jayden to approach the Ursa egg was so overdone I almost died.
    10. Will Smith sits in a chair practically the whole movie, but we knew that going in so why the shock?

    Yes, these are significant problems. But it did not take away from my enjoyment of the film as a whole. Even though I knew what would happen most of the time, I still felt anticipation and fear for Jayden as the Ursa chased him. Plot holes abound, but I still got what the main theme of this movie was. It was the struggle between father and son to communicate and it was expressed beautifully. I think Will Smith did a fantastic job acting. Jayden, is not his level, but I think he was supposed to be a little bit pathetic and unbelievable in the beginning because he was a kid trying to act hard core and tough to impress his dad. But, he was still just a scared wussy. This movie was supposed to show his growth.
    Also, let’s consider who this movie was meant for. I would hesitate to show this to little children. But, this movie is something that middle schoolers and up could enjoy. Simple plot, easy lesson, and pretty solid action.

    I guess I would be less bitter about critics giving it 11% on RottenTomatoes and viewers giving it 45% if someone could explain to me why Mama and Iron Man 3. Viewers, I can’t even try to understand, but I will leave that alone. But critics should stick to some sort of criteria. Let’s take Mama first.

    Problems
    1. Not scary
    2. Completely improbable
    3. The ending
    4. Kind of boring in general
    5. Connection between girls and Annabel is extremely weak (emotion wise: her risking her life wasn’t weak)
    6. The jump from feral to non feral children was freaking quick
    7. Will no one question where the youngest child went?
    8. Wow. Psycho mama ghost takes care of abandoned kids
    9. Wish the uncle who actually wanted them was involved more
    10. I didn’t leave wanting to watch it again
    11. What was up with Mama being under Annabel’s bed: nothing happened

    Now, other people could have the same problems or might’ve enjoyed it, but I saw this a while ago so specific problems are not fresh in my mind. So, why do the critics give it 65%? I just can’t.

    I won’t go into Iron Man 3 because I think I need to watch it again and try to give it another chance before I try any bashing. But, I’ll just tell you that my initial impression was that it was completely illogical, predictable, and felt a little bit long. But, despite the reused elements, I still enjoyed it.

    Overall, I think the difference is that Iron Man 3 kept the pace going, but I liked focusing on the emotions and internal struggles of Will and Jayden Smith. So the lack of constant action was actually okay to me. But, I guess it all boils down to personal taste and critics poisoning the minds of viewers

    • Vyktorja

      Some of this was copied from a different post I left on another site so just scratch out the first sentence and that’s it.

  2. TBizzle

    I just wonder if BECAUSE its M. Night Shyamalan & Scientology-adjacent it didn’t get good reviews. I’ve watched it a couple times on HBO, and I also enjoy it. Sounds trite, but I think people just like being assholes.

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