To continue my theme of “What do they want/What do they really want?” or the inner need of the character, I take you to a hostile planet—Earth. Or more specifically, After Earth, the sci-fi starring Jaden Smith and his dad, Will Smith. This story is about thirteen year old Kitai, played by Jaden. He is the son of the Prime Commander, Cypher Raige, played by Will, a somewhat absentee father who is ready to retire so he can be what he needs to be for his family.
They are transporting a very bad alien called an Ursa when their ship is hit by an asteroid shower and they crash land on Earth. The only survivors are Kitai and Cypher, who is incapacitated. It is up to Kitai to travel over rough terrain to find the rescue beacon that has become separated from them.
In the beginning of the movie, we see flashbacks of Kitai and his older sister. Remember the ten-minute rule I talked about in my last article? This one happens at around thirteen minutes. Something is wrong in what looks like their home, and she places him in a large terrarium with a clear bubble top. In a later flashback, she calls it a box. Something scary is happening, but we don’t know what yet. We only know that Kitai is in a box.
Kitai is a cadet whose main goal is to become a full-fledged ranger like his dad. He doesn’t pass, however, and is told to try again next year.
Before the ship goes down, Kitai wanders and ends up where the prisoner, the Ursa, is being held. One of the rangers on duty tells Kitai they are going to use the alien for “ghost training,” a trick to become invisible to the enemy. Ghosting “is when you don’t have a trace of fear.”
The ship crashes and Kitai leaves his injured father to find the beacon. The first part of his adventure proves that he really is too young for this sort of thing. He’s frightened at most every turn, but he presses on because if he doesn’t his father will die.
His father can communicate with him from the damaged cockpit. Kitai asks him about ghosting. He tells him he had been attacked by an Ursa and that after landing in the bottom of a river, he knew it was trying to drown him. As he watched his blood in the water mingled with the sunshine, he thought it looked pretty. His fear ebbed away and the alien let him go. And moreover, it couldn’t find him. He realized then that fear was the true enemy, and the alien could smell it. “Fear is not real. The only place fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity, Kitai.” He goes on to clarify that danger is real, but fear is a choice.
After several conflicts and one huge victory where Kitai stands up for himself and refuses to take orders to abort the mission and save his life, (Kitai had followed “orders” when his sister had told him to stay in the box,) he finally reaches the beacon. However, it seems that Kitai and his father weren’t the only ones to survive the crash. The Ursa is alive and well, and intent on killing Kitai.
We learn in the flashback that an Ursa had killed Kitai’s sister while he watched helplessly from the box. Kitai’s inner need is to be let out of the box where he can fight. Throughout the movie he proves this over and over again that despite his age and size, he needn’t be placed in a box. He has worth. He has skills. Had he known then what he knows now, his sister would be alive.
As the Ursa attacks him, he uses the ghosting technique he’d been told about. He lays still, and hears his deceased sister whisper to him that he’s still in the box and it’s time to come out. He also hears his father’s voice teaching him to ghost. “Root yourself in this present moment. Sight, sound, smell. What do you feel?” He becomes one with his surroundings and the fear ebbs away. The Ursa passes right over him. He then stands, opens his cutlass and lops off the Ursa’s leg. As he attacks the Ursa, he becomes the ranger that he’s always wanted to be. He’s stepped outside the box, and despite his size and age, he is a warrior. He kills the Ursa, grabs the beacon and sets it off. Rescue is on it’s way thanks to this brave young man.
At the end, as the medics are working on his father in the rescue ship, he receives the respect he now deserves. Cypher demands the medics to stand him up so he can salute his son. I love what happens next. Instead of saluting back, like the ranger Katai now is, he runs to his dad for an embrace and receives the love he hadn’t felt before.
Katai has come full circle. He’s gained love and respect from his father, and he’s stepped outside his box to become the ranger he so desperately wanted to be.
The final two lines are priceless. Katai, while still clinging to his father says, “Dad, I want to work with Mom.” And Cypher says, “Me, too.”
I think they’re both hanging up their ranger cutlasses.