War of the Worlds: The Tone of Humanity
What is The Tone of Humanity? How would the human race respond to permanently life altering catastrophes like: a pandemic, a nuclear holocaust, a natural disaster, an alien invasion? Given the current state of the world, would humanity, as one species, be able to combat such challenges before it was too late? Before they met their end? Think about the way the human race’s governments and nations are currently structured: each state, each culture, each people under its own rule, its own governance. While most nations are willing to cooperate, to work inside the framework of an international alliance, there are a few that aren’t. Their only intention is to gain as much power for themselves as they can.
And then there are countries that don’t have a government at all. Their citizens live in fear of the renegade armies that pillage and terrorize; evident that this state of chaos has caused these nations to radically regress. Despite some countries' willingness to cooperate and coexist, it seems that most rising tribes are cannily vying for the chance to gain more wealth, more technology, more influence, and more control: to become the world’s next superpower. One could say that this is the way things are supposed to be - that each nation must work its way up the hierarchy on its own and establish its own government with as little influence as possible - but in what way does this current global establishment benefit humanity in the event of a world-ending catastrophe? In what way does keeping secrets and hoarding wealth prepare the human race as a whole to face down and overcome the limitless expanse of the unknown? Would humanity today be able to survive a real alien invasion? In the beginning, without any way to defend themselves, humans would quickly be overpowered.
People would most likely scramble to fend for themselves, acting only out of selfishness and fear. Businesses and institutions would shut down and money would eventually become useless. Governments would scramble to keep things under control, but being divided, all vying for a higher position, their efforts would be in vain. There would be no more supermarkets, no more advancements in technology, no more governments, no more civilization. People would merely be on the run, just trying to survive and eventually die in mass.
Humanity would fall. After a long and arduous ascent toward the heavens, all of their progress and industry would crumble to the ground, long forgotten as the corrosion of time blows away the last remaining dust. If an alien invasion happened, then it is safe to say the human race would not be prepared. Think about the Earth: this is where the human race came from. This is where the groundwork of their existence was planted, in the very dust beneath their feet, an ancient ecosystem.
It was not by accident: their creation, their evolution. The same elementary particles that make up their biology and their DNA can be found in the stars and planets throughout the Universe. Their consciousness is the byproduct of an endless structure that shares one common purpose: adapt or die, and up until recently, as in the last few thousand years, humanity’s evolution has largely been dictated by these Universal processes. A challenge to mankind’s existence came along, they adapted, overcame and progressed.
Now it seems, in the modern day, their evolution has taken a different path. They are more concerned with what they can accomplish in the short term, uncaring of the effect they may have on their own environment in the future. Mankind, it seems, has turned against themselves and become the greatest threat to their existence. They have betrayed the place that made them what they are.
It has gifted them everything they needed to climb their towers of industry as high as they could. What do they give back in return? In the event of an alien invasion, would they be as lucky as the people in War of the Worlds? Would their Earth, their biology, their immunity, save them the way it saved humanity in the film? Or will humanity fall prey to a much more sinister alien race. One that may not care about their blood or their meat and will only be interested in their complete and utter annihilation. The creative decisions in War of the Worlds causes the film to emanate a very specific tone: The Tone of Humanity. Disseminating an ominous, unsettling and anxious feeling that perhaps all too closely resembles how it would feel if the world actually did come to an end and the struggle the human race would have to endure to avoid being pushed over the edge of destruction.
As biological entities themselves, humanity must trust that there is not much difference between them and an extraterrestrial being, let alone a member of their own species. That is the only way they can come together as one and rise up to declare war against whatever may desire to drag them to extinction, calling out that labored shriek resonating throughout the gulf of space: humanity has arrived. How does one establish the tone of a film? What techniques should one employ to make each and every moment clue the audience in as to what’s going on emotionally with the characters in the story? How does one create the cinematic atmosphere the audience is supposed to experience? One effective way to create tone is to simply choose a perspective. The audience’s viewpoint could be coming from someone or something in the film they’re watching, causing them to feel a certain emotion through cinematography alone. When cinematography is used like this, when it takes on the perspective of the main character, it can encapsulate the entire story on its own. For example, Rear Window is solely anchored to the protagonist’s viewpoint.
The entire film takes place in his apartment, forcing the audience to share in his boredom, his anxiousness and his agony as he watches what quite possibly is a murder unfolding out his window, unable to move from his wheelchair. In Jaws, the audience takes on the perspective of the killer shark as it attacks its victims, an eerie ambience is created as it remains unseen for most of the film. This creative decision was actually due to the animatronics in the shark failing to work properly. If the audience saw a fake looking shark for too long, Speilberg feared that he may lose their attention. After trying out multiple robotic sharks, he eventually chose to keep the killer beast out of sight, only letting the audience see it in the last few minutes of the film, creating a suspenseful and ominous tone. The audience’s perspective could also be coming from a storyteller posing merely as a bystander, a fly on the wall, floating, everywhere and nowhere all at once.
This Bystander, this hovering, omnipresent camera can be used to create a unique cinematic atmosphere. In Citizen Kane the storyteller transitions forwards and backwards through time and moves through objects, eavesdropping on every scandalous conversation, callously notating every moment of ultimate downfall. The Shining’s use of this style creates a haunting tone: the camera silently glides through space and time as if the audience is watching the characters through the eyes of malicious ghosts. In War of the Worlds, the opening of the film with Morgan Freeman’s narration written straight from the novel by H.G. Wells suggests that the audience is taking on the perspective
of The Bystander. The intro explores a Universal fear of the human race: fear of the unknown. Who or what may be out there veiled by the infinite blackness quietly watching, studying, planning an attack. Throughout the film, the cinematography tells the story through this lens, sharing an intimate space with the characters, empathizing with their emotions in the midst of chaos, occasionally contrasted by moving through space from a distance to create feelings of detachment and anxiousness. This vertigo-inducing opening shot drops in on the protagonist as if the viewer is piloting a UFO. The bone crushing freight containers, the saturated colors, the trucks rushing by in the foreground, the heightened sense of reality.
One gets the feeling they’re already fighting a war. The protagonist even lives under a bridge that looms in the background like a gloomy mothership. Ray Ferrier and his children, Robbie and Rachel, are supposed to spend the weekend together, but it is clear that Ray is somewhat estranged by his family. The soft, radiant, yellow lighting a dreamlike state, suggesting a theme from Wells’ novel, that all the while the Martians prepared their attack, mankind busied themselves with petty affairs.
Rendering themselves completely vulnerable due to their disillusionment by the notion of extraterrestrial life being an impossibility. The impending doom, a milky backdrop bathed in sunlight, the gate to the cosmos on their doorstep. A dream inside a dream.
But this time, the dream turns into a nightmare, appearing at first as strange weather. Ray and Rachel take cover and watch the lightning containing pods of alien’s bodies strike the Earth over and over. All electricity cuts out, even vehicles and watches stop working. The aliens rise from the ground in tripod-like death machines, breaking through concrete and destroying buildings.
The grittiness and harshness of the film grain a stark contrast to the soft, glowing light the day prior. The cinematography is telling the story: Ray, who was simply carrying on with his petty affairs in a yellowish dreamlike state, is now faced with a grey, visceral reality, one that is so vastly different he must be wondering if he still dreaming, lying asleep in his bed, wondering when he will wake up. Whether it is a dream or not, Ray now must decide what to do about his children.
An absent father, putting off things he didn’t want to deal with, how could he possibly be prepared for this moment? A house divided, his children unsure if they can trust him, Ray does his best to hurry them out of the house and down the street to a vehicle he hopes to be working. In the face of extreme peril, the mechanic is oblivious and incapable of listening to reason. For whatever reason, he seems to have shut down or gone into denial, something Ray knows he cannot waste time on. The tone of the film shifts from Ray’s struggle to keep himself alive in a dreamlike state, to his struggle to wake up and keep his children alive. The Bystander’s rapid and abrasive movements share his frantic state as it swoops and dodges around the speeding van. Ray’s biggest fear while on the run is not necessarily the alien invaders.
As with the situation with the mechanic, he will value his children's survival above all others and therefore will fear other people and the threat they may pose in the midst of chaos and panic. Individuals, when in large groups, can be susceptible to heightened emotions and increased stress due to groupthink. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon where people think and make decisions as a collective in a way that discourages individual responsibility, a behavior that has been linked to multiple cases of mass hysteria. In times of stress or panic, human beings tend to either shut down or produce chaos and violence, reacting to the sensory overload with their primitive nervous systems, using little to no critical thinking.
War of the World’s depiction of humanity’s response to an alien invasion seems all too realistic. Blindsided, vulnerable, people helplessly spiral into chaos. What causes the masses to behave like this? Are common people really so primitive? Or perhaps, could it be that what looks like an isolated incident, the way human beings behave in groups, is the direct consequence of deceit? Lies and misinformation that spread from the powerful few. The ones that pretend to care about common people while they quietly steal from them, burn down their infrastructure, and kill them off for short term gains. The ones that hold the power of nations around the globe, that hold all the secrets. The concealment of their knowledge causes the globe to become communicatively disjointed, leading the masses to be kept in the dark, ignorant to any kind of impending disaster that may be waiting to strike when they least expect it.
If something were to happen as serious and life threatening as an alien invasion, who is to say everyone on Earth would even know about it? After being forced to part ways with his son, Ray and his daughter find themselves in the basement of a stranger’s house. This man, Harlan, has isolated himself from others and grown paranoid, another example of the effects mass hysteria can have on individuals. In the 50’s and 60’s in the US, it wasn’t uncommon to find homes with bomb shelters encased in metal and concrete underground. The mass hysteria caused by the Red Scare and the threat of a nuclear holocaust caused people to become increasingly paranoid, with propaganda being constantly pumped into their television sets and radios, being told to live in fear, driven to the brink. With humanity on the edge of destruction, an already isolated man has become overly emotional and disturbed.
This is what Ray was most afraid of: letting his children die. Simply trying to protect them, he has now lost one and led the other straight into the vices of a madman. After not being there for them, he has not protected them when they needed him most. He cannot help but feel he has failed as a father. Proving he is unstable and cannot be trusted, Ray soon has no choice but to try to end the man’s life when he spirals into a nervous breakdown.
When Ray closes the door to confront him, the Bystander lingers on Rachel. Who or what is watching her? Could there be an alien about to come down the stairs? Could her father fall to the hands of the man threatening both of their lives? Will he be the one that comes out that door? Ray runs out of the house looking for Rachel to find the Earth terraformed with human blood, turned into Mars with its red vines, lakes and skies. Not a human in sight.
There is a point in the novel where the main character, after eluding a mad artilleryman living in a hole, thought he may be the last man on Earth. With such a desolate vista, it’s possible Ray has a similar thought. That his son had perished and his daughter consumed by some vacuum, forever lost, and that now he was quite possibly completely alone in the world. Eventually, though, he gets captured by one of the tripods while chasing after Rachel and placed inside a metal nest full of other helpless human beings. Utterly traumatized, Rachel is unresponsive.
Ray has tried his best to protect his children from the nightmare. He could not be there for Robbie and it resulted in his son growing up thinking he did not need a father and he eventually pulled away, both emotionally and physically. As for Rachel, Ray has tried to shield her from the visuals and sounds of her horrifying world, however he cannot protect her from everything.
When the story is told through her eyes, the world seems idyllic, innocent, naive, but what innocence could she possibly have left? So much hopelessness, panic, death and destruction witnessed at such a young age. All hope is not lost, however, because there is something she has yet to witness: humanity fighting back. Divided, humanity is weak, but when they individually come together as one, they are strong. They are finally able to rise up and fight. Ray and Rachel reach Boston while the sun rises on a new day. The red vines seem to be dying and, for the first time in days, people are walking the streets.
Ray is being guided into a tunnel by soldiers as he sees birds swarming around a stumbling tripod. He could just keep walking but he knows that he can’t just be silent. He makes a decision to speak up, no matter how difficult it is. Only when humanity begins to listen to each other and work together do they stand a chance. Ray finally reaches his ex-wife’s house with his daughter, the yellowish, dream-like lighting similar to the beginning, and is reunited at last with his son, who he wondered if he’d ever see again.
Perhaps the rekindling of a relationship that lost its flame long ago will occur, at least that is what Ray hopes as he hugs his son for what may feel like the first time. The alien invaders, intent on the ultimate eradication of the human race, are defeated. How? Despite their underpreparedness, humanity is saved by their own biology. The now commonplace diseases that took humanity thousands of years to develop immunity killed the Martians in just a few days. Only when humanity can understand that the reason for their existence is nothing more than particles and elements arranged in specific order, will they overcome their differences, understand the potential in those around them and come to the realization that they would be more effective if they organized into one distinct structure capable of defending themselves from anything that might challenge them.
In the film, alien invaders proved to be man’s greatest danger, in reality however, the most salient challenge to mankind is himself. He says he wants to live in a good world but pillages and burns everything in his path, content to sacrifice a little bit of his future for short term gains. Drill, sell, consume, wash, rinse, repeat.
Until there’s nothing left. The definition of the word disease is a disorder of structure or function. One could say that this sect of the human race - those that hold all the secrets and consume endlessly for no one but themselves - are a disease. A leech.
A virus thriving off the complacency of the masses, sucking out the blood of the innocent, the naively optimistic. Every last drop. Until there’s nothing left. Giving nothing back. Creating a world of hopelessness. Where anything positive or enlightening the human race could accomplish is undermined unequivocally by the diseases it’s afflicted by - its disorders of structure - what will kill them if they fail to develop immunity.
The Tone of Humanity felt in the film is embedded in and emanates from mankind’s antecedent structures. What’s at humanity’s core? From where does its roots spread? Do the masses still fall prey to malicious, power seeking entities like they have for millenia upon millenia? Are they still divided and misinformed, at war with one another? Down to its primordial roots, does the human race still operate on mere primitive instincts? Fight or flight? Kill or be killed? When can they get out of their own way? When can they stop sabotaging their future with shortsightedness and selfishness? The Earth has given them a sustainable climate, an abundance of water and resources, and the opportunity to evolve biological defenses to ward off disease. What more could the Earth possibly give back to them? What more do they need to take their next, and most imperative evolutionary step forward? One that reaches a point of ultimate cohesion between mankind, his technological advancements and his environment.
What would a future society capable of fending off alien invaders look like? In the early 1960’s, a vision of a more evolved and technologically advanced human civilization was put to screen. The man with the vision: Gene Roddenberry, said, Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there. His idea of a civilization capable of such things as interstellar travel and militaristic defense of the planet, was one that came together and embraced diversity. Star Trek is essentially the ultimate utopia: they can cure any disease, manifest any object, any food, there’s no money, no war, world hunger has been eradicated, they can teleport to nearly any location, and travel distant galaxies.
Suddenly, man’s cognitive dissonance, the space between his ideals and his physical world, narrows a bit in such a near-perfect depiction of the future. Acceptance, understanding and love binds humanity together and they are able to compile their resources and efforts to accomplish tremendous feats of science and engineering. Just because inventions like teleportation, the holo-deck, and the replicator are purely science fiction and may never be possible, that does not mean human beings cannot attempt to create such an open and tolerant world. Although noticeably advanced, humanity today can still be considered primitive in comparison to the types of intelligences theorized to exist throughout the Universe. The Kardashev scale classifies three types of civilizations based on their ability to harness energy. Type I is essentially the human race, a culture only capable of harnessing enough energy and resources from its own planet.
Type I civilizations are theorized to be at risk of rising ocean temperatures and compromised marine life due to excess heat waste from the consumption of their planet’s natural resources. Type II civilizations are far more energy efficient as they are able to expel excess heat into the galactic system and harness energy from a star using a Dyson sphere which is a hypothetical megastructure comprised of orbiting solar panels meant to enclose the star completely, utilizing most or all of its energy. Such energy could be used to power theoretical devices like the Matrioshka brain, a star sized computer capable of running perfect simulations and uploading human minds into virtual reality. Type III civilizations are capable of harnessing energy from their entire galaxy. It is theorized that such an advanced culture is capable of harnessing energy from supermassive black holes, white holes, and gamma rays as well. John D. Barrow created a similar scale in which he theorized a civilization's evolution
relies on its technological advancement regarding the increasingly small, rather than the increasingly large. His scale then goes in reverse, starting from Type I-minus, a civilization only capable of manipulating objects over the scale of themselves, all the way down to Type VI-minus, a civilization capable of manipulating the smallest elementary particles, quarks and leptons, with humanity falling somewhere between Type III-minus and Type IV-minus, a culture capable of manipulating molecules and atoms to create new materials and nanotechnology. The culmination of all types in the scale creates Type Omega-minus, a civilization capable of manipulating the basic structure of space and time through their mastery of the smallest particles in the Universe.
Due to the necessity of survival on their barren, dying planet, the Martian’s bodies adapted around their intelligence, just like humanity has adapted around disease. According to H.G. Wells, men were just at the beginning of an evolution the Martians already progressed through.
Although their bodies were small, gray skinned, and genderless with bulbous heads, in terms of intelligence and technological advancement, Wells believed that mankind could be on a similar evolutionary path. Man’s disillusionment, his lack of awareness, his belief that he had nothing to fear, that his empire over matter was secure would prove to be his ultimate weakness. As the book and film progress and the alien invaders quickly take over, it is evident that mankind’s self assuredness was misplaced.
It is hardly an empire if one has neither mastery over their surroundings or themselves. Combining Kardashev’s, Barrow’s and Well’s ideas about evolution, what if it is humanity’s obligation to completely overcome disease, if for nothing else, its natural, evolutionary need to adapt or die. They must kill off what is holding them back before it kills them. Before the disease spreads and takes over. Before the powerful few kill everyone on the planet. In Carl Sagan’s book, The Pale Blue Dot, he writes, Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known. The Human Condition on Earth is that they are trapped there. Unlike the Martians, who are far more intelligent and evolved than mankind, there is no chance for humanity to safely make it off their planet to inhabit other worlds. The planet they live on is the one they must work to protect or risk endangering future generations.
The human race can rid itself of what is holding it back and advance into a more sustainable future. One where they are able to more responsibly and efficiently harness and expel energy, defend the planet, and even be capable of manipulating the smallest known particles and structures in the Universe: there is a brighter future that can be attained. Despite the awareness of this knowledge, there is still much work to do: humanity must ask itself what its foundations are built on, what tone they emanate and rid themselves of what is holding back their evolution, they must embrace one another’s differences, and work toward a utopian enlightenment that reaches out into the solar system and beyond, calling out that lonely, triumphant shriek to whoever may be listening in the enveloping night, resonating throughout the limitless expanse of the unknown: humanity will not be so easily destroyed.