Sunday, October 13, 2013

Don’t Judge a Sci-Fi Film by its Genre

 Life Lessons from The Faculty

The Spartan, barbaric battlefield that makes high school the best and worst of times for thousands of high school kids each year is the setting of the film, The Faculty. Although the film draws from a wide variety of sci-fi films including Alien and E.T. the Extra- Terrestrial, it is mainly a modern remake of the 1956 sci-fi classic film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Instead of focusing on the social dynamics of ”small town USA” as done in the original, The Faculty capitalizes on the metaphor that high school is like a small town with a rigid social order and where you fall in that social hierarchy can make or break your adolescent years.  The grueling football practices, daily misdemeanor assaults in the locker room, minimal focus on actual academics and other markers of a typical high school experience are disturbed when an alien life form of unknown origin tries to take over the school, beginning with  the faculty. The usual suspects of every high school movie: Stan the jock, Delilah the head cheerleader, Casey the nerd, Stokely the loner, Marybeth the new kid/ girl next door/adorable blond and Zeke the rebel eventually all band together to save themselves and the entire school . At this point Susan Sontag would be shaking her head since the movie fits all the tired clichés she pointed out in “The Imagination of Disaster,” right?
Let’s flip to page 318 of her article and follow her checklist! “The arrival of the thing,” check! “Conformation of the hero’s report by a host of witnesses,” check!  “The local police are summoned to deal with the situation and are massacred [or turned into aliens],”check! “If the invading alien is an invisible parasite…a friend is called in, who is himself rather quickly ‘taken possession of’ by the thing,” check! (Sontag 319) “Plans are made for destroying the enemy [with the] motif, ‘they must be vulnerable to something,” check, check! “The final strategy, upon which all hopes depend, is drawn up… final repulse of the monster or invaders. …mutual congratulations,” check, check, check! Let’s not also forget to mention the elaborate “laboratory in the basement” (Sontag 319), courtesy of our loveable juvenile street pharmacist, Zeke without which defeat of the invading aliens would not be possible, check! Oh and The Faculty has “absolutely no social criticism of even the most implicit kind,” check? (Sontag 331) Well hold on Sontag, not so fast.
If you think high schools are violent breeding grounds for social intolerance that militantly enforce conformity to narrow ideals through peer pressure and bullying, The Faculty is anything other than your average sci-fi flick. After all, the monologue given towards the end by Marybeth tells you the film is all about breaking stereotypes and making a film where “the jock can be smart, the ugly duckling beautiful, the class wuss doesn't have to live in terror, [and] the new girl…she can just fit right in with anybody,” (The Faculty, 1998). So while the movie fulfills all the conventions of your average sci-fi film, it does make an effort to redefine your image of those “pathetic, lost, little outcasts [living] their disaffected lonely lives,” (The Faculty, 1998) in high school or society at large, who we were all so quick to reject. Touching isn’t it? Maybe even Sontag would shed a tear or two at this attempt to help us be less judgmental and more loving towards one another. 
        Now, let’s put all this academic analysis aside and let’s get to the heart of the matter: Who were you in high school? The nerd?  The cheerleader? The jock?  The Goth inspired loner wearing all black? The token  minority? (Sorry, Usher and  Salma Hayek.) The rebel without a cause who had “street smarts” but whose intelligence Gerald Graff would argue, was tragically overlooked? Raise your hand if high school was the happiest experience of your life? Raise your hand if you thought everyone in your high school was taken over by alien life forms and your teachers, parents, even the local police all had it out for you? Are you just happy you made it out alive? If I brought back any painful memories, please don’t hesitate to send me the therapy bill…








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