Friday, March 23, 2012

Anticipating the move of 'The Host' from page to big screen




I read The Host (by Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame) this past winter and have been following the film development—of which the teaser trailer above is one of our first tastes—with a keen interest. 

I enjoyed the sci-fi novel, which is told from the perspective of Wanderer, a thousand-plus year old alien whose species invades Earth and takes over the human population. The aliens, called Souls, are inherently altruistic and abhor violence; their preferred method of invasion is a gradual and quiet take-over of individuals until the entire population of a planet is inhabited by Souls. Earth is the ninth planet for Wanderer, who has been on more worlds (and thus inhabited more species) than most Souls, who tend to settle on one of their first several planets and live out the rest of their lives there. But Wanderer soon discovers that humans are different than any other species she has inhabited—most particularly in that her host (a girl named Melanie) refuses to surrender herself to Wanderer as all her other hosts have done. As Wanderer spends time on Earth and forms a relationship with her host, she starts to rethink her species’ philosophy and intent for the planet.

While the novel has been criticized for a slow pace and shallow character development, I was mesmerized. I was particularly intrigued by how Meyer takes an archetypal invasion story and unfolds it from the alien’s point of view. I appreciated Meyer’s skill in enabling us readers to catch on to and understand the behavior and nuances of the human characters through the eyes of Wanderer even as she herself does not. It was an interesting perspective from which to view human nature and confront why we are the way we are.

I was also intrigued by the theme of altruism in the novel. Altruism can be understood as love in action, the act of putting the best interests of others above self. The Souls actually believe they are acting in the best interest of the planet and her inhabitants. And while a philosophy of a species in which altruism is an essential part of their DNA is interesting in and of itself, I was captured by Wanderer’s first person point of view and how a deeply and inherently rooted altruism plays out from a personal standpoint—how it interweaves with empathy and forgiveness as well as a passion and desire for justice and right-ness for others. It was also interesting to see how fear works against the virtue, threatening to shove the self’s interests above those of others.

Wanderer’s journey also confronts the reader with how understandings of exactly what is in the best interest of others changes as we hear the stories of and form relationships with others. The Souls’ reasons for invading Earth were motivated by a desire to save it and her inhabitants from their violence and horrific acts. As Wanderer gets to know her host and other humans, however, she starts to redefine what is actually in the best interest of humanity. This invites us to examine our own understandings of what is in the best interest of others—and challenges us to be open to allowing those understandings to change as we engage with and listen to the stories of others.

As I read The Host, I couldn’t help but think how altruism is also an inherent part of our own nature. At the beginning of our Story, we were created to love God and others, to live with the best interests of the Earth and each other in mind. While our nature is fractured and broken, we begin to regain it as we start to trust that God is who he says and can do what he says—and that we are who he says we are.  As we walk and cooperate with God, he begins to transform us back into the creations—and his people as a whole—that we were created and meant to be.

But that can be a messy journey, and Wanderer’s own personal struggles and transformation led me to think about how highly God values free-will in that journey, even though he knows we flawed creatures will make decisions that harm each other. Love, then, seems to involve a tension between knowing what is in the best interest of another yet allowing the choice to be theirs even as God allows us to make our own choices. And that is not easy.

I’m curious to know how The Host—of which a large part is a personal and mental dialogue between Melanie and Wanderer—is going translate onto the big screen.  The teaser trailer gives us little insight into that; it spends most of its time on the tell-tale a human has been inhabited by a Soul: glowing halos around the pupils. But it is, after all, only a teaser. If the big screen version sticks with the basic themes of the novel, it’s likely it will bring some more God-talk in these open spaces.

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