By Mike McMahan, LPC
Oh, sweet nostalgia! This weekend marks the return of David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and company as they fend off another attack of hostile aliens in really, really big spaceships. Independence Day: Resurgence is here! While this film has been eagerly awaited by a certain segment of the sci-fi fanbase (it’s no The Force Awakens but…), it’s almost certain to have its detractors. When the original was released 20 years ago, it ushered in an era of big-budget disaster flicks, which Resurgence has already acknowledged via a Goldblum joke in the trailer: “they like to get the landmarks.” As a fan of the original film, I’m looking forward to this, though I’m fully aware that it might not be so good. Early reviews seem to indicate that it, well, sucks.
I’ve often thought that a sequel to a successful film or the follow-up to a hit album presents the artist with a tricky tightrope. The phrase I’ve often used to describe this process is that the audience expects “different but the same.” Consider: if the film changes elements too drastically or if key characters are missing, audiences will complain that it didn’t “capture the spirit of the original”. Some prominent examples of this phenomenon include The Phantom Menace, Blues Brothers 2000, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Jaws 2. On the other hand, if a sequel is too much the same, it’s dismissed as a cynical cash-in to lure gullible fans of the first movie. This seemed to be in effect with the truly awful Matrix sequels, which seemingly amped-up the effects and the confusing pseudo-philosophy but had little or nothing else to offer. The Hangover sequels seem to fit this category as well.
Sequels usually come out relatively quickly, in order to build on the buzz and fortunes of the original. Not so with Independence Day: Resurgence. I’ve wondered what took so long, as if ever there was an obvious opening for a sequel, it was this. I thought that the original attack should be followed by a “colonization wave,” but the producers seem to have decided on a “distress call” sent by the original invaders that prompts the (naturally) bigger ships on an attack mission. But 20 years? Wow! Truly a moment to reflect on all that has happened since.
The producers of the film produced a fake “history” video to catch everyone up-to-date, but what about in your own life? If you were a part of the target market of the original (teenagers), you’re in your 30s now and approaching middle age. What’s changed in your life since the release of the original? Building on the idea of sequels and their relationship to the original, how did you get thru the last 20 years? Perhaps you went to college, entered the workforce, got married, or became a parent. Or, perhaps, none of those. All of us have our own individual paths to walk, none of which are the same as anyone else’s.
When I work with clients on discussing their past, I think it’s helpful to emphasize strengths that led you on your journey. Consider the biggest challenge that you overcame. Something you might ask yourself about that difficult time in your life is “how did I get through that? What strengths or skills did I apply from earlier lessons in life?” I also find it very unhelpful to view your past as a series of failures. When you are facing a struggle, it can be very tempting to see your life as a series of disasters, having landed you in whatever predicament you may be struggling with today. It can be very difficult to look at positives when you feel mired in negativity.
As a therapist, it’s important not to rush a client into looking at positives, especially when a person is struggling. No one wants to pour their heart out about their struggles only to have a therapist say “sure, you feel like you’re totally screwed, but what’s going well?” This seems like asking for a punch in the face. Instead, a therapist may want to look for exceptions, or things that don’t fit the current problematic narrative. At times, a therapist has to take an opposite tack if the client is so invested in the problematic narrative that they can’t identify any positives. “What keeps this problem from getting worse?”
Perhaps, most interestingly, think about where you were in your life in 1996 and think where you are now. Would your 1996 self have predicted how things would turn out? Why or why not? And, think about 20 years from now. If you could take a time machine (of a UFO) and blast forward into your future, what would you see? What steps can you take right now to get you on the path to that future?
If nothing else, take a lesson from the original Independence Day. On July 2, 1996, the world seemed like it was totally doomed. By July 4, everything had turned around due to a guy flying a biplane while drunk. Solutions may not always come from the obvious places…!
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture