2020: The Neverending Story
When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts. —The Neverending Story (1984)
While WW84 might not have been as bad as Twitter made it out to be, another movie from 1984 is worth a rewatch to see it as an allegory for the year that we’ve just narrowly escaped, and the hope we have that 2021 will give rise to a new dawn, and hope for a social, and economic, recovery.
I’m talking about The Neverending Story, a movie I watched every Friday night for years as a child.
So here’s a list of three ways that the film relates to 2020, and how we’re riding into 2021 on the back of Falcor.
Part 1 - The Search for a Cure
In our fantasy world of Fantasia, there are two imminent dangers — firstly, there’s an encroaching darkness consuming the land called The Nothing. Secondly, The Childlike Empress has fallen ill, and our hero, Atreyu, is tasked to find a cure. Atreyu believes that once the cure is found, and the Empress has recovered, The Nothing will be powerless.
Atreyu first meets a Rockbiter, who laments that he has lost his strength. He stares at his hands in resignation — ”These used to be such strong hands”.
The Nothing dispatches G’mork, an assassin wolf, to hunt down our hero.
The mismanagement of the early days of the pandemic has strong parallels here. America’s leadership on the world stage is in question, and we collectively mourn our loss of strength. Corporate leadership rose to meet the challenge, with many corporations stepping up to fill the gap. Notably, Starbucks implemented social distancing in-store before statewide mandates went into effect. While the promise of a vaccine for COVID-19 came early on during the pandemic, with Moderna developing an mRNA vaccine in just two days, there was no such salve for the encroaching social unrest that stirred after the February 23rd shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.
Part 2 - The Swamp of Sadness
Atreyu finds himself in The Swamp of Sadness. Morla, an ancient oracle in the form of a giant tortoise, offers no hope. There is only sadness now, and Artax, Atreyu’s steed, succumbs to it. The only salvation is the arrival of a Luck Dragon named Falcor, which rescues Atreyu as he sinks into the muck. Atreyu soon finds himself cleaned and rested but faced with another test — to run the gauntlet at the Southern Oracle at the Sphinxes gate — one which even mighty men have not survived.
In order to survive, he has to summon confidence and shed fear. He narrowly escapes but finds himself then faced with a mirror, in which he sees that his story is not his own, but he is intrinsically tied to another.
The Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020 held a mirror up to the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. The reflection we saw was dark: a nation deeply divided, while so many of our loved ones had succumbed to the virus. A deep sorrow set in. Many of us saw ourselves in a new light. Sadly, many of us saw our close friends in family in a rather darker light, too.
Part 3 - The Nothing and The Rebirth
G’mork closes in on our hero, and attacks. While Atreyu defeats the wolf, The Nothing overtakes the Ivory Tower, reducing it to dust. One small speck remains, and it takes the imagination of a young boy to restore the kingdom to its once-former glory.
This is the biggest parallel of 2020. While there is a glimmer of hope in the distribution of the vaccine, the installation of a new President, and a newly-minted economic stimulus with another potential on the horizon — the biggest risk is that we return to our old ways.
“The Nothing” in America, in 2021, is a sense that no one person has any power to affect change. The Nothing wants for us to fall into complacency, to resign to the fact that we are ultimately powerless: powerless against a virus, powerless in government, and ultimately purposeless; an aimless populace who has not learned from these events, and is blown to and fro at the will of a rich and powerful ruling class.
What we can learn from 1984’s muppet-filled spectacle is that, if a spark of hope remains, imagination can give birth to a new future. Rebirth is possible, if we work together and believe in the mutual good. 2021 may hold new demons, new challenges; but it also holds new possibilities.
It’s a matter of perspective, if we choose to believe.
Thank you for reading, and we wish you the best in 2021. Happy New Year.
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