Monday, September 29, 2014

After the Dark/The Philosophers (2013)

You might have had one of those philosophical debates in class over who would get to go into a hypothetical fallout shelter.  You have maybe two or three times the number of open slots and you have to pick based on things like skills, profession and gender.  (How useful is a college student?  Is a woman more valuable because she’s of child-bearing age?)  Well, someone made a movie based on that premise.

It’s the last day of a philosophy class.  The students are subjected to a thought experiment by their teacher, Mr. Zimit.  He proposes that his students are on a field trip when nuclear war or some other disaster breaks out.  They happen to be in proximity to a fallout shelter, but there are 21 people (including Mr. Zimit) competing for 10 beds.  They can’t alternate sleeping schedules, as there’s only enough food and air to last 10 people exactly one year.  Each student is assigned a profession and the students have to decide which of them gets in.

The first time the students conduct the experiment, Mr. Zimit gets himself in as a wildcard.  He won’t say what his advantage is or what he does for a living.  For all anyone knows, he’s a traveling axe murderer.  He gets himself in.  Realizing that he may be leaning towards axe murderer, the remaining nine selected decide to lock Mr. Zimit out of the shelter.  This may be a bad move, as he claims to have the exit code.  (His profession was shelter builder.)

That doesn’t end well, leaving the students to try again.  This time, an additional detail is revealed.  A female student that had been a doctor is now a potential Ebola carrier.  Another student, who had been rejected for being a soldier, now has eidetic memory.  There’s also the added condition that they must produce at least one child by the end of their year in the bunker.  Again, this doesn’t end well.

The students have one last go at it.  This time, one of the students decides to take over.  In Petra’s version, everyone is on an island.  There’s no sign of volcanoes going off or nuclear blasts or anything.  Still, she selects ten people to go in.  Mr. Zimit is chased off, as everyone knows that he has a thing for shooting people.  Initially, Petra doesn’t want to go in, but one of the other students switches places with her.

Even though Petra’s selections aren’t optimal, everyone lives this time.  It turns out that the apocalypse didn’t affect their area.  Mr. Zimit doesn’t approve of her outcome.  There’s no way to get back to the rest of humanity, nor is there any hope to rebuild on the island.  All of the ‘useful’ people were sent off on the boat.

That’s essentially what it comes down to.  In both of the teacher’s scenarios, people of perceived use are selected, but everyone dies.  In Petra’s scenario, she selects based on her preferences.  There’s limited hope, but at least nearly everyone survives the first year.  Usefulness is of little consequence if no one makes it out alive.

It’s interesting to see how the scenarios play out.  Normally, when I’ve been given this exercise, it’s strictly in the sense of which traits are useful.  No one ever thinks about how it plays out.  A doctor is perceived as being useful because they know about medicine, but what kind of person are they?

A leader has the advantage of presumably being able to lead, but we don’t know what kind of leader they’d be.  Everyone has to be able to get along with everyone else.  10 people means 45 possible interpersonal relationships.  All sorts of factors play into this.

We do get to see Mr. Zimit lead his class.  Many of the students aren’t convinced of his leadership.  A few threaten to walk out at the beginning of the exercise.  We also get to see him be a bit of a control freak.  This is not a movie for children, mostly because of his actions.  I don’t want to give away too much, but he does take a few actions that small children wouldn’t be able to understand.  (At the very least, you should probably watch it before deciding if it’s appropriate for older children.)

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