The idea of immortality is one which has fascinated generations of people. The mere concept of living forever, seeing the future and never aging, has been the inspiration for countless works of literature, film, and video games. Going as far back as the Greek gods, whom seemed to live forever, we as humans aspire to surpass those stories. Even in the modern day, the human species is consistently trying to discover ways to extend the human life and cure deadly diseases. Some could argue that the concept of immortality is what drives us to keep going, that the ability to escape the grasp of death, if only for a moment, would radically change the world.
To use a slightly modern piece of entertainment, the main concept of "Torchwood: Miracle Day" was just that. Nobody on Earth can die and it leads to monstrous consequences, such as severe lack of resources. The popular show "Family Guy" has also dived into this idea in one of its earlier seasons, in which Death is injured and, thus, cannot claim people's lives, so everyone engages in would-be dangerous behavior since the risk of death no longer existed. It's virtually a given that should immortality because a legitimate entity, it would not end well if everyone was given a taste.
Recently, I rented three films from Redbox on a whim. "The Age of Adaline" deals with a woman who, due to an accident and a bolt of lightning, never ages a day past the incident, allowing her to live past 100 but still look in her prime. "Maggie" is a dramatized version of a zombie apocalypse in which a young girl is infected with the virus and her father tries to spend as much time as possible with her as she undergoes her transformation. "The Lazarus Effect" is about a group of scientists who try to discover how to bring a dead body back to life. As I was watching these three films, I began to see a trend within each of them. They all deal with the idea of immortality, but also what it means to be human.
In "Adaline," the main character never ages. She is very proper and sophisticated, as you'd expect one that old to be, but she also has the energy and charm of a youth. Her idea of immortality is one which most people would find an engagement with and most aspire to achieve. And true, the idea of living for a century without the burden of death is a tempting one as you would have all the time in the world to learn languages, explore other cultures, and experience all of the world's surprises. But it also comes at a cost. Adaline may not age, but those around her do, including her daughter. It's quite evident during some of the scenes between them that Adaline dislikes the fact that her daughter has aged into an old woman while she still remains young. She also feels that she cannot get close to anyone, as this would just cause complications and heartbreak. This introduces the idea of humanity and what it truly means to live. Yes, Adaline has lived a long life and seen many things, but if there is nobody to share those experiences with, then they would simply feel empty. As the film draws to a close, we see her struggle with these concepts and when she ultimately is mortal again, we see her truly living once more, presenting the idea that capability of immortality only serves to hinder one's life rather than to improve it.
"Maggie" takes on a different approach to the idea of immortality and humanity. Zombies have been a massive part of human entertainment for a while now, taking their place in movies, television, and video games, among other mediums. While different versions of the undead creatures do exist, one thing remains the same throughout - they are animated corpses. At one point, they were a living creature, but now they walk/run around and eat anything that's alive. "Maggie" takes that setting, but puts it in a world in which humans seem to have contained the outbreak, at least momentarily. All of those infected are put into quarantine zones until they turn, at which point they are killed. Society still functions, and its generally accepted that people will get infected and die. At one point in the film, Maggie is sitting with a group of friends, another of which is infected also, and they are still having a conversation. She and the other kid aren't shut out due to their condition, and that was a very different take on zombies than I was used to seeing.
But this isn't a review. It's an examination of immortality and humanity in "Maggie." And what makes "Maggie" unique is that its concept of immortality isn't one which people desire; it's one which they fear. In theory, zombies become the immortals as they are the embodiment of life after death, assuming they are constituted as "alive." Immortality isn't something people strive for. If shows like "The Walking Dead" have shown anything, it's that you're lucky if you get to die a natural death. And yet Maggie herself retains a large amount of humanity for someone slowly becoming more of an animal than a human being. She is able to laugh with her friends and have meaningful conversations with her father. She still recognizes right from wrong even when she is extremely close to turning full zombie and still retains some whim of consciousness when she chooses to end it all. One could argue that the more of a zombie Maggie becomes, the more she appreciates her humanity and, thus, the more of it we as an audience see stick out from her.
It's kind of interesting. Adaline's immortality cost her some of her humanity as she forgot how to live life due to the fear of losing those she would care for, while Maggie actually gains more humanity and it shines more brightly the farther into immortality she ventures. This allows for a retracing of my earlier point, in that the "capability of immortality only serves to hinder one's life rather than improve it." While this is obviously seen in Adaline's story, and one can easily argue that it applies to Maggie's as well, by facing an immortality which is life-threatening, one can actually further their own humanity and allow it to be seen more clearly than if they were merely mortal. "The Lazarus Effect," which I will touch on next, serves as an extreme opposite to "Adaline" during the film itself and its depiction of immortality is frightening.
If one thing is a constant in today's medical field, it's trying to extend the human life by any means necessary. Every day, doctors and scientists are discovering new ways to keep people alive longer, from medical cures to home-grown organs. The idea of achieving immortality is alive and well in this day and age, so when a film like "The Lazarus Effect" comes along, it's no surprise that it tackles that issue head-on. Before the crazy killing spree happens, the scientists discover a formula which can bring the dead back to life. Ignoring the supernatural aspects which ensue, this idea falls into the realm of ethics, science, and religion. All three are brought up at one point or another, and the debate over whether the idea of bring someone back from the dead divides the group. In the previous two films, gaining immortality resulted in the loss of one's humanity (legitimate humanity in Maggie's case, in that she nearly became a zombie), and the trend continues here. When Zoe is brought back from the dead, all essence of humanity has left her. Whether she's possessed by a demon or is the evil version of the film "Lucy," what she had of humanity is lost, and we only see small glimmers of it pop up at times, only to be quickly subdued. While Zoe is, in essence, immortal, she has none of the remaining humanity seen in either Adaline or Maggie, showing the other possible outcome of the achievement.
One of my favorite authors, Fyodor Dostoevsky, once said,
"If you were to destroy the belief in immortality in mankind, not only love but every living force on which the continuation of all life in the world depended, would dry up at once."
I believe this is true. The concept of immortality is the basis of so many things in our human culture. Many religions depend on the idea of achieving immortality in the afterlife as the basis for following their creeds, while the evolution of science and medicine speeds towards the eventual realization of immortality, whether it be physical or virtual. But as these three films display, the cost of such an accomplishment must be considered, should we reach this goal in our physical realm. The most significant of these losses is our humanity, and whether that means a life not truly being lived, a depreciation of our human bodies, or a complete loss of what makes us stand out as human beings, these are things to be considered. If it does come to the point at which we find we have destroyed ourselves in our search for everlasting life, I hope that we find ourselves reflecting Maggie, in that our humanity will shine brighter than ever in the face of impending doom.
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