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by Richard Tornello

Independence Day, A Critical Look


Richard Tornello

INDEPENDENCE DAY, A critical look          Word Count: 1972 words   

Directed by Roland Emmerich                  

Written by Roland Emmerich & Dean Devlin



By, RdotTornello & The Village idiot Press




As a technical recruiter working in areas that relate to the essay, in a cursory manner of sorts, and a student of history and science, I found the movie Independence Day a rather interesting piece. The story has stayed with me since I first viewed it and has been reinforced with every additional viewing. The themes and solutions that I believe it focused on are some that have plagued mankind for as long as recorded history. That might be  a bit of hyperbole fpr some, but for me it had a clear message.

The comments herein are mine and in no way reflect the beliefs and or desires of any institution that I work with.



In American/U.S. culturally-centric movies, and specifically in Independence Day directed by Roland Emmerich, no matter the insurmountable odds, the good guys most always win, and in that victory, create a feeling of unity with the auduence . As in most classical themes redemption through sacrifice are numerous. The Spartan stand at Thermopylae and the Second World War are two historical examples of ultimate sacrifices uniting peoples. In addition to the afore mentioned great sacrifices are: love lost and found and reclaimed, faith strained but retained, faith lost and discarded then reclaimed and ethical and moral questions*  abound in Independence Day with an added and cloaked twist. Independence Day was a stew of these themes.


Regarding those themes I’m not sure how to classify Independence Day. It was a major science fiction drama in the sense of revenue and special effects. But did it have anything else to offer? The movie had the messages as I mentioned, though not ‘in your face’ and thinly hinted. Upon my first viewing I felt the story line was simple and without much depth. I enjoyed Independence Day as a cowboy vs. the aliens and would have dismissed the whole thing as fluff until I saw the conclusion. I saw the underlying shadow theme. I had to watch it a few times.


Here I will offer up a brief outline of the characters in Independence Day: the weak willed Secretary of Defense (SECDEF), Albert Nimiziki, played by James Rebhorn, is the foil against a former air force fighter pilot now the President of The United States, Thomas J. Whitmore, played by Bill Pullman. We have a geeky scientist/engineer computer nerd David Levinson played by Jeff Goldblum. Then we have the hot shot, top gun fighter pilot, Captain Steven Heller, played by Will Smith. And finally, to top it off, adding to the never healing American catharsis, a former Vietnam pilot, Russell Casse played by Randy Quaid. These are the key players. Was the acting played well?

Some of the important characteristics and qualities of three of the above mentioned were: Jeff Goldblum who seemingly played Jeff Golblum as David Levinson the computer geek, faithful even in divorce to his ex, and agnostic toward his religion. We have Will Smith who played captain Steven Heller, (as Will Smith), a top gun pilot who as previously encountered aliens in a classified combat situation. Both are rough around their own respective edges, and both unfired clay pots of human beings. Rounding out this triad is Randy Quaid who plays Russell Casse, the trailer park drunk, former Vietnam fighter pilot. He’s now crop dusting. He claims to have been abducted by aliens in the past to everybody’s disbelief, his derision and ridicule. He commits the ultimate sacrifice in the final set of scenes.


Revenge can be a powerful energizing force.


In further supporting roles are: the president’s sacrificed soon to be dead wife, ex-wives, lovers, children and the people of the planet facing massive destruction of the soon to be conquered lands. In this mix there are heroes. And as the fates would have it, losers. The only thing missing to the audience was wholesale slaughter, rape, pillage and the slaves being led off to who knows what horrible fate. A worse fate was a promised goal of the alien fleet.


The alien goals were stated blatantly and simply as the complete rape of the planets resources and destruction of the human race. This was made clear in the secret lab that the SECDEF knew about full well, but withheld the data from the President for political expediency known today as “plausible deniability”. It is in this scene where the President of the United States, views a captured alien fighter craft that’s being reverse engineered as best possible. There he also meets a captured alien and attempts to get an understanding of what and who they are, and with hope, possibly some negotiation. The futility of negotiation quickly becomes painfully clear.




To digress for just a bit, one has to remember, this movie is, as most are, an economic endeavor. They need to make a return on the investment costs. The movie has to appeal to the general public. The script writers, and the director were giving the public what it needed or demanded, an adventure, an escape, a ‘we can ALWAYS beat then if we try using good old Yankee ingenuity. At the same time, the director couldn’t be heavy handed, if the message I saw was intended, and he wanted to keep his audience.


I believe, that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, consciously, (or possibly they weren’t even aware of their message, as it sometimes happens in various art forms), were calling for more than just what was visible: an adventure, good over evil against overwhelming odds with almost stereotypical characters. But maybe, just possibly they were asking for much more: a paradigm shift in all our thinking, a major change in our comprehensive world view, in our stuckness of our collective weltanschauung.


I’d like to mention an etching by Fritz Eichenberg’s THE COMPLAINT OF PEACE. With the etching Fritz Eichenberg has written a very brief and concise summary of a larger letter by Erasmus written in 1517 called Querela Pacis. Eichenberg’s summary follows with some editing on my part.


“Let us look at the last ten years. What land and sea did not witness warfare? What region was not soaked with…blood? The cruelty of,” (and here Erasmus adds Christians but I think all nations and cultures fit this category), “surpasses that of pagans and wild beasts. Christians attack Christians,” (I would change this to brothers attack brothers), “with the very weapons of hell.  Remember the battles and wars fought for the last ten years? They were fought for causes that did not concern the common man. In most wars the safety of the heads of government is assured and their generals,” (and today’s linked corporations), “stand to gain. It is the poor farmer and common people who bear the brunt of the destruction.”


And so it has been for centuries, for millennia, and for most recorded history on this planet. The Complaint of Peace still has direct meaning today. We are all of us, still stuck. I believe Roland Emmerich, in his own fashion was attempting to advance this concept of stuckness and with it, its solutions.




To answer the question of acting, Roland Emmerich used the standard stereotypical tools of his industry and of drama. It wasn’t great acting, but the points both obvious and cloaked were there and made.


To summarize: The capitals of the planets nations were destroyed. The planet as individual countries for all intents and purposes was no more. The command and control structures were all but eliminated. A city was sacrificed in a fireball of a nuclear explosion, for naught. Former enemies huddled together for survival. The human race was about to be extinguished.


Since this was a movie made in the USA one would expect it to be US- centric, and as I mentioned earlier, it was. It’s gotta sell. The heroes and villains were all flawed and very American.  The fates allowed some to redeem themselves in whatever manner the fates would allow. The two main characters Captain Heller and David Levinson became complete human beings after offering themselves up into the kiln of combat and certain death. They volunteered to fly a sort of Trojan Horse loaded with a computer virus and a nuclear weapon. The weapon jammed in its launch pod.  


In a final mirrored act of redemption, and the keystone for the American success, was made by the drunk old fighter pilot Russell Casse. He held the fate of the entire planet in his hands, and with it, the potential futility of all the sacrifices humankind ever made. He has the last available missile. With that weapon he can validate the proposed order of battle that can be used throughout the planet. But the missile jammed in its pylon. Unlike the nuclear missile jammed in the Trojan Horse, it will not release. He then offers himself up to the gods in life’s final act. There is no return to the valley.


Just revenge can be powerful.


His opposite is the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of Defense is shamed by his cowardice, his whimpering willingness not to fight. Ironically, he fights not to fight all the while accepting the fate that will befall the human race and the planet. He’s willing to curl up and die and let the Persians pass through the Hot Gates. His status is reduced to less than that of a mongrel. This is a classic story played out on a modern world. Independence Day worked at that level.


The final shots of the downed alien space craft here and there, and especially behind the still standing man made pyramids; the joint effort by the Israeli and Arab air commands, and the destruction of all the capitals made a point: The invader, the outsider from another world, by their very existence, destroyed the metaphysical underpinnings, the religious and political paradigms.  


The threat to the current political and religious paradigms was quickly acknowledged in the scenes in the secret lab and hanger with the captured alien and spacecraft. That acknowledgement appeared to be just as quickly  forgotten or ignored.


That scene was also the opening salvo where the actors showed their inner potential strengths and weaknesses and this is when the movie too took on a new paradigm shifting plea. It addressed those very themes that would force the weltanschauung of the planet’s populations into a more global, and demand more galactic focus. The reality above them could no longer be ignored.


The destruction of the old paradigms that have chained us like dogs, stuck, only to run round and round in cultural and historical circles as acknowledged by Erasmus in 1517, was a necessity. It is only then that those new goals could give the birth of a new human race looking upward and to a new future.


So in the final scenes, the view of the wreckage of the space craft coupled with the unsaid reverse engineering, would allow the scientists and engineers to construct the new tools necessary to now carry out and construct a new world. And with those new tools we all could begin a new era for the human race, one focused on real brotherhood, with a planetary-global commonality.




It is my assertion that INDEPENENCE DAY called for a global paradigm shift.  The authors of the story believed it could only take place when we as a people were technically interconnected as a first step. And, that technical connectedness, a first step in a unified peoples, coupled with the complete destruction of the symbols, and the structure that supports the current separate nation states, along with our myth based ideologies, shaken to their very cores by the visibly and undeniable facts, only then would or could this change occur.



End Notes


*For a deeper definition and through discussion of morality and ethics I would suggest the late Ronald Dworkin’s “Justice For Hedgehogs”, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2011.

Morality, as he explained it, is how we treat others. Ethics is how we live our lives, with dignity. 


Yet within the whole movie I couldn’t help but notice there was a glaring unmentioned contradiction in the victory. That contradiction was, in order to overcome the threat, the massive military-industrial-complex that has hijacked the experiment in a democratic republic, established in 1776, as well as the entire planet, are the very ones that through their technology and wide spread weapons sales, allow the plot to reach a somewhat technologically logical conclusion.


Read more stories by this author

2014-05-10 06:53:09
micheledutcher - tobiash wrote: The idea of mankind uniting against a common enemy is not new. In fact it will probably be the only way we will unite. Institutions like the Unite Nations are baby steps in that direction but hardly the paradigm shifts envisioned by the author of this piece and the makers of the movie. One could argue that movies that encourage nationalism are counter-productive in this regard.

2014-05-10 06:50:55
micheledutcher - I like the way the author dissects the movie to find the deeper meaning of the film: an alternative to the current societal mindset.

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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.

by Richard Tornello