“Danger is real. Fear is a choice.” Plastered everywhere on posters bearing the faces of the father-son duo Will and Jaden Smith, this phrase casts an ominous tone over their latest film After Earth. Yet while the tagline may initially seem foreboding, promising some “real danger” in the film, its second half also sends an uplifting message that rings just as true throughout the movie: “fear is a choice.”
After Earth is the tale of Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), a young cadet-in-training, and the father in whose footsteps he aspires to follow, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith). A thousand years after humanity’s destruction of Earth because of disrespect for the environment and mistreatment of resources, Cypher and Kitai are among the human population settled on a distant planet called Nova Prime, locked in combat with alien life forms that prey on humanity and can literally smell fear (through the pheromones that people secrete when frightened). The only two survivors of a spaceship crash that strands them on a post-apocalyptic Earth, Cypher and Kitai must develop their relationship (as Cypher was absent through much of Kitai’s life because of his military status), learn to trust in each other, and put fear behind them if they are going to make it off of Earth alive.
At the core of this tale is fear in many forms: fear of losing loved ones, fear of powerlessness, fear of death. Throughout the movie, we see Kitai shrouded in fears like these, and afraid as well that he won’t live up to his father’s expectations. Yet if After Earth teaches us anything, it’s that we must overcome our fear in order to reach our true potential. So how can we as Christians learn to fight back against our own fears?
“The LORD is my light and my salvation —
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life
of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.”
The passage above from Psalm 27 (Psalm 27:1-3) illustrates the attitude we should have when face-to-face with something that scares us. We should face the things that terrorize us. We should not cower before them, helpless and frightened, but be confident. That is not to say that it’s utterly wrong to be afraid of things (everyone gets scared sometimes, even Jesus), but instead we must face fear with a strong heart and let it pass us. The Psalm also shows that God is at our side to help us face our fears, to aid in our triumph over the dark forces in our lives.
After Earth presents this overcoming of fear in the form of “ghosting,” when a person becomes completely free of fear, and in turn is invisible to the aforementioned fear-sniffing alien creatures. Ghosting is a goal for many people, but very few can actually achieve it. It is only those who understand that they have the power to be greater than fear, who let their hearts be strong against it so that they are not overcome, that are able to truly conquer fear.
We must know that as we face fears in our lives — whether they be large, lifelong fears or simply small, day-to-day anxieties — that God is beside us as we do. I am reminded here of the familiar words from Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). No matter what terrifying trials we face, God is with us through them all. We must remember this if we, like Cypher and Kitai, are ever going to prevail over our fears.