I’ve written a great deal about how unfortunate it is that alien invasions are the main first contact scenarios we get in the movie, both because it’s unrealistic that we’d hold up for long enough for it to be interesting (much less win), and because there are so many more fascinating culture clash alternatives out there. But Nick Sagan, Carl’s son and a writer and producer in his own right, has some smart thoughts about one of the hoariest cliches in the invasion story—the idea that if aliens showed up, we’d forget our differences:
We’re so bitterly divided these days, the appearance of a true “other” might be the best chance of bringing us all together. But I wonder. If a fleet of alien ships appeared in the sky tomorrow, how do you think those who now call our president a Kenyan Marxist Muslim atheist would be most likely to react? Sure, they might turn around and say, “Whatever we may not like about Barack Hussein Obama, he’s as human as we are and we better put aside our differences to beat back these damn aliens!” I think the more likely reaction would be, “He’s probably one of them and it’s his fault they’re here!” Likewise, had a flying saucer invasion force descended during the tail end of George W. Bush’s presidency, I rather doubt the world community would have happily united behind his leadership. What’s more, these hypothetical extraterrestrials are unlikely to sit idly by as we try to figure out how best to move past our various differences. Human divisions would be child’s play for any reasonably competent alien overlord to exploit — check the masterful Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” for an example of how that might play out.
Using this as a jumping-off point, I can think of a couple of scenarios I’d love to see a science fiction movie explore:
1. If, in fact, we put aside our national differences and repelled an alien attack: What comes afterwards? District 9 explored this question on a small scale—white and black South Africans healed, or at least put aside, the deep rift of racism when aliens showed up, and employed the formidable machinery of apartheid to take it out on them. What lines might we team up along? What undesirables might we eliminate? Would we cure AIDS? Or kill a lot of poor people?
2. The arms race: If aliens invaded, but without the intent of waging total war, the effort to win them over as allies (if we could figure out what they wanted) would set off an all-time bonkers global competition. Can you imagine what would happen if aliens showed up and decided to throw their lot in with, say, Nigeria? The scramble it would set off and the global realignment would be fascinating, and deeply strange.
3. The reformers: To be fair, we are messing up our stuff pretty badly. So what if an alien species that, say, has an aesthetic attachment to our planet, shows up and tries to force us to stop? Would we play fair? Would we freak out and obey out of awe? Or would we split between folks who are grateful and folks who are profoundly resistant?