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‘X-Men’ reflects on claiming one’s power

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014). Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Omar Sy, Shawn Ashmore, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Mark Comacho. Director: Bryan Singer. Screenplay: Simon Kinberg. Story: Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg and Matthew Vaughn. Web site. Trailer.

Turning away from our personal power can have dire consequences. By failing to embrace and act upon our natural talents and make use of them in our daily lives, we run the risk of leading an unfulfilling existence and failing to live up to our potential as sentient beings. And, in some cases, the fallout can be even worse, carrying widespread ramifications that affect the well-being of those around us, if not the entire planet, a scenario explored in the new summertime sci-fi blockbuster, “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

Life in the near future is pretty dismal in the world of the X-Men, “mutant” beings who possess a variety of special capabilities that set them apart from their fellow humans. Their abilities represent the next step in the species’ evolution, but not everyone is comfortable with them or their unique faculties, a prejudice stretching back many decades. In fact, that long-standing fundamental distrust was responsible for spawning an enduring war that now plagues the planet, making the earth an exceedingly dark place. With the development of mutant-seeking robotic weapons known as Sentinels in the 1970s, the globe was plunged into a hellish nightmare pitting humans and the evolved outcasts against one another, a battle that has relentlessly raged into the present.

To combat these horrific conditions, a band of X-Men takes refuge in a Chinese monastery to devise a plan for ending the conflict once and for all. The group is led by one-time mutant mentor Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his former adversary, Magneto (Ian McKellen). They seek resolution to a war that started in response to the murder of the Sentinels’ developer, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), in 1973. Trask was killed at the hands of a mutant named Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who was outraged that he had used her peers’ DNA to develop weapons capable of specifically targeting them. Trask’s murder so frightened the human population of the mutant “threat” that his weapons program, which initially received tepid support, was given the green light with the official blessing of its chief proponent, President Richard Nixon (Mark Comacho).

In considering possible remedies to their plight, the X-Men draw upon the insights of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), a mutant capable of peering into and guiding the minds of others. She proposes sending the consciousness of one of her fellow mutants across time to a point before Trask’s murder in hopes of preventing it, thereby changing the time line – and all of the subsequent fallout that came from his death. As plausible as the plan sounds, however, it’s fraught with risks, and only one of the X-Men appears up to the challenge – Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

For the mission to succeed, Wolverine must stop Mystique from carrying out her plan. But, as daunting as that task might be, he’s advised that he need not act alone; his colleagues encourage him to seek help from their younger selves. Professor X and Magneto thus inform Wolverine how he can contact their youthful counterparts (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively).

However, to make the plan work, there are a few hitches to overcome. First, since Wolverine will be meeting his contemporaries’ younger selves at a point before he met them in the current time line, he’ll have to convince them of who he is, how he knows them and what he’s doing there, objectives that may be much easier said than done. And, second, the scenario into which Wolverine will step is set to play out at a precarious point in human history – at the time of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords ending the Vietnam War. With the world on edge over this uneasy truce, it wouldn’t take much to set off a panic – one with the potential to carry on many years into the future (circumstances that the X-Men have since become all too familiar with).

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Wolverine embarks on his mission, hopeful that the present he knows can be wiped out by changes to the past. His success, however, will depend on his effectiveness at convincing himself – and others – that a different path to the future is possible. But it’s a path that’s only attainable by those who believe that it can unfold.

The belief in the possible, of course, is what makes the conscious creation process work. And, in carrying out his quest, Wolverine must change the hearts, minds and beliefs of those who are chiefly responsible for bringing into being what will eventually transpire.

Several key belief components must be put in place if the X-Men’s plan is to work. Foremost among them is the notion that the past can be rewritten, a significant challenge given what many of us perceive to be the persistence and infallibility of memory. Many of us see the past as fixed and unchangeable. But memories, like virtually any of our other thoughts, are belief-based and, consequently, susceptible to alteration.

For example, think about how we remember a particular event. Many times we’re positively certain that we recall exactly how it played out. But, when we uncover evidence that our recollection may be “faulty” (evoked by tangible artifacts associated with the event, the accounts of others, etc.), we may also find that we need to reassess what really happened. Such exercises change not only our perceptions of what occurred, but also the nature of the circumstances associated with them, effectively altering what we believed to have actually transpired. That knowledge thus changes us in our present, because the path that got us to where we are now has also been amended. And a changed present thereby opens up the door to an alternate future, one that may be very different from what we might have anticipated would unfold going forward. Expected hardships, for example, may simply remain probabilities that fail to materialize, because they don’t have the required “temporal support” behind them to make them manifest.

These notions are not just pie-in-the-sky New Age hype, either. In addition to their applicability in a conscious creation context, the thinking underlying these ideas is also part and parcel of the theories driving quantum physics. So the X-Men’s proposed plan is thus more than just philosophical or fictional conjecture; its plausibility has a basis firmly rooted in science, strange though the idea may seem to the skeptical.

But embracing beliefs about the viability of changing the past are not the only convictions that need to come into play in this story. The X-Men of the past must take a cue from their future counterparts and learn to believe in themselves. To do less would invite trouble, as their future selves come to find out in extremely painful ways.

As mutant beings, the X-Men of the 1970s represent a distinct minority, one that’s mistrusted by society at large and often made the object of scorn. However, like any other minority, they must learn to step forward, courageously and with integrity, to live their lives as their true selves. Indeed, as virtually every other persecuted group has discovered throughout history, the mutants must learn how to assert their identity and insist upon their rightful, inclusionary place in society. Unfortunately, these initiatives didn’t receive adequate attention when the X-Men first appeared on the scene. Instead, they were encouraged to keep a low profile, an ill-advised attempt at placating the feelings of a prejudiced majority. But, as other minority groups have discovered for themselves, such steps simply don’t work in the long run; their implementation often leads to second-class status – or worse.

Wolverine’s journey into the past thus must also be aimed at helping his youthful colleagues foster beliefs about having the courage to be themselves, no matter how much they might be perceived to be “outcasts” by the rest of society. He must encourage them to have faith in the validity of their powers and their ability to freely exercise them for the betterment of society, no matter what others may think. This is a particularly crucial concern for Professor X’s younger self, given the important mentoring role he’s eventually destined to play, not to mention his particular efforts in helping Wolverine rewrite the time line. And, by extension, it’s also an inspiring metaphor for the members of any minority group seeking to attain the respect and recognition they truly deserve.

At first glance, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” may seem like an odd selection when it comes to cinematic explorations of such heady issues. However, despite the story’s comic book roots, there’s nothing at all silly or cartoonish about this offering. The film is an excellent showcase for the metaphysical notions it examines, and it does so with a degree of maturity and sophistication not often found among pictures of this genre. Those who would dismiss it simply on the grounds of its pedigree will miss out on a fine philosophical treatise.

The picture is a flat-out winner on all fronts. Its terrific special effects provide ample visual appeal, but the film does not rely on them to carry the plot. It features an intelligently conceived storyline, with a top-notch script to back it up, one full of thoughtfulness and whimsical humor (especially in the ʼ70s flashback sequences). And, even though this is the seventh film in the “X-Men” franchise, one need not know its history to grasp the story here; sufficient background is provided to inform new viewers without such information becoming excessively intrusive.

What’s perhaps most impressive, however, is the picture’s exceptional acting, a definite cut above what’s seen in most action films. The truly stellar cast brings these characters to life as believable individuals, not as live action versions of comic book figures. That’s quite an accomplishment, but, when one considers who the filmmakers had to work with, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Perhaps the only drawback of the film is its underdeveloped use of 3D photography. As with many of today’s releases that employ this cinematic technology, the picture simply doesn’t make use of it as effectively as it might have, which is a disappointment, to be sure. However, this is a minor shortcoming in the greater scheme of things and shouldn’t deter viewers from enjoying what is an otherwise-terrific piece of filmmaking.

Seizing upon our power – or our failure to do so – has consequences that we seldom see forthcoming. Unless and until we become more prescient in this regard, we would be wise to make use of the talents we’ve drawn to ourselves (after all, if we weren’t meant to have them, then why would we have attracted them in the first place?). “Days of Future Past” makes this point plainly apparent, showing us how to lead lives of purpose and fulfillment, without succumbing to timidity or regret. It shows us not to be afraid of who we are, what we create or the realities we manifest for ourselves, for, if we courageously follow those pursuits, we’ll all surely have a future to look forward to.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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