By Vernon Nickerson
The Visit showed at the 2015 Sundance film Festival. Watching Director Michael Madsen’s visual feast of a documentary, “The Visit”, I was reminded of the central premise of the Dr. Seuss story, “Horton Hears A Who”. If our scientists, governments and military officials are to be believed, someday, somewhere out there, someone(thing) that has always been watching and listening to Earthlings’ version of “We are here! We Are Here! WE ARE HERE!” might pay a visit to our “Big Blue Marble” to find out who is making all that noise.
The Visit is at its best as a big screen film in its depiction of the infinite variety and diversity of Planet Earth. It’s gravitas is evoked by commentary from an assortment of talking heads from NASA, the United Nations, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, and some representatives from the United Kingdom government, as well as footage of assorted tanks, military personnel and weaponry. If the film is to be taken at face value, no more than 1 non-Caucasian scientist and no government,, military, or religious leaders of color have any thoughts or opinions on a visit which will surely profoundly impact every single person on Earth. Where is astrophysicist Neil deGrasse-Tyson when we need him? While we’re at it, are the United States and the United Kingdom the only superpowers who have anything to say about how the Earth might respond to alien visitors?
As with the most entertaining of documentaries, The Visit contains moments of unintentional comic relief. Do we really think layers of bright orange protective gear will protect us from possibly harmful extraterrestrial microbes? Will our state-of-the art tanks and other weapons keep us safe and eliminate the aliens if they do not “come in peace”? Will the visitors not know about our world’s history of war, murder and assorted mayhem just because our scientists and governments intentionally omitted it from our “official history”, (i.e.,the so-called Golden Record launched into space in 1977 aboard the Voyager spacecraft and designed to last 8 billion years)?
By my count, there was one representative of the entire worldwide faith community who appears briefly in one scene. The last time I checked Wikipedia, there are an estimated 6.9 billion people on this planet who practice some form of religion, and that statistic only includes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddism, and Chinese folk religion. Call me insane, but I find it hard to believe the filmmaker couldn’t find any believers, atheists and/or agnostics who have thought about or written about the subject of visitors from other planets and willing to participate in this film. Personally, I am intensely curious to compare and contrast what the leaders of 6.9 billion Earthlings think about the issues explored by The Visit with the views of the various scientists and government/military leaders showcased in Michael Madsen’s film. I wonder if he would consider making a sequel?
Leaders in the “first contact” business fall into two camps, benevolent/curious and wary/curious. Both have in common some level of anxiety and fear of the unknown. They all have questions. They all want answers, and if those answers are not forthcoming, to paraphrase one of the British talking heads, we will not be happy, we will have to isolate you, and we may need to destroy you. This multilayered response makes the film fascinating to watch and is well suited to its’ unscripted documentary format.
My main take-away from The Visit is that we are as ready for our first encounter as we could possibly be at this time in the Earth’s relatively young history. An implicit assumption of all the talking heads is that anyone who would visit would not have been watching us prior to their journey, a curious assumption and the height of man’s hubris, in my opinion. All that being said, “The Visit” is a thought-provoking entertainment with a required coffee and conversation after leaving the theatre.