While 1995’s, ‘Waterworld’ can be seen as a parable about industrialization vs. sustainable living, I realized the other day that it can also be viewed as – believe it or not – a spiritual film.
First, let’s consider the film’s setting: a wild, desolate world where people struggle to survive and constantly fight each other for food, resources, and housing, much like our own.
Secondly, consider the world’s inhabitants:
1. The Smokers, who represent the darker side of humanity: unmatched cruelty, out-of-control egos, stupidity, self-righteousness, inability to plan for the future while satisfying immediate, short-term goals, etc.
2. The Drifters, who are neutral and focused sorely on survival. With only one exception (an elderly man in the extended cut) all of them are selfish and greedy.
3. The Atollers, who represent the more enlightened side of humanity: cooperation, law, living close to the land, etc.
Seems simple enough, and it’s easy to guess who the good guys are supposed to be. But a closer look reveals the Atollers to be xenophobic, closed-minded, judgemental, prejudiced, paranoid, and isolationists with no interest in helping others unless there’s something in it for them. If the Smokers are the uneducated masses who are religious fanatics, then the Atollers are the science-oriented elites who see themselves as superior to everyone else who will let you drift away to your death unless you have something of use for them.
Now, both the Smokers and the Atollers want safety and security: the Smokers seek the mythical Dryland to rip up and use as they please, while the Atollers see it as superstitious nonsense and hide in gated communities. But in the end, neither get what they want: the Smokers are all killed, and what few Atollers are left are stuck out at sea. And while Dryland exists, only a few people make it there:
*Helen, who tries to persuade the Atollers to change their ways, and devotes her life to protecting a child.
*Enola, an innocent (if annoying) child.
*Gregor, a kind man of science and learning who accepts the Mariner, despite him being a mutant.
*The Enforcer, a firm, but fair lawman who assists Helen and Gregor in saving the Mariner and Enola.
*The Mariner, who starts off as a selfish Drifter, but learns to care for Helen and Enola and risks his life for them.
And if that’s not enough, all five of them make it to Dryland by flying through the clouds, like souls flying up to Heaven. Heck, the events of the movie begin (offscreen) with Enola’s parents – the only inhabitants of Dryland – sending off their only child to give humanity a way to Paradise. While anyone can still find Dryland, taking the time to learn and understand the message Enola brings will make it much easier and quicker.
When we combine all these elements, ‘Waterworld’ can be seen as a spiritual parable for life: We are all drifting through the world with various levels of comfort and privilege, and while everyone wants something better beyond the life they have, only those who are willing to change and help others freely will make it to Paradise.