Why The Movie Gaia Could Crush Your Brain

Why The Movie Gaia Could Crush Your Brain
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Why The Movie Gaia Could Crush Your Brain. I think my brain may very well be permanently broken. Why? Because I love crazy movies. But I think that it might just be what the doctor ordered to waken you from the malaise of your cinematographic stupor. There were soliloquies here that blew my mind. There were also fungal outbreaks that unhinged me completely. This is going to be a fun one, in the same vein as In The Earth – which also unscrewed my cranium, dropped my brain in a blender, and set the blender on high. Gaia plays a similar game, and if you enjoyed In The Earth, then maybe you found your next favorite movie of all time.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Gaia is literally, mentally, and physically, a head trip. A wide swath of what this movie is all about is magic mushrooms. The movie is set in the South African forest of Tsitsikamma. Well, in the world of Gaia, the fungi are surging, growing in strength and they are threatening to take over the world. Cross this gathering fungal storm with a couple of forestry rangers, and we might just have a coming collision on our hands. This one isn’t going to be for everyone. But if you enjoy movies that challenge norms, ask crazy questions, and forces a viewing audience to consider the world around us? Maybe you’ll enjoy this one.

Directed by Jaco Bouwer, Gaia has a doctoral thesis worth of things to say about humanity’s self determined attempts at self destruction.

Gaia Movie Review

Gaia opens on a river. And it’s a scene out of Apocalypse Now, or maybe Heart of Darkness. And even at the start, we can see that the jungle surrounding this river is alive. It’s a force to be reckoned with. Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) and Gabi (Monique Rockman) are forestry service employees… (which is a really funny choice from the screenplay author… why forestry service folk? hrmm. Just asked Tertius Kapp on Twitter… but it’s all crickets out there. We will see.) But when their drone crashes and dies, Gabi heads into the forest to find it. (Rookie horror movie mistake.) And immediately Gabi gets turned around and lost in the foliage. And when Gabi runs into Barend (Carel Nel) she sees a near neanderthal individual… thin, stone tools, and obviously a time-traveller from the past. His introduction actually threw me for a loop – I thought maybe the movie was set in 1600’s Amazonia maybe? I wasn’t watching the movie closely at first and didn’t notice the drone or any other tech. So I rewound (as if it is a VHS tape I was watching) the film and started over! Huh. Okay. I guess? Well then, Winston heads into the forest to find his missing counter part. Yeah, about that.

Then comes the dark, and the editing of the film turns into a post-modern hyper-cut of growing things, crawling things, a fast-forward reel of all the things that are dying to kill you in the forest. Spiraling vines. Twining, stretching fronds. A yawning arboreal abyss. But thankfully for Gabi she’s safe (if frightened) there inside Barend’s shack, where she and his son Stefan ride out the terror of night. Winston though isn’t as safe. He’s outside, on his own, and is being hunted.

Gabi is being trained on the art of survival in this backwards land. She doesn’t know it yet, but she has already been hunted by the spores, and the seeds that have laid their eggs in her lungs. We know they have, because soon her skin will begin to sprout fungus and mosses of various kinds, colors and varieties. Wait, what? She is sprouting fungus? Right. Something is going on here in this particular stretch of God’s kingdom. But Barend and his son have solved the riddle of survival here somehow. How? What is that they are doing to stay alive? Both from the things that go bump in the night, really loudly, as well as the more quiet threats to their health? “If this thing is growing in the forest – why aren’t you infected” – “Oh, but we are…”

Why The Movie Gaia Could Crush Your Brain - but a good crushing every now and again might be just what the doctor ordered...

We learn that the father, takes blood, and gives it to a particular tree, and then prays. After a mushroom or two, he is able to see what the will of the forest is, and then it is on him to do her bidding. And as for the fungus that is attacking them actively, “It prefers homo sapiens, feeds on the eyes, the mouth, the lungs. First it grows down, saves the muscles for later, connects to the funal network filling up with spores until it is ready to replicate itself. And so the apes return to the trees.” Come, on that is fantastic writing! hahah.

Eventually, Gabi finds Winston covered in fungal patterns of spores, moss, mushrooms. He’s basically taken root to the forest floor itself. And Winston, who realizes what he will soon become if left to it, kills himself with the father’s arrow. And when things really start to get bad for Gabi, Stefan takes the mushroom/medicine that keeps him safe, and gives it to Gabi. And because of this kindness from Stefan, she decides she is going to stay. But what she doesn’t know is that the forest has been giving the father very specific instructions. Very clear directions that he isn’t going to shirk. No, not on your life.

The creatures are crawling in their cages of shit, clinging to dream worlds on silicon screens. You swarm like maggots around your neon towers, and multiply exponentially in the glow of the whores and false goddesses, dancing on the walls of the neon towers in the fire of infinite explosions! All you know is excess and devouring and more more more. Faster and faster on the abyss and into the very fires of hell. Look how you congratulate yourselves on your achievements – your tremendous victories. The internal combustion engine, the nuclear bomb…  Democracy. The willing surrender of the highest decision-making power to every zygote who won the grand victory of fertilization. And look… look where that got you. Hurrah for your free will! Hurrah! A brand of apes climbing up the burning mountain to escape the floodwaters that want to engulf them! A swarm of locusts swirling around the Earth, faster and faster until the atmosphere goes up in a ring of fire! And you think you can save them? 

No no no no. “In those days, men will seek death but will not find it, they will long to die but death will elude them.” If you love them so much, rather wish for mercy, a swift end to the Anthropocene. 

And when Gabi asks for the father to show her, he initiates her in his ritual of approaching the tree. Blown spores into her face. Blood painted on her chin. Oh, and did I mention psychotropics? Yeah… because mushrooms can make the trees talk… everyone knows that. Gabi sees visions of the father doing unmentionable things to the tree, the son maybe as well? Lots of unmentionables happening here with these particular shrooms. And it’s here that we learn that the father has been asked to sacrifice the son. We know this because duh… Abraham and Isaac.

And eventually we learn what the forest said to Gabi… and it was LEAVE, get the heck out. This man is insane, and anywhere is better than here. And as we flash back to the mother, and learn that she originally came here to die, having been stricken with bone cancer, she has become immortal, intertwined to a tree. A dark stain on Stefan’s memory, of his past, and a dark cloud of doubt. But when Gabi and Stefan head off, the father successfully gaslights him, and convinces him that Gabi is going to sell him as a slave. What does he know? He’s lived his entire life here among these trees. He is afraid.

And so Stefan stays. Stays to be sacrificed in front of the tree. But Gabi, instead of leaving, she comes back intent on taking Stefan with her. Hellbent on saving him from being sacrificed. “She has chosen you my son.” But on the way back, a fungal (I’m open to another name for them… Viral? A Fungie? Get it? Zombie? Fungus? Yeah? hahaha.) attacks Gabi and she is waylaid. But eventually she is able to shoot the father with an arrow. But he is still hellbent on axing Stefan in the face. Or Gabi. All of them really. But it’s all for naught, because even though Gabi survives the attack, she is overcome by the fungal infections. She is growing uncontrollably now. And she begs Stefan to leave her there, and to go, to leave, and to go out into the world.

Thoughts on the Movie Gaia

There were a number of interesting points that Gaia might just be making. Interesting points about how modern society is hell-bent on strip-mining the planet for smart phone technologies, which we then stare at incessantly, avoiding all other real magic that is (or was) constantly around us. I personally thought that we would find out that Stefan’s mother got bone cancer from her microwave, or her TV, or some other technology. That the only way to avoid the cancerous technology is to sequester oneself in the quickly dying forests.

Somewhere in here is a message. But I’m not exactly sure what it is. But the cool thing is, we have options. A) Mother Earth is to be revered. B) Mother Earth is to be feared because it might turn you into a fungus. C) Actually all Earth lovers are mad-hippies that want to turn you into a mushroom and eat you for spiritual enlightenment.

But that might be where the movie falls apart. Was Gaia tearing apart modern society and their fixation on destruction of the planet? Was Gabi the butt of the joke here? That there really are bio-diverse lifeforms that have existed on the planet long before the first vertebrate existed and we have just giggled our way along as we bulldoze them into oblivion? (She works with the forestry service?) Doesn’t really feel like that is what was happening here. Or maybe the movie was flipping it back on Barend? Yes, we all agree that trees are lovely things – but dry humping the side of an arbor is not the literal Earth Day any of us were hoping for. Is the movie saying… yes, Earth conservation is a good thing, but let’s not take this to an extreme? Or heck, it very well could be that the screenplay’s intent was to just find material for scaring the heck out of an audience and there was no political agenda here. Okay. Maybe? If so though, then I’d cry foul and just say – you could have shot this movie anywhere.

There were a number of moments when Barend flips into scripture, and they are all tangential Biblical references. Perverted Bible references. This detail, all by itself, gives me the hint that the movie is 100% looking at Barend as our nemesis. (The fact that I am having a hard time identifying our protagonist, and our antagonist makes me realize that the movie could have done a better job of giving us visual cues as to what is really going on.) But it might just be that I’m really touchy about assigning antagonist to anyone that is in favor of protecting the earth. Right?

Let’s play that out for a second. If Barend is our Heart of Darkness’ Kurtz… and he is descending into madness, then his desire to protect the planet is neither here nor there. Right? It’s accidental that what he stands for is a good thing. But we also have the very real detail that the earth is protecting itself. Or appears to be. I mean? It looks like it to me anyway:

So, while Barend might be insane. We are also presented with very real (non-hallucinatory) details that show that people are being infected, attacked, by the forest as she is protecting herself. We also see that these fungal attacks are so hardcore, that they are responsible for crafting a sort of zombie/fungal person. Is this a metaphor? Maybe a visual representation of our technological myopicness causing cancer, causing all manner of horrible tertiary side effects? I don’t know!

Or maybe Fungal Zombies are just cool. ??? I’m 100% going to get comments about how I’m over analyzing the movie. But it should at least logically follow.

I think maybe I understand what it is that the screenplay author, Tertius Kapp, is saying here. The Earth is a bad ass. Full stop. Be very careful messing with her. And, if we are not careful, we might kill her, and in effect, kill ourselves. Or, possibly, another possibility is that she will begin to fight back. And as she does, she will leave a wide swath of damage in the things that matter to us. Like our sanity (Barend). Our health (Gabi). Our allegiances (Stefan). Our lives (Winston). That is what is happening here. All four were destroyed in one way or another. The penitent were errantly thinking they were being faithful, when in fact, the Earth didn’t give two sods what blood he brought to her. The resistant just were collateral damage. That’s it. That’s the message. The Earth will kill us all if we are not careful. Actively, or passively. More likely it’ll kill us as we turn it into a desert. But maybe it’ll mobilize and will actively assault our shores when we least expect it.

Ah. Much better. That was bothering me. Who knows if I’m right… but it’s at least a plausible explanation anyway! hahaha. I don’t know, what do you think the film was saying about life the universe and everything? My family and I will be heading up into the mountains for the July 4th weekends, maybe I’ll ask a few nearby trees, and will let you know what they say when I get back! hahaha.

Edited by: CY