The opening scene of Geostorm (Devlin, 2017) depicts a depressing post-apocalyptic world ravaged by natural disasters, where millions died from excruciating heatwaves and unprecedented powerful tornadoes. In a global effort to prevent a future environmental apocalypse, humanity desperately turned to solar geoengineering technology to save them, resulting in the United Nations commissioning scientists from 17 nations to invent the Dutchboy. Designed to deploy counter-measures to neutralize any impending natural disaster through a protective net of globe-spanning satellites, Dutchboy allows humanity to remotely control weather patterns from Earth. However, it is gradually revealed that under Project Zeus, the US Secretary of State, Leonard Dekkom, planted a computer virus in Dutchboy and plans to weaponize it to systematically eliminate US political enemies through orchestrated natural disasters, called the Geostorm. The film then follows the efforts of Dutchboy’s inventor, Jake Lawson, and his bureaucratic brother, Max Lawson, as they struggled to save the world from an artificial environmental apocalypse.
The eventual failings of Dutchboy thus shift the emphasis of the film towards the character development of Jake and Max Lawson, who used their expertise and sentiment to eventually save the world from the Geostorm. For instance, Geostorm is averted through Jake’s efforts to locate the virus and Max’s determination to upload the kill codes that neutralized the virus. This centralization of humanity in stopping the Geostorm compared to the subservient role that Dutchboy plays, presents an interesting deviation from the Hollywood apocalyptic norm, where the centralization of technology over humanity is more pronounced. In other environmental apocalyptic films like 2012 (Emmerich, 2009) and The Day after Tomorrow (Emmerich, 2004), the characters are typically portrayed as helpless in face of natural disasters, compared to technology, which has relatively superior capabilities. Even when they depend on technology, the characters are often unable to completely prevent the whole apocalypse and instead they can only mitigate its effects. Comparatively, Geostorm has a more distinctive emphasis on the centralization of humanity over technology. Even though the Dutchboy could have easily prevented any natural disaster, the apocalypse is ultimately prevented by the sheer efforts and abilities of the protagonists. Why then did Geostorm choose to centralize the humanization of the characters over the capabilities of technology in an apocalyptic context where technology seemed capable of preventing the end of the world?
The comparative analysis of the reliability of technology against the softer elements of humanity in the characters, such as their personality and values, underscores Geostorm’s emphasis on the centralization of humanity over technologies with global applications. Through this juxtaposition, Geostorm shows that although technology might possess superior capabilities compared to humanity, it should play a subservient role to humanity as the softer elements of humanity are more essential in preventing an apocalypse.
To understand the unique portrayal of the centralization of humanity over technology in Geostorm, a comparative analysis must be done against its Hollywood counterparts in a similar apocalyptic genre. However, since the technology portrayed in Geostorm is deeply unrealistic, a metaphorical analysis of Dutchboy can prove inherent threats and vulnerabilities in real-world technologies with global applications, thus necessitating a firm centralization of humanity over technology. Even so, the risk of power imbalances arising from an unfair delegation of control over technology might create apocalyptic scenarios that humanity is attempting to avoid in the first place. Therefore, it is then relevant to analyze the subservient role that technology played in Geostorm compared to the emphasis on the protagonists’ traits, to understand the overall need for the centralization of humanity over technological innovations.
A comparative analysis
As established, unlike Geostorm, most environmental apocalyptic films tend to centralize technology over humanity by portraying the subservient role of the film characters. In Roland Emmerich’s 2012, the characters are only saved by gaining access to the Arks, which are giant seagoing ships designed to navigate a post-apocalyptic flooded Earth for an indefinite amount of time, while the rest succumb to the natural disasters. This thus demonstrates the powerlessness of humanity against the apocalypse without the help of technology. Furthermore, the characters’ efforts to get onto the ship merely played a secondary role to the centralization of the Ark in the film, as it is ultimately the ship that saved the characters. Even in The Day after Tomorrow, although there is a portrayal of the characters’ determination to survive, their eventual survival is only enabled through technology, when the US Army Soldiers discovered the survivors by flying UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopters. This stands in stark contrast against Geostorm, where there is a distinctive portrayal of humanity over technology. Despite Dutchboy’s potential to protect the world in the initial scenes, the eventual prevention of the apocalypse is due to the efforts of the characters with the complementary use of technology, demonstrating the centralization of humanity over technology.
Throughout Geostorm, the sophistication of geoengineering technology is repeatedly emphasized by Dutchboy’s seemingly endless capabilities. For instance, once Dutchboy detected a Category 5 Hurricane brewing over China, it automatically released an array of small bombs into the heart of the storm to break up the cloud formations, successfully saving China from a potential environmental catastrophe.
Geostorm’s portrayal of Dutchboy’s abilities
Although weather modification technology has taken infant steps through cloud seeding during the 2008 Beijing Olympics (Pontin, 2008], such localized changes “are not going to inadvertently create huge changes somewhere else” as it is not “physically plausible”. (K. Calderia cited in Wei-Haas, 2017]) However, such sophisticated levels of solar geoengineering technology “is neither as exciting nor as terrifying as we have been led to believe, for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist.” (Stilgoe, 2015). Evidently, it is more realistic to depend on humanity’s efforts and abilities to prevent an impending environmental apocalypse instead of technology.
Since the portrayal of technology in Geostorm might be over-exaggerated and unrealistic, a metaphorical analysis can establish real-life application of the film’s arguments in today’s context. For instance, the world is becoming increasingly reliant on the use of nuclear technology to prevent the end of a world powered by fossil fuel. Despite the supposed low risk of nuclear meltdowns at one in a million per reactor year, the risk of a 1 percent chance of such an accident in each 10-year period (Feiveson, 2009) will thus support Charles Perrow’s “normal accidents” theory that nuclear power reactors cannot be operated without major accidents (Rose & Sweeting, 2016). Similar to Dutchboy, although nuclear energy has the potential to save humanity from an energy apocalypse, the lack of firm human control and regulation can instead create divergent and potentially more catastrophic problems that endanger mankind. Both circumstances have thus demonstrated the dangers of our blind faith in the perceived superior capabilities of technology and underscored the need for the centralization of humanity over technology.
The struggle for power
Even when it is established that a certain degree of human control is imperative to regulate technology, there must be a firm centralization of the whole humanity over such technologies through fair delegation of control, thus preventing power imbalances that can create a divergent threat. In Geostorm, Dekkom is able to seize Dutchboy and weaponize it, since the sole control of US over Dutchboy provided him with easy access to plant the computer virus and gain sole control of Dutchboy. Here, it is evident that the risk of delegating control of technology with such global applications to solely a single entity instead of a collective group can lead to power imbalance, and potentially an apocalypse that the technology was meant to prevent.
Dekkom’s rationale for Project Zeus draws direct parallels to the real world, where instances of abuse of weather controlling technology to gain political supremacy were rife, especially during the Cold War era. The weather race between the US and the Russians (Fleming, 2017) was evident by Project Popeye in 1966 to seed the clouds over southeast Asia so rain would impede truck traffic between North and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. (Kohler, 1967). The realization of the impact of weather control on a country’s political power is best underscored by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson in a 1962 address at Southwest Texas State University when he expressed that “he who controls the weather, controls the world”.
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s address at Southwest Texas State University in 1962
The sentiment is also echoed by the film’s tagline, “Control the weather, control the world”. Since the nation that controls its own weather will necessarily control the weather of other nations, “weather wars” are conceivable when each nation fight to control the weather over its territory (Hoffman, 2002). It is thus evident that technology, especially those with global impacts, has become a principal means through which power is distributed and exercised in contemporary society. (Brey, 2007). Furthermore, the ethical considerations of technology’s global impact necessitate the delegation of control to the whole of humanity. Since “the global impacts that will inevitably accompany attempts to engineer the planet” through weather engineering technology does not leave people with the freedom to opt in or out (Flegal & Meynard, 2017), the majority’s welfare might be neglected. In Geostorm, President Palma attempted to conceal the malfunctions of Dutchboy, which killed an entire town in Afghanistan through a freak ice storm.
UN soldiers discovering the freak ice storm in Afghanistan
The prioritization of his political reputation over the safety of humanity is evident when he declared that “I will not be the President that hands over damaged goods. Not now, not ever”. Palmer’s attitude towards the welfare of humanity vis-à-vis his personal political interests further reaffirms the dangers of allowing a single entity to control technology. Moreover, power imbalances can create potential regional inequalities (Flegal & Gupta, 2017). The rationale for Project Zeus was Dekkom’s desire to create a New World Order with the United States at its helm and with him as the World’s President, demonstrating the potential power inequality when humanity is not centralized over technology. Therefore, the potential neglect of the majority’s welfare coupled with regional power instabilities necessitates a firm centralization of humanity over technology.
Although the equal distribution of control over such technology is idealistic, when such autonomy is delegated to a responsible international organization, the risk of misuse of technology and the resultant power imbalance can be mitigated. As Brey argues, asymmetrical power relations are not always wrong, and it is widely accepted that such limitations can be “imposed by democratically elected institutions” (Brey, 2007). To ensure that weather control is used “for the good of all”, the establishment of an international agency to regulate control is thus required. (Hoffman, 2002). Such sentiments are echoed in the film by the eventual delegation of Dutchboy’s control to the UN and the general realization that Dutchboy “belongs to all of us now. One planet, one people”, thus demonstrating the potential mitigation of technology’s risks.
Power of humanity
However, it is pertinent to note that such form of delegation merely mitigates the risks of an apocalyptic scenario borne from power imbalance, thus necessitating a shift in emphasis towards’ humanity’s softer elements, as evinced by Geostorm’s plot development. Since the computer virus effectively limits the control of Dutchboy to solely Dekkom, Jake evoked his childhood memories with Max to design an encrypted message disguised as a fictional family fishing trip that only they are privy to, thus informing President Palma about the virus. This thus demonstrates the importance of humanity’s softer elements such as sentiments and memories over the “hard power” of technology. Moreover, even when the kill codes were uploaded, Jake still had to physically input the codes into the main computer at the risk of his own life, since the wireless transition was impaired during the self-destruction sequence.
The destruction of Dutchboy after Jake uploaded the kill codes
Here, it is evident that Jake’s bravery and determination prevented the world from a Geostorm, while technology is merely a tool to help Jake achieve this task. The fragility of technology and its unreliability at the height of the crisis presents a stark contrast against the character display and efforts of Jake and Max, thus emphasizing that it was ultimately due to human characteristics and efforts that disaster was averted.
It should also be noted that the centralization of humanity in averting the apocalypse is not limited to Geostorm as this notion is observed in smaller doses in other apocalyptic films. In Armageddon, even when a nuclear bomb is used to destroy the meteor that threatened to obliterate Earth, the film still emphasized on humanity to stop the apocalypse. Due to the malfunctions of the automatic detonation system onboard the space craft, Harry Stamper had to sacrifice himself to physically detonate the bomb. Thus, similar to Geostorm, Armageddon juxtaposes the unreliability of technology against the relative dependability of the characters’ traits and efforts, hence emphasizing on the importance of humanity’s softer elements in preventing the apocalypse.
Compared to typical apocalyptic films, Geostorm has distinctively portrayed the centralization of humanity over technology by gradually shifting the emphasis away from Dutchboy and towards the importance of the characters’ efforts. The futility of relying on technology solely based on its superior capabilities is highlighted by the vulnerability of Dutchboy to misuse and the resultant threat of an artificial apocalypse. In comparison, the characters’ main role in saving the world through their abilities and sentiments thus effectively shifts the film’s emphasis on the importance of humanity’s softer elements in saving the world. This juxtaposition, therefore, affirms the need for centralization of humanity over technology in today’s context.
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