Review of First Light (SXSW 2018)
by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.
Another in the science fiction genre where an alien race brings a blessing to a troubled earth, First Light has some interesting company. The film Arrival is one good example. In many of these tales, only certain characters have the sensitivity to hear or understand the message brought by these alien angels of mercy.
First Light is set in a town situated somewhere out West. Two teenagers are brought together after a strange set of events one night at a party outside of town. Few people in the town seem to be aware of, much less concerned about, the patterns of strange lights that appeared in the sky,
Alex (Stefanie Scott) and her boyfriend leave the party to take a dip in a quarry’s deep waters. Supernatural transformations take place as she seems to drown. Later, she is found wandering down a road with no real memory of who she was before the swim. Alex finds herself in the company of another boy named Sean (Théodore Pellerin)—the plot actually unfolds mostly from his point of view. Sean discovers that Alex now has supernatural powers—it is her presence that suddenly and completely heals his grandmother from incapacitation. Meanwhile, Alex also emits something like radiation, which starts to burn Sean and make him sick—but in another way, it also seems to strengthen him.
Like many films in this genre, the government is found to be involved somehow in these strange events. We discover there were a handful of others who had experienced this same incarnation. Government agents are bent on trying to isolate and understand the message that seems to be implanted in their very being. The story involves the couple’s attempts to free Alex from the government’s secretive and clumsy attempts to managing the crisis.
(Spoiler Warning) This film is unmistakably religious if considered from a less-conventional lens. Alex is baptized in the quarry— literally drowning—but is raised out of the waters by the light and set back on a road to accomplish a higher mission. She has become a Messianic transfiguration—Alex is still herself, at least partially; her body is the same, but she is also a different person. Her new powers allow her to heal and to burn. She uses a mysterious magnetism to draw all things unto herself (literally). Her mission is to bring the message, but few can understand. In the end, her mission is accomplished and she is taken back up into the sky, leaving her believers staring into the sky. However, the light remains on earth, and life has become better.
As typical of this genre, science fiction films give filmmakers and audiences an opportunity to explore ideas beyond our spatial and temporal vision that is bound up in our daily realities. Such films touch on what we fear the most, but also what we most hope for in the most ancient corners of our souls.