By Zoe Kurland.
I felt a strange sense of identification as I watched 2067’s opening scene – my planet was burning, too, and I was powerless to stop it.”
The film 2067 begins in the deep dark of space. As Earth spins slowly into view, fires erupt across its surface. News flashes relay the state of things: “people have been struggling to recover from a record breaking heat wave, and it just keeps getting worse,” “entire towns have been reduced to ashes…,” “deforestation is now rapidly accelerating…” so on and so forth until the flames engulf the planet. As viewers, all we can do is sit back and watch.
I watched this film from California, and at the time of my viewing, the sky was a bizarre shade of yellow. It had been like this for days; fires ravaged the state, temperatures reached record highs (as they have continued to do), and stores sold out of air purifiers as the need for filtration skyrocketed. As one might imagine, I felt a strange sense of identification as I watched 2067’s opening scene – my planet was burning, too, and I was powerless to stop it.
But what if we had the power to change our fate? This is the question that writer/director Seth Larney asks in 2067, and his protagonist, Ethan Whyte (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is there to answer the call. Ethan is an everyman, a utility worker for a large corporation called Chronicorp, which manufactures synthetic oxygen for Earth’s last remaining city. This oxygen, sold out of rickety-looking O2 ATMs, seems to cause more problems than solutions: many people develop a fatal reaction to the compound called “the sickness,” causing them to die off in hoards. In one scene, Chronicorp’s CEO looks out the window to see buildings billowing flameless smoke: “Even the fires can’t breathe,” she says. This seems to be a metaphor; everyone in this society has their hands tied, including its antagonists.
However, it is much worse for the people at the bottom of the food chain, people like Ethan and his best friend Jude (Ryan Kwanten), who toil underground at a Chronicorp plant in less than stellar conditions. During one shift, sirens blare red as a large nuclear core threatens to explode; however, Ethan and Jude treat this warning with detached apathy, methodically stabilizing the core while chatting about grabbing a drink after work. From their non-response, one gets the sense that these kinds of threats to life come often, and there’s nothing much one can do but move forward.
Ethan has history with Chronicorp: his father worked as a lead scientist for the company, making a time machine called the Chronicle, which has sat dormant since his mysterious passing. Ethan, orphaned and thrown into a burning world where his boyhood interest in science seems useless, works only in service of survival, taking on extra shifts at Chronicorp to support his wife, Xanthe (Sana’a Shaik), who suffers from “the sickness.” As the dire situation on earth continues to escalate, the Chronicle spits out a mysterious message from the future; it reads, of all things, SEND ETHAN WHYTE. Ethan must decide whether he wants to stay to care for his wife or take a chance on saving the human race. With much trepidation, he chooses the latter, and is thus rocketed into the year 2470, on a hope and a prayer that the unpredictable Chronicle will allow him to return.
Like the best sci-fi films, a trip into the future only dredges up questions from the past. As Ethan finds, all things are interlaced; time, and thus life itself, proves to be cyclical. I spoke to Kodi Smit-McPhee about all of these themes, including the prescience of this film at this point in time, his career of apocalypse films, and the belief systems he brought to this project.
ZK: 2067 is a film about a world in which wildfires have ravaged the Earth, resources are scarce, oxygen is obsolete, and everyone has to wear a mask to go outside. This feels eerily familiar at this moment in time. Could you have ever expected you’d be releasing the film in these conditions?
KSM: No, definitely not. Definitely not this soon, that’s for sure. It’s extremely ironic and eerie. I feel like a lot of the people that watch the movie will think that we somehow accomplished basing a film on 2020 and got it out there in time, but we truly just pulled this one out of the dust and it so happened to be the world a couple of months after. It’s very strange. But at the same time, I guess, I’m not surprised that it was in my lifetime that I would be experiencing something very similar to this.
ZK: It seems like you’ve been prepping for this role your entire career. You’ve been in all of these dystopian future films, starting out with The Road, which is quite a heavy hitter, then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X Men, and now this…how has that affected your outlook on your work?
KSM: [laughs] I tell you what, I’ve been very picky with the jobs that I do through my whole career, even when I was pretty young. I do like to create somewhat of a reoccurring theme within the underlying message of each movie that I do. I definitely didn’t choose to do so many apocalyptic movies on purpose, but I guess they hold so many messages and themes that I feel people need to be thinking about today. Ultimately, sure, they’re entertaining, but the things that I like to be a part of are things that, beyond the entertainment, which does fade, deliver a message that sits with you and sparks somewhat of a curiosity that could maybe change your fate or your direction in life.
ZK: Your director, Seth Larney, said that he’s been watching science fiction films for his entire life, and he loves the ability of these large-scale epics to deliver important philosophical concepts. Were you a sci-fi fan as a kid, or have any sci-fi films changed your mind the way you’ve just described?
KSM: Definitely. But it happened in a reverse way, then what you just explained. I’m a follower and practitioner of philosophy and spirituality and that has greatly inspired and influenced how I choose my roles in the entertainment industry. As Seth said, with a film, you can spark that curiosity in someone just by showing them a philosophical concept that they may never have known they wanted to know about. For me, it first started within the academics. I’m the type of actor — though I don’t even know if it’s a type because I get frowned upon – but I really don’t watch that many movies, and I don’t necessarily like watching movies a lot. However, I have grown to watch a lot more ever since I found my niche of the things I’m interested in, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Mr. Nobody, and The Butterfly Effect. All of these things greatly influence what I choose to work on in the future and how I think about life as a whole. If I can have that effect on people that’s really special.
ZK: 2067 deals in these large philosophical concepts of brotherhood, fate, nature, and free will. I read that you’re a Freemason, and I was wondering how you came upon that belief system, which also deals in those concepts, and how it influenced your approach to this film.
KSM: Ever since I can remember, I have always had a deep curiosity for the universe and my place within it. That curiosity was always alongside an awe, just in love with the beauty of nature unfolding infinitely. I always followed that. I feel like in our day and age we’ve all had a stage in our life, or even just a little thought cross our mind, when we think about our existence, a higher nature beyond us, or maybe even a great work or a mission that we have to do here. But that is quickly swept under the rug once we kind of leave from kindergarten, school, or college. The world starts to go from a playground into something more of a labor.
ZK: Your character, Ethan, seems to be very much in that labor stage….
KSM: Once it becomes a labor, and the labor is defined by having to put food on the table and a roof over your head, that curiosity and those questions get quickly swept under the rug because our energy is needed in other places. It’s very sad. But luckily for myself and many other thinkers and artists and philosophers in the world, if you can keep that spark alive, then you discover very beautiful things that you may think the world didn’t know. I remember growing up looking at science and I thought, wow, we’re really getting there, but we really don’t have a grasp at all on what our existence is about. But the more that I questioned, the more I discovered. I continued studying quantum physics, philosophy, sciences and studied so many religions somewhat to their core to basically see the ultimate truth within all of them expressed in different ways. And that’s what freemasonry is about. It utilizes its own symbols to express basically what all religions are trying to express, but in a way where they don’t divide each other. From my discovery, [freemasonry] is ultimately just academics of philosophy and self-development.
ZK: How do you apply this to your work as an actor?
KSM: I do that by works of recognizing the work of writers and directors and producers. Once you’ve tapped into curiosity within the truth and you’re on that mission, you can easily distinguish those who are on the same path. I was attracted to symbolism and films like . I’m even obsessed with the hero’s journey – you can relate to every story you tell in some way because you can relate to one of the arcs of the characters, whether it’s the protagonist or the antagonist, you can find itself within the hero’s journey. And if you’re not the hero, then you have some work to do in terms of aligning your life to that. I’ve studied archetypes and things like this, just a lot of stuff that I don’t think they traditionally teach an actor. In a very reversed way, it’s the ancient stuff that propelled me to choose and act in a way that I do and express the messages that I do for our current day. I don’t ever necessarily get to speak like this in interviews. People are just like, “Who is this kid that doesn’t watch movies at all? But he seems to be going for all of these movies with such a great message, and he does it very passionately.” If they don’t sit down and talk to me in this way, they will never truly understand the mechanism of where that’s coming from.
ZK: In the face of all of these large concepts, I found your performance to be very grounded and intimate. I’m curious to know how, amidst the special effects and the fantasy elements, you maintained that.
KSM: I think just the passion for the story itself. It’s ultimately just faith – very, very similar to the story itself – when it comes to green screen CGI and all that stuff. I mean, you’re standing on a green box in a green warehouse and you have no idea what it’s going to look like afterwards. You just have to do your best as actor. But it has come out to look absolutely amazing, so I would compliment the chef on that one – the director, all of his work and all of his commitment and faith and genius. I was just a little intricate part in that.
Zoe Kurland is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She holds a BA in English from Columbia University. Her writing appears in Bright Lights Film Journal, COUNTERCLOCK Journal, The Nonconformist, and more.