I’d start The Big Picture with a frame showing the earth: from every spot on it zillions of people reach their hands toward what they imagine heaven to be and shout to the God they believe in: “Please God, please universe, give us a world in which love, kindness, generosity, caring for each other, and caring for the earth have replaced violence, wars, economic and social injustice, and environmental destructiveness.”
After that prayer, someone says, “What has God done for me lately? To hell with God. Why should I believe in a God that doesn’t deliver for me?” And suddenly the zillions of people fall silent, withdrawing into their own private isolation, despairing that their prayers and actions could ever make a difference. The film thus opens into the planet-destroying phase of human history in which people actually know that they are collectively destroying the life-support system of the earth but feel there’s no point in doing anything but maximizing their own advantage because they cannot believe that others will ever act from anything more than selfish motives. How did we get here?
To answer that question, I’d switch back to the history of the universe, showing the evolution of creatures right up to the point of the emergence of humanity. The frames now flash in fairly rapid succession but not so rapid as to prevent viewers from seeing the evolution of plants and animals right up to humans climbing down from trees. Next we see hunter-gatherers forming groups and living in relative harmony with the earth, the development of agriculture, the development of patriarchy, and the development of class oppression. In scenes from the ancient empires of Babylonia, Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome, we see these empires giving rise to religions that both celebrate the universe and also attempt to protest against class domination, patriarchy, and oppression. These protests, however, also reveal themselves to be compromises with existing systems and sometimes capitulations to the powerful.
Next I’d zoom ahead through the collapse of the ancient systems and the emergence of feudalism in China, India, Africa, and Europe—right up to the American and French revolutions. And then I’d show how quickly things have moved from that moment to this. This part moves quickly because, in fact, in the grand scheme of things, this recent history is very brief. We are only a few heartbeats away from the rise of ancient civilizations, and this is part of what The Big Picture is about.
Perhaps next I’d show a discussion between an ancient Israelite and a Roman conqueror about the difference between the ideology of the conqueror and those who have been conquered. Then the film cuts to a more modern version of that same argument replayed between members of the feudal order and the emerging capitalist class. It replays again between representatives of the newly powerful capitalist class and the working class. And it replays yet again between tech billionaires and some of the factory workers who put together computer systems. In each of these conversations, the voice of skepticism and cynicism reemerges, and we hear the frustration of people who want real change and yet are not heard. Then the film moves on to show the revolutions that dismantled segregation, apartheid, and sexist social structures—and it exposes the incredible amnesia, fostered by mainstream misrepresentations of all those transformations, that leads people who personally witnessed amazing changes to nevertheless conclude that nothing much can be changed.
The Current Deficit of Hope
Next I’d dwell on the condition of people in our current consumer-oriented society, depicting how we are surrounded by people who have within them the contradiction of aspiring to a world of peace and social justice while at the same time failing to believe in the possibility of dramatic change.
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