I’d never heard of John Marsden’s “Tomorrow Series” until, after having watched every other 2010 movie I could find, I picked up “Tomorrow When the War Began.” As a movie, it has its merits. It is well filmed, has a great looking cast, and the acting is good enough not to be a distraction. Despite a few stupid incidents, “Tomorrow When the War Began” is a unique and interesting action movie, with plenty of huge explosions and some brooding, introspective dialogue about the meaning of life, death and sacrifice. At the same time, the series gives us a fascinating insider view on the creation of religious fundamentalists, the right of insurgency and terrorism against foreign invaders, the nobility of suicide bombing and murder, and the fanatical dedication for using guerrilla tactics and warfare until the cause is accomplished. This review will deal with these themes.
“Tomorrow When the War Began” is a story about a foreign power (unspecified Asians) who invade Australia in order to take command of their bountiful natural resources and land. They come in hard and ruthless, setting up prisoner camps and shooting trouble makers. When the attack begins, however, a group of seven racially and economically diverse teens are out on a camping trip. When they come back, they have to deal with the fact that their entire country has been taken over.
The heroine of the story is Ellie Linton. Interestingly, the tale focuses on her – she’s the standout figure and leader; when they want to sneak into a locked warehouse and steal a truck, the boys let her go ahead and do her thing – even though she drives like crap and makes some bad choices like gossiping about romance during a highly critical destruction mission.
Ellie is the first to kill. She does it to buy some time for her friends, and is unsettled when she sees she’s killed a girl soldier about her own age. We are broken into the idea of killing slowly; Ellie is in shock and shows remorse. Later, her friend Homer tells her “It’s not your fault. It’s their fault. Theirs.” Although the movie isn’t overtly religious, there is one very religious character, Robyn Mathers, who leads the others in spiritual reflections. She is absolutely against killing. “Thou shalt not kill,” she reminds them. It’s in the Bible. In one of the best lines of the movie, Lee – the stereotypical Asian guy who only has a last name and has kung-fu reflexes – rejoins “David Killed Goliath”.
Later, when Robyn sees her friends are cornered and about to be killed, she grabs the assault rifle and guns down three soldiers Rambo-style. At this point, the enemy is no longer human; they are fully masked figures in black. Robyn’s conversion from peaceful to righteous mercenary leads viewers or readers to the conclusion that God condones killing, in the right circumstances. The first book – and the movie – ends with two of their friends being captured and the destruction of a strategically important bridge. Later in the series, Robyn again saves her friend by exploding a grenade, killing herself and a key adversary. Because of this selfless sacrifice, Robyn will become a martyr-esque figure. Ellie views her as a role model.
In the Third Day, the Frost, she writes “I used to think that heroes were tough and brave. But that last look on Robyn’s face: it wasn’t tough or brave. It was scared and uncertain. I learned something very important from Robyn: you have to believe in something. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. It’s not for me and it wasn’t for Robyn.”
At face value, the story isn’t that different from any other story of resistance and struggle. But how can we fail to make the connection between current or historical instances of foreign invasion? Obviously, we are rooting for the English speaking, mostly Caucasian group of cute young teens, who we’ve gotten to know and identify with. The foreign invading power is a cruel and unjust tyranny, who it is OK to murder, even if you’re religious and don’t believe in killing, to regain your country’s freedom.
In this sense, the Tomorrow series is a training manual for armed resistance, the virtues of martyrdom for the cause and the right to terrorism.
“A month ago we were average teenagers… now we’re soldiers, we won’t run, we won’t hide, we’ll fight and keep fighting, and never give up, until this war is finally won.”
The books’ popularity in Australia constitutes psychological preparation for young people to defend the nation of Australia via terrorism and murder against any attempt to control it. Now imagine that Australia is captured, and that nobody interferes. The new power begins importing civilians to help rebuild the country. They set up a new government. This little band of resistance fighters will in effect be saying, “Fuck the United Nations, peace talks, or the fact that Australia has become an Asian country. We’ll KEEP fighting. We’ll assassinate newly elected leaders because we don’t believe in the false system, we’ll stage acts of terrorism, we’ll kidnap and hostage civilian contractors, we’ll do whatever it takes.” Where is the line between heroic defense against foreign invaders and blind terrorism fueling the bloodshed and destabilizing attempts at peacemaking?
But now imagine, instead of Australians getting invaded by Asians, that this is Iraq or Afghanistan being invaded by Americans. Undoubtedly similar local literature exists about the heroic freedom fighters and brave soldiers who willingly sacrificed themselves for the cause. Picture the background story told about how this small group of insurgents went from ‘normal citizens’ (doctors, teachers, mechanics) to a passionate and dangerous terrorist cell. Or picture instead the situation in Vietnam, which was similar. How many times has America invaded a country (Iraq is just the most recent) for whatever reason, and had to deal with local insurgents who were brutally repressed?
Although I haven’t read all of the books yet, there is enough spiritualism in the movie for me to guess that these dangerous and life-changing events will lead people to embrace God – and the God on their side of the story is Robyn’s Christian god. More and more, I expect, the characters will begin to see their fight as “Right” and “Just”; which can only mean approved and sanctioned by their God. Robyn is the greatest figure in the books because of her religious piety, conviction and ultimate sacrifice: this will of course lead to her idolization and the spread of her beliefs.
The story of the books themselves are excellent; they are popular because stories of righteous rebellion, small victories against a massive oppressor, and heroic sacrifices of everyday heroes are emotionally moving. However, they are also perhaps similar to the popular Left Behind series, in which a small group of Christian Freedom Fighters uses acts of terrorism to destabilize the AntiChrist’s new government.
We have to ask the question: Are these virtues and ideals to be cherished only in Western countries? If Iraqis or Afghans or N. Koreans or Vietnamese use identical literature to sanction and justify unceasing acts of vandalism, sneak attacks, suicide bombs and guerrilla warfare against US troops, aren’t they acting out of the same universal human impulses? If so – who is “right”? Shouldn’t all such psychological pre-conditioning be treated as suspect? The Bible, for example, uses similar themes and demonstrates again and again that the highest virtue is dying for your beliefs, refusing to yield, and to keep fighting despite overwhelming forces of opposition (The Old Testament in particular gives examples of the Jewish terrorism and rebellion against the Roman Invaders).
What do you think of the ideas behind the Tomorrow series or movie? Harmless fun or dangerous propaganda?