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Did you ever watch something absurd and suddenly have a flash of a serious thought? The remake of Jumanji titled Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle caught me unaware.
The first Jumanji mocked how seriously gamers take their video games and fans take their Marvel or Star Wars movies. In that film, those who play the mysterious game Jumanji—as well as all those around them in the real world—are subjected to game-generated terrors that warn of possible death. The threats cannot cease until the game Is complete, regardless of how many years intervene. However, when the game is done, time returns to the moment and conditions that were present when the game started. As in Galaxy Quest’s satire about Trekkies, the concept is that diehard fans sustain a secret wish to believe they can challenge danger as heroes somewhere—in a place where they don’t suffer irreversible traumas.
Escapism has its place. Perhaps these days escapist fare is necessary for ethical, intelligent people to maintain sanity. Recently, when I watched the movie Vice about Dick Cheney and his Federalist cronies and how they conspired to set the stage for our current remodel of US democracy into an oligarchy, I suffered terrible reality burns. I value escapist breaks. Thus, I didn’t change the TV channel when Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle appeared.
In this remake, the board game transforms itself into a digital one that whisks four high school teenagers in detention into a jungle setting. They appear physically as the melodramatic game pieces they chose to play, incorporating their gaming-style fatal flaws. For example, a self-absorbed girl appears as a middle-aged man fascinated with her new anatomy. Another character blows up if he eats cake. Characters are each assigned three lives that are recorded as tattooed stripes on their arms. When one life is spent, the character explodes into red mist and then, a few moments later, falls from the sky ready to begin the next life. They must transcend fear of final death in order to reach their goal. When the game is complete, the characters have the option of returning to their teenaged selves in their old world.
Watching the characters in the game die and then fall back into life over and over again only to end up where they began, I felt like I was watching a depiction of reincarnation. Those who believe in reincarnation hold that a soul may opt to return in a fresh life chosen by the soul with some guidance. Thus, death is merely a transition from one life to the next. What if that were true? Would we be as fearful of dying if we knew death was a temporary inconvenience? Who would we choose to be in the next life and why? What would we learn from experiencing different bodies?
Jumanji didn’t introduce the concept of reincarnation to me. It merely gave me a visceral notion of what that might feel like. For a few moments, I could sense how foolish it would be to waste lives without seeking a goal. How different would our world be if we lived to serve an objective that was greater than our temporary existence in a material realm? Who would care about wealth or beauty or fame? Who would be controlled by fear? Love would take precedence. What an interesting thought.