Film journeys into the cosmos’ history

Chase Brunton

Fourteen billion years ago, all of the energy in the universe was contained in a single point. Then the big bang happened, sending all of the energy in the universe scattering off in all directions.

Today, the force generated by the big bang is still causing the universe to expand outward.  Eventually, stars were created, and when those stars died millions of years later — or billions, depending on the size of the star, as smaller stars live longer — they exploded, releasing all of the elements in the universe and creating everything as we know it, from planets, to new stars, and eventually life.

And now here we are, just beginning to understand our place in the vast scheme of things, using language to share ideas and change the world around us.

If this kind of thought fills you with excitement, you might enjoy the cosmic documentary “Journey of the Universe” now streaming on Netflix. Hosted and co-written by teacher and scientist Brian Swimme, author of the companion book of the same name, “Journey of the Universe” takes the viewer on a brief but intellectually stimulating tour of the “journey” the universe took to get where it is today. The film includes a revealing discussion of the nature of how life arose, and what it means to be alive in a universe where life is so exceedingly rare. Through explanations of cosmic phenomena and historical accounts of famous people, Swimme eloquently shares the story of how everything we know came to be.

Exploring the entire history of the universe and life in 50 minutes is no easy task, but Swimme handles it with grace and a surprising amount of nuance given the film’s short length. A scientist and teacher at Yale, he uses clever analogies and an amiable voice to show how humans have gone from being shaped by life to taking control of it. All of the concepts explored in this film are incredible, not just on a scientific level, but a philosophical and humanistic one as well. One of the most enjoyable aspects about the film is the taming of the wild science concepts with a humanistic touch. The fact that life has gotten to the point where it is self-aware and can speak and share ideas is one of the most, if not the most, beautiful outcomes of the big bang and evolution, a prospect outlined wonderfully by the film.

And yet, this evolution is not without its darker sides — another thing “Journey of the Universe” explores. For better or worse, humans now have such a command over nature that they are profoundly altering the composition of the planet that birthed them. As mentioned in the film, humans, originating from nature, have come to see themselves as separate. This makes some small sense because surviving and thriving as a species required conquering nature. However, we now know more than we ever did then; we now have begun to grasp just how closely related we are to everything around us. It’s true that survival may require controlling nature, but if we are to continue living as we are, it’s important that we understand just how delicate the balance of life is.

As I mentioned, the movie’s short, and as a result may leave less of an impression than it would have were it longer. Since “Journey” is a companion to the book of the same name, also written by Swimme, one can imagine that the book has a broader exploration of the concepts brought forth in the film. Nonetheless, the film is a thought-provoking, entertaining philosophical and humanistic ride through space and time. From the big bang and solar explosions, to the development of the first primitive life forms, and onward to the emergence of consciousness and language, this universe of ours has been on quite the journey. How fortunate we are to be here, to serve as active witnesses to the universe.

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