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Phenomenon

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Phenomenon

Phenomenon is a 1996 drama, romance, and fantasy film written by Gerald Di Pego, directed by Jon Turteltaub, and starring John Travolta, Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker, and Robert Duvall. In the film, an amiable, small-town everyman is inexplicably transformed into a genius with telekinetic powers. The original music score is composed by Thomas Newman. However, the most well known music from the film is the song "Change The World" by Eric Clapton. It was filmed in Auburn, Colfax, Davis, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, and Treasure Island, all in Northern California.

Plot summary

George Malley (John Travolta), whose life is transformed by a strange flash of light he observes on the evening of his 37th birthday.

Over the course of the following days, George starts to experience an extraordinary form of genius-level intelligence, rapidly absorbing vasts amounts of information, formulating new, revolutionary ideas, and even exhibiting telekinetic abilities.

George tries to use his new intelligence for the good of his community. At first local townfolks are intrigued and amused by George's new abilities, but as they increase, community members gradually become afraid of him, with the only exceptions being love interest Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick), town physician Doc Brunder (Robert Duvall), and best friend Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker). Matters are complicated further when the government begins to take an interest in his newfound genius.

While participating in a town fair, George wants to publicize his revolutionary findings to the community with the hopes to make people's lives better; instead, the townsfolk are more concerned with seeing a display of his telekinesis. Soon after, another great flash of light strikes George, knocking him down. He awakens in a hospital where Dr. Brunder explains what's been causing his change. He has an astrocytoma brain tumor that has spread out like a hand, with threads of it everywhere. But, instead of destroying brain function, so far it's been stimulating it. George has more area of active brain use than anybody ever tested because of the tentacles from the tumor. The tumor is what also caused the dizziness and illusion of light. As a result of the tumor, George doesn't have much time to live. Government-employed doctors propose cutting George's life even shorter by examining his brain before he can die a natural death, and argue that if he objects to their plan, the objection itself would be proof that he is mentally unfit to make such a decision, and that the government would then proceed with the examination anyway. Held against his will--allegedly just for observation, but really until the government can put its plan into action--George eventually escapes, hoping to continue his research. He hopes that seismologist Dr. Ringold (Jeffrey DeMunn) from UC Berkeley might continue his experiments and, ultimately, complete the research he'll never get to finish.

After returning home, George gives Nate notes which basically served as a journal and gives him some other notes to deliver to Doc Brunder. He then retrieves his scientific research and, literally, runs to Lace's house. There, he aims to give his final farewells to Lace and her children, Al and Glory (David Gallagher and Ashley Buccille, respectively). George comforts them using an apple as a metaphor: no matter what, an apple will rot and decay if thrown on the ground, but if they were to take a bite out of it, the apple would become a part of them, and they would carry it with them forever. Later that day, Lace and George sleep together, and George dies in her arms. Dr. Ringold arrives to speak to George later that morning, but he's too late, and Lace, instead, passes on George's incomplete research.

The movie ends approximately one year afterward at the town's local bar, where the townsfolk gather to celebrate George Malley's birthday.

Spiritually Intuitive Individual

George Malley has the qualities of a transformational being as described by Sri Aurobindo in his philosophical opus The Life Divine. He perceives with a powerful intuitive capacity that is matched by a need and will to manifest that which is perceived. It is through his powers of spiritualized mind and vast will that he is able to accomplish so much in the short time he had this capacity.

Life is Change

One of the themes of the film is that life is constantly in a process of change. For example at one point, the doctor (Doc) while at the bar reprimands the locals for putting George down because he upsets their habitual, stable life. The pioneer will do this, and many will rail against him in the name of maintaining the status quo.

Also, at one point George says that we are all on the way to somewhere. He says this to indicate that what we think is death is really a gateway to a new form of life. That is, though the form can no longer hold it, the energy takes on new form, in a perpetual movement from where we are to something new. George is engaged in the Adventure of life so he does not fear where he is going after death. He also intuitively understands this process of regeneration and rebirth in new form; hence, we are always on the way to somewhere. We are always growing, developing, evolving, and will realize it when we are truly conscious, which George was during his last days on earth.

Difficulty of the Pioneer

One thing that comes out in this story is the disbelief of others about the breakthrough works or insights of the pioneer individual. Man is not ordinarily ready for such breakthrough knowledge, or such intuitive experiences of a George Malley. They either view it with skepticism and doubt; or if it is determined to be real, with fear. They see it as a threat to the settled life they are accustomed to. If it is tune with the subconscious yearning of the society, it is more widely embraced, as we see with the New Age and related movements in tandem with the rise of the Baby Boomers.

Material and Subtle Miracles

To make the story digestible, the director portrays physical miracles, even though it is George's profound insights into the workings of the material and non-material existence that are his greatest contributions. For the viewing audience to perceive "miracles" that are beyond the physical to the subtle is a frontier for humanity's understanding, which will appear over time in the coming decades and centuries. Likewise, the ability of the director to present these subtle, non wholly material miraculous-like phenomenon of life is another frontier of the artist. In this way, the term ‘Phenomenon’ that is the title can extend to the miraculous-like phenomena of life response, synchronicity, intuitive attraction, and others that occur at the subtle and causal planes, still involve the physical, vital, and mental planes of existence.

Additional Thoughts

(by Senthil Murugan)

1. George was kind of like Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice who yearns for Love but never provoked the heroine Lace as was the case with Darcy who called Elizabeth “tolerable.” Instead he waited patiently, never getting depressed when she rejects him initially and did all things to please her like buying the chairs, etc. just for the sake of her Love since the beginning.

2. Darcy changed his inner nature and then won over Elizabeth, but Elizabeth accepted him as an act of Gratitude. As per Lace’s character, she doesn’t like surprises and she was frightened initially by George’s miracle kind of things. But his true identity, sincerity in Love transformed her and as a result she embraced him with her Love at his final moments. So it’s a kind of total fulfillment.

3. After the experience on his birthday, he began to understand things like from Supramental point of view (Instead of surface mind). For example, at the opening of the film, he first believed that the rabbit was damaging his garden. After the birthday experience, he understood the truth in the Rabbit’s point of view such that he himself made the fence deeper and taller such that the Rabbit had no place to go. Once he perceived that truth, he opened up the gate and the rabbit happily moved outside.

4. The above scene is a tiny party of the film almost looks unrelated. But Infinite is behind the infinitesimal things and this scene clearly explains how we perceive things so contradictory from the Truth of Reality. Similarly there are many other examples in the film as George started to know the Truth of the situation from everybody’s point of view and started to help in their progress. Example, he exclaimed about the infinite power hidden behind the Nature’s phenomena of photosynthesis, subtle discovery for his friend’s need of love rather than just a keeper and helped him to fulfill that, subtle reason for the old man’s sickness and so forth.

5. His miraculous acts clearly revealed the subtle truths of the universe. Everything is made of energy. As all came from the same Oneness, anybody can connect with anything by consciousness. And physical objects can respond to his consciousness very well as he explains the reason of affection and partnership with them.

6. However, people started to look at him as a kind of stranger or alien out of fear, and could not tolerate the “different” kind of person he had become. Probably that may be the reason all the great Yogis preferred to be isolation and seldom performed physical miracles or share their powers openly. Yet they do make great changes subtly in the consciousness around the people, society etc.

7. Though it was sad that George’s end came soon in that movie, from a different perspective we see that he performed all the great service, and made all the great progress in that short period of time than that a would normally take a lifetime or more. He touched the lives of every person around him deeply and became an inspiration for everyone.

8. Though the doctor (as a materialist) tried to justify his strange phenomena due to rare kind of brain tumor, he knew himself about the soul’s quest, and beautifully argued that everything they knew is the limited understanding of the physical mind, and they could never perceive the consciousness and Spirit behind. George escaped from the hospital in order to fulfill his final quest and gave guidelines to his friend Nate, Lace’s children and also passed on the research notes to Dr. Ringold so that the possibilities he uncovered could be fulfilled by others one day (similar to how Abbe Faria passed on the wealth of knowledge to Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo.)

9. The movie beautifully ended showing the change(s) in everybody’s life he had touched.



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