I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

La Belle Verte and the Big Brained Beautiful

by Kristen Bialik
July 17, 2016

“But people like that can’t get hold of weapons now, and they’re easy to swim away from. Even if they found a grenade or a machine gun or a knife or whatever left over from olden times, how could they ever make use of it with just their flippers and their mouths?'' -Kurt Vonnegut, Galapagos

La Belle Verte is as close to a hippie commune as a sci-fi movie can get. Granted, it has some essential sci-fi prerequisites to make us comfortable: aliens, space travel, advanced programs, a critical eye on humanity. But there are some fitting absences. This is not the sci-fi of Starship Enterprises, high-tech gadgets made of shiny steel, or intergalactic battles with deadly rays of the shrink and/or freeze variety. In fact, there’s really no “science” involved at all.

The basic premise of the movie is this: a race of advanced human beings from a distant planet holds a community meeting on the summit of a mountain and decides they need to send someone to check in on Earth, as it’s been 200 years since their last visit. This is a problem because no one wants to go to Earth. It’s a gross and dangerous planet. People have archaic things there like cars and monetary systems. But at last, a woman named Mila steps up and says she’d like to go to Earth. The community gives her two programs to use (a kind of software for the mind). One activates whenever she talks with an earthling, and gives the listener a light jolt in the direction of a social and environmental consciousness. The second, more powerful program is activated by violently pulling back her head with wide eyes and a creepy smile. The result is disconnection, a radically jarring experience that advances the mind of the earthling five centuries. Mila lands in 1990s Paris, and from there disconnection and adventure ensues, catalyzed by Mila’s visit to a hospital so she can refuel herself by holding newborn babies. Yeah, that last part’s weird, but Mila apparently has no choice because the food, water, and air of Earth are far too toxic to survive in – a point reiterated by her planet’s horror that earthlings can’t seem to live past 200 years or even long enough to get their third set of teeth!

La Belle Verte inverts our ideas of advancement. The truest existence on Earth that Mila’s sons can find is in what is presumably an African tribe, which can also speak through telepathy. They eat food straight from the ground, rise with the sun, and play in the earth. Mila’s sons tell her, “You know, there are people here who’ve lived in this country for thousands of years and they strictly damage nothing on the planet. They have the same medicine as us, they eat well… they are also advanced like us.”

While watching, I couldn’t help but think of Galapagos, a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1985. Both stories are inspired by the foreseeable ecological end of days for the human race, an end brought on because of humans’ mechanized mistreatment of themselves and of the fragile world they live on. Both project their vision far into the future and see only one possible solution. Whether by choice or by natural force, human life must be made simpler. The message in both Galapagos and La Belle Verte is that in order to for humans to evolve, we must devolve. For Vonnegut, human nature could not be trusted to solve the problems it had created. So natural selection took over and removed all the things that make us a danger to ourselves: big brains that give us crazy ideas, gun-holding hands that can make those ideas possible, and all-in-all unnecessary little things like opposable thumbs. The height of evolution was when humans, a million years into the future, became something akin to furry seals. Vonnegut writes:

"About that mystifying enthusiasm a million years ago for turning over as many human activities as possible to machinery: What could that have been but yet another acknowledgment by people that their brains were no damn good?"

And here is where the comparison falls apart. For Vonnegut, the big fat human brain was the ultimate villain, the creator of evil schemes a ne’er failing generator of all our idiocy. But for La Belle Verte, the brain is the ultimate resource, the place of all power, hope, and salvation. Their brains gave them this great idea to stop killing everything around them. Their brains are big and strong, powerful enough to learn telepathy and clairvoyance, and powerful enough to make tough choices, shun greed, and even love mankind.

La Belle Verte is, like Vonnegut’s seal-people, an idyllic glimpse into the future. Life on Mila’s planet is different. There, people have no houses. They sleep in grass nests by the lake. They eat simply and use fire only once a year to make knives for the harvest. It’s sounds pretty nice, though I’m not quite buying the “concerts of silence” concept they’re all so jazzed about. We know that Mila’s planet has a historical evolution not unlike that of Earth. They too went through an industrial revolution, used computers instead of their brains, ate processed food, and other “monstrosities.” One person from Mila’s planet said of the industrial revolution, “we passed it 3000 years ago… it was competition, literacy, mass production of useless objects, wars, nuclear technology, destruction of nature, diseases without cures – a prehistoric period!” The only reason life is not that way anymore is because the beings on that planet decided that it shouldn’t be. Their big brains made a choice.

After their industrial revolution, the people of Mila’s planet held trials and “all the people who produced damaging products against the health of the human beings, animals, and plants were judged as culprits of genocide and crimes against the planet… food and chemical industries, weapon factories, tobacco and alcohol, pharmaceutical and nuclear industries, car producers, architects, doctors and politicians who had become rich by allowing it to happen.” And then, the people decided to boycott these things, to take away the power of these culprits by not buying what they were selling.

The movie opens with a series of images: water, human eyes, wolf eyes, trees, horse eyes, human eyes. The montage asks us to stop setting ourselves apart. It suggests that we are a part of this world, not separate from it. We should operate as the wolves do, see the world as the horses see it. As Kurt Vonnegut put it, “I have yet to see an octopus, or any sort of animal, for that matter, which wasn’t entirely content to pass its time on earth as a food gatherer, to shun the experiments with unlimited greed and ambition performed by humankind.” La Belle Verte wants us to be that animal. In the end, the film tells us that everything we need is in the world around us, and that the only software needed to survive is encoded in the 0s and 1s of the folds of our brains and the ventricles of our hearts. It tells us that within these programs of the mind there is room for choice, for questioning, and an evolution in how we think about and see the world. 

Kristen Bialik is a writer, teacher and graduate student of Journalism and Mass Communication. In her spare time, she's a baker of pies and maker of stories.