An insightful review on the film ‘Cargo’ and the various philosophical teachings it touches upon.
The following essay attempts to critically analyze the film ‘Cargo’ starring Vikrant Massey and Shweta Tripathi Sharma as the lead cast and further correlate some of the key insightful learnings it touches upon by better understanding them through some of the doctrines of Indian philosophy. The film was officially released on the streaming platform, Netflix about a month ago. This film attempts to provide its viewers of a combined package of science fiction as well as some deep philosophies of rebirth, afterlife, re-incarnation and theories of what happens after death. Rarely, have there been such attempts of combining science fiction with philosophy in Indian cinema, particularly where the key motive of filmmakers and script writers has been of portraying completely unrealistic and highly exaggerated and melodramatic content to its viewers. Indian audience is not acquainted of applying their actual brains while watching films in general and they simply consider them as a form of entertainment and adding to their pleasure and not oriented towards helping them gain insights into some interesting genres of art, science or math, to name a few.
Cargo is one such movie, which has attempted to combine the aspects of science fiction such as aeronautics, planetary knowledge and knowledge of life and death in a creative and breathtaking manner. Unlike, other fantasized film sets and their flowery plots, Cargo has been shot throughout in one single location, that of a spaceship termed as ‘Pushpak 634 A’.
Central Plot and Key Insights
The basic concept of the entire film is that of explaining the working methodology of an organization termed as Post Death Transition Services (PDTS). The key motive of this organization is that of safely transiting the deceased souls of Earth for re-incarnation into space. They collect the data of each deceased person on Earth using prediction oracles and data analytics and some other complicated mathematical equations on the Earth and the data is sent on a daily basis to the astronauts of their various spaceships who are termed as ‘Rakshas’ or Demons of the Spaceship who carry out the procedures of healing the deceased person of all their injuries and wounds, then erasing their memory to null and void and finally sending them away for extraction and re-incarnation. It is really surprising to note that those astronauts who safely transit the deceased persons and make their afterlife better, are termed as ‘rakshas’ or demon under the Indian mythological connotation. It creates a dilemma in the mind that now since they are termed as demons, do they actually do some good job or not?
So, here is the explanation for the same. The astronauts are called as rakshas or demons as the year depicted in the film is the year 2027, in which Homo Rakshasas, the descendants of the mythical demons have entered space age and have signed the “Rakshas Manushya Peace Treaty”. Their Inter Planetary Space Organization (IPSO) has launched a series of spaceships for the re-incarnation of recently deceased humans. The spaceship that is being mentioned here is one of those spaceships which extracts the dead bodies and gives them a better afterlife.
Now, here the question comes that what actually happens after death? Is there actually something called afterlife where these spaceships are supposed to transition humans or are they simply re-incarnated and reborn into a different body again on Earth? Well, if one were to follow the theory proposed by Jainas, then they would state that there is no afterlife of a soul, the soul is either reborn as a human or born as an insect or some animal or can also be born as a half born human and several deformities in hell, based on his deeds. Jainas focus the entire cycle of birth and death on the soul’s actions and deeds in his previous birth. Based on this, his karma works and sends him to his designated realm of birth.
On the contrary, the protagonists have a message for the Jainas to contradict their theories. In the film, there is a scene when one deceased person after arriving in the spaceship questions the two astronauts about the spaceship and after knowing that he is already dead and that is why he is there in the spaceship, he further questions them whether the place is heaven or hell. When he is told that it is neither heaven nor hell, he gets extremely disappointed. The Rakshasas answer to him that there is nothing existent such as heaven or hell, all deceased people (cargos in this film) arrive alike in the spaceship and are transitioned to their afterlife. Also, if a person is born as a demon or a half human, why would he in fact perform actions of welfare by safely transiting the arrived cargo in their afterlife, without harassing them or attempting to injure them? In fact, one of the protagonists who is assigned the role of the assistant of the chief astronaut, possesses healing powers and can instantly heal all cargos of their pain and injuries completely, only thing is that they cannot remove the marks and scars from the body.
So, this fact clearly contradicts the Jainas, who consider the demons as barbaric, uncivilized and violent. The film attempts to completely change the audience’s perception about demons including their personality, behavior and purpose. The entire Jaina philosophy, here is contradicted right from its roots and leaves no basis for it to further argue. If there weren’t any heaven or hell and if all souls were to be treated similarly and eventually to be re-incarnated only, then why would different religious principles be scaring away their followers in the name of karma and good and bad deeds? One possible assumption can be to attract more followers by presenting unique and contradictory theories than the prevailing popular schools of thought.
Another instance from the film which makes us relate the occurrence with the Carvakas or materialists as mentioned in the Vedas is that one cargo who has just arrived in the spaceship and is being taken to different rooms for healing him and then erasing his memory in the system, he felt as if he had arrived in the past or future possibly due to the success of his time travel experiment and proving that he could build a time machine and predict his future and dwell in his past as well. He couldn’t realize it in the first instance, when he was informed that he was dead and thus he had arrived in the spaceship and not in any parallel universe as he had argued that the time and date was the same while he was about to enter the time machine and start his time travel. He further questioned the rakshasas about where would he be transited from the spaceship and before could they respond, he demanded to be sent again to Earth only!
Both the rakshasas were shocked to notice that the man didn’t care at all about anything else in the world but to prove his scientific theories right and solely for that reason had he not married or indulged in any of the family matters simply to be committed to his work. This shows how materialists solely desire of virtues or possessions which are valuable and deemed worthy only when limited to the world of mortals itself. Once, the person is declared as dead and he demands of achieving those materialistic things in his afterlife as well then he would be deemed as an absurdist not understanding the fact that the purpose of his life on Earth has been fulfilled and simply because the purpose of the Universe couldn’t match with his perception of his true purpose. Materialists simply deny accepting anything above the materialism they are born with and also argue that each birth puts forth different materialistic possessions amidst their perception and so there is nothing like they would be carrying simply their soul everywhere and nothing else along with that. There were several other similar instances of the cargos who arrived there and simply couldn’t come to the terms with the fact of their death, some of them were too attached with their families and /or belongings that couldn’t easily submit them before going for extraction.
After learning this thought process of the cargos, one day the assistant rakshasa started pondering over the question of what is the point of anything if one has to leave everything behind one day and be born in a completely different skin, unaware of their past birth or deeds? She further then what is point of anything in the world if it all ends so abruptly and that after a few days, if even those who are considered the closest members of the family of the deceased also tend to forget about their existence? On listening to this conversation, the chief rakshasa responded to this dilemma of the assistant by answering to her question by stating that she is thinking in the right direction and that is there is no point of anything in the world and it is all for namesake. All those pleasures of mankind, their possessions, their fame, identity, power and wealth are all restricted to the world of mortals, ahead of that everything is pointless.
Another point to be noted here is that the plot initially focused on the chief Rakshasa as he was the only residing member of the spaceship, and then gradually as the plot progresses, the assistant was introduced in the film. She was also really skeptical to believe that before her no other person had lived in the spaceship with the chief rakshasa for so many years and that he had been surviving there all by himself without being afraid or complaining. In this observation, also the chief rakshasa responded by saying that wherever one goes, one is alone only. If one analyzes this statement carefully, then one would realize that however vague or absurd the statement but it is actually paradoxical. It is difficult to accept the fact but it is the truth actually and that one is born alone and dies alone as well and even while he is experiencing the journey of his life, though he is attached with his family and his friends, he is considered apart from them due to his purpose and duration of his life. Also, no two souls are the same, there is some level of distinctiveness among all souls and that is why in a literal sense, no soul in the entire Universe is considered as bound to another or dependent on another for their existence.
On a concluding note, I would like to add that the plot of the film was constantly being transitioned from the spaceship to that of the Earth, where they would occasionally show the location of someone’s house or some street where the person who is about to die is last observed and after showing the cause of his death, they are brought to the spaceship as cargos.
This occasional transition from the spaceship to the Earth might be a deliberate attempt of the makers to explain the fact that the minds of mortal souls are also like the occasionally transitioning plot, it doesn’t retain itself to one realm even after being consciously aware of their purpose and motive of their birth as a human, they might either wander aimlessly behind materialism without realizing their intrinsic needs and desires or they might wander to the thoughts of refining their souls and attaining liberation or nirvana as stated by the Buddha in his various teachings of Buddhism. He states that all suffering, ironical perceptions and pessimistic feelings are ended once one realizes their soul’s desire and lives the life of an ascetic until the time they attain true liberation from the worldly attachment. We, as souls are skeptics on both the fronts as we do not completely agree to the doctrine of rebirth or karma as posed by Jainism and nor do we completely agree that we are merely souls and we have come here for a certain purpose and we would die once that purpose is fulfilled.
So, technically even we are constantly experiencing a conflict in our minds of what exactly are we, how do we manifest ourselves as and why are we as we are and why haven’t we yet realized our true purpose and started working towards it?
All these questions are essentially important in order to better understand the motivations and aspirations that guide human behavior and actions and without understanding them we cannot proceed further into other philosophical doctrines.